Best Designated Hitters Of 2008

Other positions:  1B | 2B | SS | 3B | LF | CF | RF | CA

Like I did last year, I'm going to spend the few two weeks discussing the top ten players at each position based on 2008 performances.  This year I'm using Justin's stats, which have all the nice features of the home-brewed stats I calculated last year, but with the added benefit of making Justin do all the work:

  • BaseRuns-derived offensive linear weights, with park adjustments.
  • League-adjusted replacement-level, since AL pitching is stronger than NL pitching.
  • Proper position adjustments using the CA - SS - 2B/3B/CF - LF/RF - 1B - DH spectrum.
  • Combined STATS and BIS zone ratings converted to runs to measure fielding.

Players are listed at the position they played the most, but the defensive numbers from all positions are included, and players' contributions to multiple teams are combined. For the top ten players at each position, I've listed their offensive contribution above replacement level and their defensive contribution (position adjustment plus fielding relative to position) compared to average.  Position and fielding are broken out in the table at the end.  If you add offense plus position, you'll get a number with the same use as VORP, but better.

To help you put the Total Value number in perspective, here are some benchmarks given a full season of playing time:

  • League-average is about 20 runs above replacement.
  • The cut-off for true All-Stars is in the 40 run range.
  • Top 5 MVP candidates are worth at least 70 runs above replacement.
  • MVP winners have been in the 90-100 run range the past few years.

DH Commentary: There are some quirks in the calculations for designated hitters.  Because the fielding data doesn't include innings at DH, anyone who played the most games as a DH receives a full DH-penalty, even if they played some innings in the field.  In addition, their fielding ratings still come through, which, in most cases, aren't helpful (there's a reason these guys DH.)

Without further ado, here are the top ten designated hitters of 2008 (2007 numbers here).

10. Greg Norton (3 off, -2 def, 2 tot) -- Yes, the tenth most valuable designated hitter was a guy who didn't play much and was replacement-level overall.  This is one reason why calculating position adjustments based on offensive performance is a bad idea -- DHs end up higher in the defensive spectrum than first basemen and corner outfielders.  Teams really don't put very good hitters at DH.

9. Mike Sweeney (4 off, -1 def, 3 tot) -- Hey, he's a good guy I hear.

8. Rocco Baldelli (5 off, -1 def, 4 tot) -- And Rocco, well, he's a good story.

7. Cliff Floyd (14 off, -6 def, 8 tot) -- The Rays recently turned down his $3MM option for 2009.  While that seems pretty cheap, it's basically the going free agent rate for what Floyd is worth, and the Rays can't afford to pay going free agent rates.

6. Jason J Kubel (23 off, -20 def, 8 tot) -- Kubel's defensive number includes -9 runs for fielding, which, as noted above, isn't completely fair since his position adjustment doesn't include any of his time spent in the field.  He'd pass Matsui, but not Ortiz, if we had more complete data.

5. Hideki Matsui (18 off, -10 def, 9 tot) -- Matsui had 378 plate appearances in 2008 and his power was down from career norms.  In a full, career-norm season, he's a 25 RAR guy.  Funny enough, he's earning what that's worth.  If only he can put up a full, career-norm season in 2009...

4. David Ortiz (30 off, -11 def, 19 tot) -- No, he didn't have a Big Papi type season, but a .369 OBP and .507 SLG are still pretty good.  Some seem to think his career's over, but I seem to remember others have recovered from wrist injuries before.

3. Jim Thome (33 off, -13 def, 21 tot) -- In a season around 2001 or 2002 Thome got off to a slow start and I remember thinking that he was old and finished.  That's when I first figured out the dangers of small sample sizes.

2. Milton Bradley (50 off, -15 def, 36 tot) -- On the free agent market, Bradley's 2008 season was worth about $16MM.  He earned $5MM.  Nice signing, Rangers.

1. Aubrey Huff (56 off, -14 def, 42 tot) -- Huff was HUGE this year, putting up a top ten offensive season -- in all of MLB.  But he's a great example of why defense matters.  With Joe Mauer's defensive value, he would have been the AL MVP, beating out even Grady Sizemore.  As it is, he doesn't make the top ten.

Here's the full list of everyone who played more games at DH than any other position:

Rank Player Off Pos Field Total
1 Aubrey Huff 56 -14 1 42
2 Milton Bradley 50 -11 -4 36
3 Jim Thome 33 -13 0 21
4 David Ortiz 30 -11 0 19
5 Hideki Matsui 18 -8 -1 9
6 Jason J Kubel 23 -11 -9 8
7 Cliff Floyd 14 -6 0 8
8 Rocco Baldelli 5 -2 1 4
9 Mike Sweeney 4 -3 2 3
10 Greg Norton 3 0 -2 2
11 Jorge Velandia 1 0 1 2
12 Frank Thomas 7 -6 0 1
13 Kila K Kaaihue 1 -1 0 1
14 Gary Sheffield 10 -10 1 1
15 Jason J Bourgeois 0 0 -1 0
16 Chris Carter 1 0 -1 0
17 Ryan Roberts 0 0 0 0
18 Dan R Johnson 0 0 0 0
19 Randy R Ruiz 1 -2 0 -1
20 Freddy Sandoval 0 0 0 -1
21 Robinzon Diaz -1 0 0 -1
22 Matt Stairs 7 -8 -1 -1
23 Timothy C Hulett -1 -1 0 -2
24 Jeffrey Larish 1 -2 -2 -2
25 Jonny Gomes 2 -4 -4 -3
26 David Dellucci 5 -8 -1 -3
27 Billy R Butler 6 -10 -1 -5
28 Craig Monroe 0 -4 -4 -5
29 Travis Hafner -2 -5 0 -7
30 Jose Vidro -4 -7 0 -11
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