Even at 40 years old, Nelson Cruz remains the best pure DH in the game
The fantasy baseball designated hitter (DH) rankings for 2021 are like no other year. I promise not to get into an argument about whether or not the DH is a good thing. However, I have always felt that both the AL and the NL should have the same set of rules. MLB was the only professional league where half the teams played under one set of rules and the other half played under another, at least until 2020.
Regardless of which side of the DH argument you fall, I think we can all be grateful that lunacy is nearing an end. There may not be a universal DH this season, but it's sure to stick after a new CBA is ratified. The impact, however, is that now we need to look at what that means for a number of NL players who gained DH eligibility last season, as well as some of their "pure" counterparts in the AL.
There are really only three players that are truly DHs and one of them is Shohei Ohtani, whose real value ironically comes from his pitching endeavors. Can we move on? Another honest-to-goodness DH is Khris Davis. He mashed 48 home runs in 2018 and saw that total drop precipitously in 2019 to just 23. But last year the bottom truly fell out, as he posted an ugly slugging percentage of .329. Punch and Judy hitters can sometimes get away with that, but Davis hit a Mendozian .200 last year. It should be no surprise that Oakland felt no compulsion to keep him and he will now be a part of the Rangers' lineup. Notice I didn't say starting lineup. He will likely get the nod at DH three or four times a week this year, but I'd be shocked to see him average much more than 10 at-bats a week. He obviously has the upside, and he will cost you next to nothing. But if you do take the plunge on Davis and he gives you even 15 HRs, you will have got far more than you should have hoped.
On the opposite end, I'm expecting a whole lot more than 15 HRs from our third pure DH option, Nelson Cruz. He had 16 HRs in only 185 ABs last year and slugged nearly .600. Expecting the 41-HR season he had in 2019 might be a little optimistic, but I am expecting him to top 30 HRs again. He should get 400 ABs over a full season, and the last time he had that many ABs and failed to hit more than 30 HRs was 2013. There's not a ton of competition, but Cruz is by far the best pure DH in the league.
But as we know, most DHs are not "pure" DHs. Bryce Harper had enough at-bats to qualify as a DH last year, and he's the clear No. 1 DH in my opinion. I don't think I need to give you the reasons why. Just be sure to check the eligibility in your league before you plug a "fake" DH into that spot and forget about him.
Thoughts and Other Rankings Notes:
- I am pretty aligned with the rest of the Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) when it comes to DH, but I do have Pete Alonso as the No. 2 option. You know why? Because I love Alonso this year. The Mets have (quietly?) built a pretty fearsome lineup, and Alonso is just one of the many weapons they have. Like many, his 2020 numbers were well short of his 2019 numbers. But we all knew he wasn't going to hit 53 HRs again! He had 16 home runs in 239 at-bats, so let's assume he would have hit around 30-35 HRs last year. But that was with a BABIP of only .242. We know Alonso is not very likely to approach a .300 BABIP, but that was 38 points below his .280 mark in 2019. If his BABIP normalizes, it will help his batting average and probably increase his HR output as well.
- The elevating of Alonso meant others needed to drop. Yes, I like Kyle Tucker and Marcell Ozuna less than Alonso. But don't look into that too much. Both are still very attractive options.
- One player I do like more than ECR that is worth mentioning is Andrew McCutchen. I know, McCutchen is 34 years old and is not the player he once was. I wish I could provide some strong statical reasoning why I like him this year, but unfortunately, I can't. This is nothing but a gut call, but I think he rebounds this year closer to the 20 home runs, 14 stolen bases he had in 2018. The good news is he's going pretty cheaply, so it won't cost you much to see if I'm right!
ADP - Average Draft Position
— Rankings by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.