The National League will implement the DH for all regular season games for the first time in its existence. In what would normally be considered unorthodox, universal DH will be one of the many new clauses to baseball’s 2020 season.
This is welcome news for the Nationals, as they were 6th overall in total offense last year without the benefit of universal DH; slightly behind AL teams such as the Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox. As much as I loved seeing Max Scherzer step to the plate betwixt his usual 7 inning plus performances, it will be refreshing to see an extra bat that can do some serious damage.
As with most of their infield positions, the Nats boast depth at what could prove to be an interchangeable DH role. The catalyst for DH selection will be the personnel holding down first base on a game-by-game basis. Both playoff hero Howie Kendrick and new addition Eric Thames will see time at first base and in the DH slot.
Kendrick, who boasted a slash line of .344/.395/.572 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs, would be the top choice for the newly added position. Throughout his career he’s boasted a respectable average with RISP at .290 and last year he was second on the team with a .966 OPS.
In the 2019 postseason Kendrick singlehandedly provided the franchise with some of its most memorable moments, putting on full display his talent for big hits in even bigger situations. The Nats even used Kendrick in the DH position for the World Series games against Houston at Minute Maid Park. It should be apparent that Kendrick could provide the most impact at DH for the majority of the 60 game season.
Having said that; even a shortened season allows for the possibility of injury and slumps, necessitating a contingency plan. With Ryan Zimmerman forgoing the 2020 season, the everyday first baseman will mainly include the likes of either Kendrick or Thames. In the case where Kendrick is needed on first, Thames could easily step into the DH role.
Eric Thames is as physically imposing as it gets. At 6’0” 210 lbs., Thames towers over the plate with power to match. In 2019 he hit for .247/.346/.505 with 25 homers and 61 RBIs for the Brewers. His size, power, and ability as a left-handed hitter is nearly the perfect archetype for a designated hitter. Thames has had issues with his aggressive approach as of late; striking out 30.9% of the time and batting only .188 against lefties in 2019. If he can sharpen his plate discipline while only keying in on the DH role Thames can add to his 2019 total of 61 RBIs.
Outside of the first base personnel, the Nats can also rely on Asdrudal Cabrera to fill the DH role if necessary. After joining the team in August Cabrera hit the ground running, hitting .323/.404/.565 with 6 home runs and 40 RBIs. However, the major caveat to Cabrera’s availability for DH depends upon Carter Kieboom’s acclimation to third base. Cabrera – the more competent defender of the two, may be the safer option at third base for the Nationals if Kieboom makes frequent fielding errors. Should Kieboom round out to an everyday third baseman, Cabrera can provide much needed versatility in the DH role as a switch hitter.
The permutations are varied, as Davey Martinez would prefer them to be. The situation at DH will be a fluid one for the Nationals as they traverse the 60 game season. As the season ebbs and flows the answer at DH may become more concrete. Until then the options for the new role leaves Martinez room to pick and choose who may be most suitable given a particular matchup.