I'm Not the Way I Thought I Was: Solving the Blue Jays' DH-Sized Dilemma

So, as you B^3-ers likely remember, the Jays had a bit of trouble at the DH spot last season.  Jays' DHs batted .247/.325/.418, well below league-average DH production.  It was especially problematic for a team like the 2008 Jays, who were built around pitching and defense, to have such tepid production out of the offense-only DH spot. Even worse was the production out of left field (.258/.325/.384), the second-least important defensive position.

Going into this season, Jays faithful were told that this was the year of Adam Lind and Travis Snider.  Most of the "credit" for the poor DH/LF performance was due to Frank Thomas, Shannon Stewart, Matt Stairs, Brad Wilkerson, and Kevin Mench -- I won't even show their numbers, because they are awful, but just trust me -- and those 5 gentlemen were all gone.  Here on B^3, we thought Lind was ready for prime-time, but we debated the merits of acquiring a LF/DH bat, especially with the market cold on guys like Pat Burrell, and starting Snider in the minors rather than just throwing him into the fire.  I can't remember what we concluded, so let's assume that we all unanimously agreed that Snider wasn't quite ready to make the necessary adjustments once the league got a taste of him and that he should start in the minors.

Fast forward to the end of June, we're almost but not quite halfway through the season, and the Jays are doing well, sitting 5 games over .500 and just 1 game behind the New York Yankees for the AL Wild Card lead.  And, yet, a familiar problem...

Snider started hot but cooled off quickly and drastically.  He was sent to the minors where he hurt himself and won't even be swinging a bat again until July.  I think it's safe to assume he'll be a September callup, if anything.  Adam Lind started the season as the regular DH and was fantastic but took over leftfield duties when Snider was sent down.  Lind, unlike Snider, plays against lefties and righties (a healthy .847 OPS against lefties), so he doesn't need a platoon partner.  But so who should play DH?

The Contenders:

Kevin Millar:  Copacetic Up?   Millar started the season as Lyle Overbay's platoon partner but Overbay has been hitting so well lately (though his numbers against lefties are pretty poor still) and offers so much more defensively that you can make the argument that Lyle should be playing every day.  Millar has never shown much platoon-i-ness, and offers all that gooey clubhouse stuff, so he'd seem like a logical choice to take the everyday DH spot, right?  Not so fast!  You might not have noticed if you don't have a Millar effigy you punch in the face every morning like our very own Tom Dakers, but old Kev's hitting hasn't exactly been up to par lately.  He's presently batting a putrid .246/.318/.388, which is actually worse than our DH production from last year.  He's doing all right against lefties (.821 OPS) but absolutely putrid against righties (a Mac-like .596 OPS) so he might be half of the answer (actually more like 1/3 of it) but definitely is not the full answer.  And he's been awful for the past two months (.647 OPS in May, .618 in June).  Next. 

Jose Bautista:  Bautista has always hit lefties well -- he has a career .819 OPS against them -- and this season is no exception.  Jose is batting .302/.383/.472/.855 against portsiders, definitely well enough to be the right-handed third of a DH platoon.  But he has always been a bad hitter against righties, and this season, far from being an exception, has been much worse -- we're talking .217/.397/.250 bad, albeit in just 80 plate appearances.  You'll notice from the high OBP that Bautista has earned a lot of walks against righties, and that's certainly true.  On the flipside, he has seemed afraid to swing the bat against them, and perhaps for good reason given his poor hitting.  Bautista has a long career of being a bad major-league hitter against righthanded pitching (.683 career OPS against them).  Bautista wouldn't be a bad option to DH against lefties, but as an everyday DH he's a terrible choice.  And of course DH-ing him would compromise his versatility in the field (since the DH can't replace a fielder unless the pitcher bats).  And Jose is needed to spell Rolen fairly frequently.

