The Rays And The DH: A History Of Failure

August 21, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Luke Scott (30) reacts after he stuck out to end the game in the tenth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field. Kansas City Royals defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Luke Scott returned to the Rays lineup last Tuesday, which made people happy. Maybe none more than Jose Lobaton, but that's for different reasons.

via gif.mocksession.com

He was signed during the offseason to be the Rays primary designated hitter. Anyone who has followed the franchise's history knows that is a treacherous proposition.

American League teams have been able to use the DH since 1973. The Rays have used it in the most literal sense possible, as in they've designated a player to hit for the pitcher every game and let him stand in the batter's box. The "hitting" part is where they've ran into a problem. Here are the Rays DH ranks from 1998-2012


Total

Rank

AVG

0.244

14th

OBP

0.328

14th

SLG

0.422

14th

wRC+

98

14th

WAR

8.2

14th

wOBA

0.327

14th

That's not 14 out of 30 since, yanno, the National League doesn't use the designated hitter. That's dead last in the American League. The closest team in WAR are the Twins at 13.6, more than six WAR better. Not that it's a fair comparison since DH's never have huge WAR years due to their lack of defense, but the 8.2 WAR is the lowest of any position in the AL over the past 15 years - only the Royals' shortstop (10.5) makes a run at them. Despite the last place showing there have been some good individual performances.

In 1999 Jose Canseco put up a full season's worth of numbers, 34 HR and .931 OPS in just 113 games. Aubrey Huff was excellent in 2002 hitting .313 with an .884 OPS in 53 games at the position. Jonny Gomes had a robust .906 OPS and 140 OPS+ in 407 plate appearances in 2005. Uncle Cliffy Floyd was more than serviceable in 2008 as he swaggered his way to an .804 OPS and 111 OPS+ in 80 games. There's been some talent there, it's just never been sustained.

Aside from Gomes, and Huff for the one season, the Rays haven't had any young blood at the position. That's pretty standard, though, as there aren't many Billy Butlers or Jesus Monteros around. It's also not in the Rays' draft philosophy, at least in the past seven or so years, to select players who don't have much/any defensive value. A great athlete, or one who is able to play numerous positions at an average or above average level is more valuable to them. The closest player I can remember the Rays ever producing is Gomes. You can argue Delmon Young, but being a DH, which he is with the Tigers, was never the plan with him.

Another reason the Rays don't have a good history with DH's? It's tough to find a good one. The Red Sox were fortunate the Twins released David Ortiz. The Royals drafted Butler. Edwin Encarnacion was too incompetent with a glove to stick in the National League. The only DH that has done really well this season that was signed to a big free agent contract is Adam Dunn. Paying a high price for a DH isn't in the Rays financial model. They tried medium range deals with Pat Burell and Scott and so far that has yet to work out. Scott, despite his .283 on base percentage has managed a 103 OPS+ thanks to a .445 slugging percentage when he's been able to stay on the field.

The team obviously needs a DH, unless Joe Maddon wants to really flip the script on the system. So, what's the answer? Sadly, there really doesn't seem to be one. With the franchise's current financial state the only options available will be middle-aged sluggers from the slighty used bin. You just have to hope to strike it rich.

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