Not much is expected from a designated hitter. No fielding prowess is necessary. Speed is not a requirement. The only thing the position demands that you do is produce at the plate.
DHs are hitting .248 with a .325 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage across MLB this season. The .756 on-base plus slugging percentage ranks DH as the second-most productive “defensive” position in baseball, right behind first base (.772 OPS). It’s a position designed to house solid hitters who may be shaky hitters, enabling teams to inject some easy offense into the game.
Unless you’re the Yankees.
The Yankees rank last in the American League and are 22nd in MLB in designated hitter OPS. Yankees DHs are hitting just .189 with a .247 OBP and .342 slugging percentage, a .588 OPS. It’s become the Yankees’ second-biggest offensive black hole, beating only the team’s .586 OPS at shortstop.
Consider this: The Mets demoted catcher Travis d'Arnaud because he had a lowly .544 OPS. And he was sent down even though d'Arnaud, unlike a DH, provided value on defense. The Yankees don't have the option of sending down an entire position, of course, and the underperforming players are some of the more well-paid hitters on the team.
The primary culprit has been 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano, who’s responsible for 101 of the 215 DH plate appearances. Soriano has performed well against lefthanded pitchers, batting .294 with a .319 OBP and .500 slugging percentage. But he’s been useless against righthanded pitchers, with just a .220 OBP and .339 slugging percentage.
Soriano’s impotence when facing same handed pitching has led Joe Girardi to deploy Soriano as more of a platoon bat and less of the everyday player he’s been since 2001. Soriano played in 50 of the Yankees’ first 53 games, starting 43. But he’s played in just five of the last eight games and his last three starts have all come against lefthanded starters.
But Soriano is not the lone Yankee struggling in the DH slot.
Carlos Beltran has received 51 plate appearances and has a .652 OPS. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter have combined for 39 plate appearances and only six hits. Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kelly Johnson, Zoilo Almonte and J.R. Murphy account for the other 19 plate appearances. The sextet has accumulated just two hits and two walks.
This putrid performance has yielded the worst OPS for Yankees designated hitters since… well, last season. A group led by Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells posted a .583 OPS for a team that failed to make the playoffs.
The designated hitter was introduced into the American League in 1973, and until the last two seasons, the Yankees had never posted an OPS below .600 at DH. From 1973-2012, Yankees DHs posted an OPS of less than .700 only six times: 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1990 and 1991.
Even those levels of subpar production, however, probably look pretty good to the Yankees right now.