Russ AdamsRecently called up to the Jays, Russ Adams isn't anybody's first idea of a DH.  He has an 81 OPS+ over his major-league career and, up until recently, was a middle infielder.  That said, Adams has been attempting to re-make himself into a utility player over the past few seasons, with some success.  He hasn't lit up AAA at all the past two seasons, but he had a nice second half last year and started well this season (.876 OPS with Las Vegas in 2009).  Of course, you have to look at those numbers in the context of the PCL, but in truth Adams has never been all that bad of a hitter against right-handed pitching.  Over Russ' career, he has a .725 OPS against starboard-side hurlers, not great but considerably better than Millar and Bautista are doing against righties at the moment (and, in Bautista's case, over his career).  Consider that Adams is in his hitting prime while Millar is way past it.  And Russ certainly offers more than either of those two on the basepaths. 

An interesting comparison for Adams is Ben Zobrist.  Zobrist is the same age as Adams and his career has followed a similar path - a former SS whose plate discipline in the minors didn't translate to the majors right away and who moved from SS amidst concerns about his defense.  Zobrist, unlike Adams, is a switch-hitter, but he's pretty much exclusively used as a lefty hitter and has remade himself as a platoon utility player and corner-infielder.  Zobrist had a great 1/3 or so of a season last year in that role and has been even better this season in the same role.  He's not all that different of a hitter than Adams and, while I'm not suggesting Adams will put up an OPS north of 1.000 in 225 plate appearances, as Zobrist has done thusfar, there's at least some precedent for the idea that a former middle-infield prospect can become a successful platoon-type corner outfielder.

Randy Ruiz:  Ruiz, essentially a career minor-leaguer, has a nice track record in the minors, and is currently OPS-ing .971 with AAA Las Vegas, with solid power numbers.  On the other hand, he's a right-handed hitter (though he has hit well against righties in the minors) so a platoon isn't really an option and his hitting didn't translate to the majors last season in his first taste of the bigs (at 30).  He probably wouldn't be any worse than starting Millar every day, but that doesn't necessarily make him a great option as an everyday DH. 

David DellucciDellucci was recently acquired by the Jays as a lefthanded bat and has been playing a bit in AAA.  Looch hit .275/.333/.350 in 45 plate appearances for Cleveland earlier this season, isn't doing much in the minors, and is 3 years removed from his last even league average season.  His bat speed seems to be fading.  I don't think he's the answer either.  

Brian DopirakHe's only at AA, but with the 1st base and DH spots occupied by guys hitting well (Ruiz and Brett Harper) at AAA, he's more than earned a promotion and with the hole we have at DH, why not to the bigs?  There's no doubt that Dopirak's line -- .307/.369/.580, with 16 home runs, 22 doubles, and 1 triple in 291 plate appearances -- is impressive, and he's 25 years old so there's no argument that he's too young.  Dopirak, like Ruiz , Millar, and Bautista, bats righthanded, so he would need to be the everyday DH to get the at-bats he'd need to make it worth bringing him up.  He's hit righties quite well this season though. 

????:  I haven't heard the Jays to be seriously involved in trade talks for a bat, but it's possible they could bring someone in from outside the organization to DH.  Dakers has mentioned Nick Johnson, and he's certainly a good hitter (126 lifetime OPS+).  He's putting up excellent numbers in a pitchers' park right now, and he is a patient, tough out with a gap to gap approach.  Folks have said he's having a career year, but he's not -- he's in with his career numbers, but just healthy after an awful string of bad luck and accidents.  DHing might keep him healthy, and his contract runs out at the end of this season so I can't imagine the Nationals would want more than a minor-league arm or two for him.  It might be worth a look.  Other possibilities?  For sentimental reasons, how about Frank Catalanotto?  He wouldn't cost more than a PTBNL, I'd imagine.  But he hasn't done anything this season and he wasn't great last year either, so I'm not sure what type of upgrade he'd be over Dellucci.  There are other bats available, so by all means, who do you want to DH for the Jays?  Unless they make a move for Johnson or someone else, I'm afraid the best option is a Bautista/Adams or Millar/Adams platoon, and that's not exactly encouraging if the Jays plan to continue to contend, is it?  So let's hear it -- who would you DH from now on?

Title from a great song by the great Madison, Wisconsin band Rainer Maria

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