With the universal DH coming to baseball for this coronavirus (shortened?) season, it opens up opportunities for many National League teams. If this does get approved, I could see this new rule change being permanent, as teams, owners, and fans have been clamoring for this change for years. Now it should come to fruition and be here to stay. There is a bevy of players that will now receive a huge increase in plate appearances that may help your fantasy teams.
Even with the rule change, I expect to see more of a rotation at the DH slot on National League teams. They obviously don’t build their rosters with a DH in mind, unlike in the American League, where teams usually target a player to fill that void for the most part. First up is the NL East, where I see the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets as teams that have a true DH on their team, whereas the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals will have more of a rotation. However, here are the five players that should receive the biggest boost from the DH spot on their respective teams.
Austin Riley, 3B/OF
Austin Riley absolutely tore up the minors in 2017 and 2018 and came up to the Braves in May of last season. He absolutely throttled pitching in May with a .460 wOBA, but drastically declined throughout the year and had a .209 wOBA in the second half of the season. Yes, that is quite the regression. There was a huge disparity in his home-road and versus LHP-RHP splits, as he was atrocious on the road against RHP. There are definitely some flaws in his game as he struck out at a 36% clip, which was amongst the worse in the league with hitters that had more than 200 PAs. However, there is no question that Riley has some tremendous power tools, and his peripherals suggest he will benefit from more playing time to get more acclimated to major league pitching.
Table 1: 2019 Austin Riley Statistics
As you can see from Table 1, he had great peripherals in terms of his power and barreled rates. In terms of being an overall hitter, he is quite clearly a fly-ball hitter (49%) and his launch angle demonstrates that. Don’t expect him to hit for a high average this year if these rates carry over, which I expect they will. Even though his HR/FB rate is fairly high, contextually, it is quite low with him hitting nearly half of his balls in play in the air. Regardless, of any Braves hitter, Riley will certainly see the biggest boost from the DH spot this year, as he should see quite a bit of time at 3B with Josh Donaldson gone and the Marcell Ozuna signing. Even though I expect to see a rotation with the DH in place, expect to see him in the lineup on a daily basis with this new rule change.
Garrett Cooper, 1B/OF
The 6’6” 230-pounder just screams DH (and please trade me to an American League team). Well, this year he doesn’t have to be traded and can still play DH. Honestly, even though his frame screams DH, he was actually a good defensive RF in 2019 with a 14.6 UZR/150 as he split time between there and 1B. You certainly expect to see more power from the big man, but he is an extreme groundball hitter (52.2%), which can also be seen in his incredibly low launch angle in Table 2 (below). You would certainly like his launch angle to progress as his ceiling now would be 20-HR even though he has 30-HR power.
Table 2: Garrett Cooper 2019 Statistics
By acquiring Jesus Aguilar and signing Corey Dickerson, you would expect some PA to be taken away from Cooper and they seem keen on Lewis Brinson and Harold Ramirez as well. Both of whom should also take away playing time The Universal DH should help fix that and I could see him being in the lineup every day now. Fantasy players could be sleeping on him with his underwhelming overall output and position, but he had a .337 wOBA and a .340 xwOBA, and with more PA, Cooper should see a boost in fantasy production this year while outperforming his ADP of 387.
New York Mets
There may not be a player in the NL that will be more suited to play in the DH spot than Cespedes. After having played in only 119 games over the last three seasons, the hope is that he is back in the lineup for Opening Day this year. He missed all of 2019 due to a fractured ankle in a ranching/boar accident? I’m still a little blurry on the details, but let’s just call it a freak accident. There was no doubt that Cespedes could still be a valuable power hitter in the middle of the order when healthy, and this new DH rule will allow him to actually play in the lineup after J.D. David all but supplanted Cespedes in the outfield.
Table 3: Yoenis Cespedes 2016-2018 Averaged Statistics
Undoubtedly, if Cespedes is healthy, this job would be his given his age and injuries. His ADP of 340 is predicated on him getting substantially lower playing time with Robinson Cano getting time at 2B with JD Davis playing in the OF and moving over to 2B when Cano rests. Even though Table 2 is a 3-year average and a lot can happen within a 3-year span for a 34-year old, Cespedes still displayed a ton of power and ability to drive the ball. If he is still available as a waiver pickup in your league, jump on him. If you haven’t drafted yet, consider Cespedes to be a sleeper that could add much-needed power to your roster.
Jay Bruce, 1B/OF
Jay Bruce is one happy man. He had almost no fantasy value as he was completely blocked in the OF and at 1B and was projected to have only 15 HR this year after hitting 26-plus HR in three out of the last four seasons. Again, I am not sure how long the season will be, but expect Jay Bruce to out-produce his projections in a big way and his ADP should skyrocket more than 200-plus picks at the very least.
Table 4: Jay Bruce 2019 Statistics
Bruce can still destroy the baseball as he had his highest HH% of his career last season, his highest xSLG, and second-highest wOBACON over the last five seasons. Bruce’s career was all but over unless he was dealt to an American League team, but this may bring new light to his game and his career with the addition of a universal DH. The only way Bruce’s PA will be cut is if 2018 3rd overall pick Alex Bohm does well enough in the minors that warrants a call up to the big leagues.
Carter Kieboom, 3B/SS
There are probably five players that could benefit from the DH spot on this roster to varying degrees. I have seen a lot of people that have put Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames, Ryan Zimmerman, and Asdrubal Cabrera as beneficiaries, but I expect Kendrick to get PA regardless and Thames to be a platoon guy versus RHP as he just can’t hit lefties. Cabrera will see work at 2B (along with Starlin Castro) and at 3B while Zimmerman will be bench bat because that is what he is at this point in his career. I may be in the minority but Carter Kieboom, who is the Nationals top prospect and one of the top 30 prospects in the game, could see a huge boost in PA due to this new rule as he tries to be Anthony Rendon’s replacement long-term.
Table 5: Carter Kieboom Minor League Statistics
Kieboom struggled in his 11 games in the big leagues last year, but he is too good to not have on your big league roster and you don’t want a young talent like him sitting on the bench. To start the year, I could see him platooning with Cabrera at 3B, but should take over 3B duties by seasons end and hitting at the DH position when Cabrera is in the field. This would allow his 3B tutorial to progress slowly without rushing it, but giving him the PA’s needed to get acclimated to major league pitching and hitting on a daily basis.