Astros Position Review: Designated Hitter
Today we continue our Astros season review series by position taking a look at the designated hitter position.
First and foremost, unlike some teams, the Astros did not have a set designated hitter for most of the 2016 season. In fact, in 556 official at bats, fifteen different players hit from the designated hitter spot. Even more staggering was that of those 15 players, 10 of them had double digit at bats from the spot. For reference sake, the Boston Red Sox had 12 players who had an official at bat from the designated hitter spot last year, but only 2 (David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez), had more than even 4 at bats, with Ortiz having 527 of them. With all of that in mind, I am going to focus on the three players who had the most official at bats for the Astros last season.
Evan Gattis led the way in DH at bats with 251 in 71 games. In those at bats, Gattis hit .219/.298/.410 with 13 home runs, 31 rbi, 26 walks vs. 81 strikeouts, and 27 runs scored. As the primary designated hitter for the 2016 Houston Astros, Gattis struggled mightily when not also playing a position. In fact, when compared to his stats when in the field, his production as DH was downright abysmal (for instance, when catching, he hit .295/.345/.647 with 19 home runs, 41 rbi, 15 walks vs. 43 strikeouts, and 29 runs scored in only 190 at bats). With the acquisition of Brian McCann, Gattis will once again see opportunities as both a designated hitter and catcher, but if he cannot be more consistent from the designated hitter role, his at bats will be significantly less in 2017 then they were this season.
2016 Stats: 128 G, .251 BA/.319 OBP/.508 SLG, 19 2B, 32 HR, 72 RBI, 43 BB/127 K, 3.0 WAR
Preston Tucker had the second most at bats in the 2016 season with 61. In those 61 at bats over 22 games, Tucker hit .148/.224/.295 with 1 home run, 2 rbi, 5 walks vs. 19 strikeouts and 6 runs scored. Unfortunately, for Preston, while his younger brother’s stock is on the rise, Preston’s is plummeting. In 2016 he struggled to stay both healthy and relevant in the Astros lineup. With the additions made this offseason, it is very likely that Preston will start the season in the minors, and making it back up to the Astros may prove to be a real challenge for him.
2016 Stats: 48 G, .164 BA/.222 OBP/.328 SLG, 8 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 8 BB/40 K
Tyler White definitely rode the rollercoaster of consistency in his first season with the Astros. After winning the first base job out of spring training, White got off to a scorching start. Unfortunately, he could not maintain that over the course of a full season and eventually lost his position. While he had some success initially while playing first base, his stats as a designated hitter were not all that pretty. In 47 at bats over 15 games, Tyler White hit .170/.235/.319 with 1 home run, 4 rbi, 3 walks vs. 13 strikeouts and 3 runs scored. Like Tucker, White may be on the outside looking in when next year starts and may have to start in Triple A and work his way back up to the big club.
2016 Stats: 86 G, .217 BA/.286 OBP/.378 SLG, 16 2B, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 23 BB/65 K
2016 Position Grade: D-
First of all, the fact that the Astros had to use 15 different players in the DH role last year speaks volumes to their inability to find consistent production and it shows when you look at the numbers. In 556 DH at bats last year, the Astros, as a team, hit .218/.299/.378 with 19 home runs, 63 rbi’s, 60 walks vs. a staggering 172 strikeouts and 64 runs scored. For a team that is in a window where they should be competing in the playoffs every year, those number are just not good enough out of the DH spot.
After such a frustrating year for the the Astros’ designated hitters, Jeff Luhnow has gone out and addressed this spot aggressively in the early parts of the offseason. Having traded for Brian McCann and agreeing to terms with Carlos Beltran, the designated hitter role should be much more stabilized, and productive, in 2017. I anticipate that Beltran will likely lead the way in at bats for the Astros at designated hitter, but also anticipate both Brian McCann and Evan Gattis to get opportunities there when they are not catching. Regardless, I think the designated hitter role will be an area of strength, instead of one of weakness, in 2017.
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