Some teams will adapt to the DH better than others. To find out which teams will benefit the most, it is a matter of looking at the options for each club and focusing on the players expected to be the team’s designated hitter once rosters are set for Opening Day. The projections are from FanGraphs and are adjusted for potential playing time.
The rankings listed here are sorted by the team’s projected weighted runs above average from players expected to be the designated hitter compared with what the team earned from its pitchers in 2019. The higher the net difference, the higher the ranking. For example, the Atlanta Braves were last in the league last year for wRAA produced by their pitchers (60.7 weighted runs below average) but are expected to earn 7.6 weighted runs above average from designated hitters in 2020, giving them the highest projected turnaround this year.
1. Atlanta Braves
2020 projection: net difference of 68 weighted runs above average
Marcell Ozuna signed a one-year, $18 million contract as a replacement for power-hitting Josh Donaldson and is likely to get most of the DH at-bats for Atlanta. Ozuna hit .241 with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases for the St. Louis Cardinals last season. He is in line to be the third-most-valuable hitter on the Braves in 2020, per FanGraphs’ weighted on-base average projection.
Adam Duvall will also get time in the DH spot, especially after fellow Nick Markakis, a Silver Slugger Award winner in 2018, opted out of the 2020 season. Duvall set a career high for OPS (.882) last season in limited duty (41 games and 130 plate appearances).
Austin Riley will be in the mix, too. The 23-year-old made his major league debut last season and hit 18 home runs in 80 games with a roughly 60/40 split against right- (11) and left-handed (seven) pitching.
2. Washington Nationals
2020 projection: net difference of 61 weighted runs above average
The Nationals have one of the oldest rosters of hitters in baseball (29.6 years) and benefit greatly from the universal DH rule. World Series hero Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames should get a bulk of the starts, but expect Manager Dave Martinez to use Asdrúbal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom in this role, too.
Kendrick is coming off a terrific year — the 37-year-old batted .344 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI. His .966 OPS was 42 percent higher than the league average — and he is projected to have the second-highest weighted on-base average for the team in 2020 after 21-year-old phenom Juan Soto. Thames hit 25 home runs in 2019 for the Milwaukee Brewers, six shy of his career high, and saw an above-average rate of 3-0 counts. Cabrera hit .323 with six home runs for Washington in 38 games last year. Castro, a versatile middle infielder, batted .323 with an .881 OPS against left-handed pitching for the Miami Marlins in 2019. And Kieboom gets a chance to be the everyday third baseman but could see time at DH as well.
3. Chicago Cubs
2020 projection: net difference of 60 weighted runs above average
Kyle Schwarber is poised to be the best designated hitter in the league after hitting 38 home runs in 2019 while also creating runs at a rate that was 20 percent higher than average after taking into account league and park effects (120 wRC+).
Outfielders Steven Souza Jr., Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ also will take turns at DH when not playing in the field. Souza spent a down year with Arizona in 2018 (.220 batting average with a .678 OPS) and missed 2019 with a left knee injury. Yet his exit velocity remained steady two years ago, and he appeared to have trouble with his launch angle (career high 16.1 degrees, leading to many pop flies), which could get corrected during a healthy 2020. Almora doesn’t hit for average, but he did hit 12 home runs in 2019, with all but two at the expense of right-handed pitchers. Happ’s third season in the majors wasn’t flashy, but he hit .264 with 11 home runs in 58 games. He also set career bests in OPS, isolated power, strikeout rate, contact rate and whiff rate.
Catchers Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini also both could be in the lineup on the same day. Contreras hit .272 with 24 home runs in 105 games last season and could be the DH when Caratini is behind the plate catching Yu Darvish, his pregame jogging partner.
The best of the rest
4. Cincinnati Reds
2020 projection: net difference of 55 weighted runs above average
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
2020 projection: net difference of 54 weighted runs above average
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
2020 projection: net difference of 53 weighted runs above average
7. Colorado Rockies
2020 projection: net difference of 52 weighted runs above average
8. San Diego Padres
2020 projection: net difference of 51 weighted runs above average
9. St. Louis Cardinals
2020 projection: net difference of 50 weighted runs above average
10. Miami Marlins
2020 projection: net difference of 49 weighted runs above average
11. Milwaukee Brewers
2020 projection: net difference of 48 weighted runs above average
12. Philadelphia Phillies
2020 projection: net difference of 43 weighted runs above average
13. San Francisco Giants
2020 projection: net difference of 41 weighted runs above average
14. New York Mets
2020 projection: net difference of 40 weighted runs above average
15. Pittsburgh Pirates
2020 projection: net difference of 36 weighted runs above average