Slim Precedent for Letting Jesus Montero DH Next Season

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Jesus Montero #63 of the New York Yankees follows through on a fifth inning home run against the Baltimore Orioles on September 5, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The blast was the first in the major leagues for Montero. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

After calling up their top hitting prospect this fall, the Yankees now find themselves in the interesting position of finding a place in the order for the young and talented Jesus Montero.

Most scouts and analysts agree that Montero is not ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues (whether he ever will be is another question, entirely). However, there seems to be equal agreement about his skills at the plate. With Jorge Posada likely not returning, the Yankees will have an opening at DH in 2012. The question before them is whether to give that spot to Montero.

This got me thinking: What is the precedent for giving a first-year player significant time at DH?

Looking back through the data, there isn't much of a precedent.

Since the introduction of the DH, only three players have DH'd in over 50% of their games played during their first season in the majors:

Player OPS+ PA From To Age G OBP SLG OPS Tm
Eddie Murray 123 666 1977 1977 21-21 160 .333 .470 .803 BAL
Billy Butler 108 360 2007 2007 21-21 92 .347 .447 .794 KCR
Joey Meyer 103 352 1988 1988 26-26 103 .313 .419 .731 MIL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/28/2011.

The positive here is that all three  managed to post an OPS+ above league average, with Eddie Murray leading the way at 123.

Now, if we extend the list to players that DH'd in over 50% of their games through their first two season, the list gets a little bigger:

Player OPS+ PA From To Age G OBP SLG OPS Tm
Frank Thomas 179 940 1990 1991 22-23 218 .453 .547 1.000 CHW
Bob Hamelin 139 429 1993 1994 25-26 117 .378 .573 .951 KCR
Troy Neel 131 541 1992 1993 26-27 147 .364 .475 .839 OAK
Fred McGriff 128 361 1986 1987 22-23 110 .374 .500 .874 TOR
Kevin Maas 117 892 1990 1991 25-26 227 .344 .439 .783 NYY
John Olerud 117 429 1989 1990 20-21 117 .364 .429 .793 TOR
Larry Sheets 115 377 1984 1985 24-25 121 .330 .453 .783 BAL
Gene Larkin 102 856 1987 1988 24-25 234 .359 .382 .741 MIN
Billy Butler 99 838 2007 2008 21-22 216 .334 .420 .754 KCR
Joey Meyer 99 516 1988 1989 26-27 156 .300 .416 .716 MIL
Randy Bush 98 546 1982 1983 23-24 179 .319 .417 .735 MIN
Joe Vitiello 91 443 1995 1996 25-26 138 .334 .416 .750 KCR
Jeremy Giambi 90 406 1998 1999 23-24 108 .368 .373 .741 KCR
Juan Bernhardt 64 338 1976 1977 22-23 99 .254 .347 .601 NYY-SEA
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/28/2011.

 

The list now contains 14 players, less than half of which turned in below league-average performances. Frank Thomas was clearly the best young player to spend significant time in the DH spot when he first came up to the big leagues. There are also a few duds, but the list does include a number of other players that went on to have strong offensive careers in the majors.

Here's the interesting part: these lists assumed the players played at least 50% of their games at DH. 

What if the Yankees wanted to Montero to take on an almost full-time DH role next year? What is the precedent for that?

Basically, it's even thinner.

For first year only players, only Billy Butler logged at least 75% of his games at DH. For players over their first two seasons, only Thomas, Olreud, Sheets, and Vitiello managed the trick.

So if the Yankees decide to given Montero the bulk of the DH at bats next year, it will certainly be out of the ordinary. That being said, teams that have gone this route seem to do a decent job of selecting players wisely (although, given the small sample, they could simply have been lucky in their assessments). He may not put up Frank Thomas numbers in 2012, but the little precedent there is suggests it would be far from a disaster should the Yankees roll the dice.

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