Sunday, May 27, 2018

Rays designated hitters mostly misses

The problem, when you get right down to it, is that the position is so poorly named. For the Rays, it has always been more about designation than it has been about hitting.

Around here, a better name for the spot might have been "a guy who has a bat and nothing better to do than try to hit something with it."

After years of swinging and missing, it seems the Rays have changed their approach when it comes to their DH. No longer will they try to pick up a vagabond bat and stick it willy-nilly into the middle of their batting order. No more will they trot out a Luke Scott (horrors!) or a Pat Burrell (egad!) to try to infuse a little more muscle.

This year, the Rays will take their chances with an extra outfielder, or with a spare infielder, or with a guy who might otherwise have the night off.

This year, today's lineup might have a different designated hitter than yesterday's.

When you think about the Rays' historic lack of production, who can blame them?

Forever, the designated hitter has been the most underproductive part of the lineup, a collection of disappointments that has spanned the years.

There was Jonny Gomes, who had more at-bats at designated hitter than anyone in the history of the Rays. He hit .219 as a DH.

There was Burrell, who cost the team $16 million over two seasons. He hit .218.

There was Paul Sorrento, the team's very first designated hitter. He hit .217.

And on it has gone. As a group, the Rays have sent 120 designated hitters to the plate in their history, and they've managed only a .244 batting average.

"I like the way we're doing it," said manager Joe Maddon. "If you have the one killer DH, you want that guy. But otherwise, this is a better way to go.

"Who are the killer DHs anymore? There aren't that many out there. That animal just doesn't play a lot anymore. It's not part of our game, that one guy who knows how to sit around for an hour and then go up there and hit a bomb."

There are a few. Boston's David Ortiz has been the named the best designated hitter in the league seven times now, and he remains what most teams are searching for when they fill the position. But Ortiz will make $15 million this year. Kendrys Morales, still a free agent, recently turned down a $14 million offer from Seattle.

It isn't an easy position. A lot of players don't want anything to do with designated hitting. It can drive a guy crazy waiting as long as an hour between at-bats.

The idea here is that if a player, say Matt Joyce, plays some as a DH, he can still play often enough in the outfield to stay sharp. And when it is time to give Evan Longoria some time off his feet, or James Loney, that can be done, too.

Will it work? Will they become more comfortable in the role if it's scattered about? Maybe.

Maybe it won't be as clearly designated. But who knows? Maybe it'll turn out to be a better hitter.

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