Shortly after I kicked off our 2023 position previews by checking in on the San Francisco Giants odd crop of catchers, the team signed a catcher. Will that happen after this article?
No. The answer is no.
Players who played DH for the Giants in 2022
Tommy La Stella — 43 games
Wilmer Flores — 26 games
Darin Ruf — 24 games
Evan Longoria — 17 games
Yermín Mercedes — 16 games
J.D. Davis — 14 games
Joc Pederson — 14 games
Brandon Belt — 12 games
LaMonte Wade Jr. — 12 games
David Villar — 10 games
Austin Wynns — 5 games
Willie Calhoun — 4 games
Joey Bart — 3 games
Luis González — 3 games
Austin Slater — 2 games
Curt Casali — 1 game
Mauricio Dubón — 1 game
Mike Yastrzemski — 1 game
Roster locks for 2023
Literally every other position player who makes the opening day roster
Other designated hitters on the 40-man roster
Literally every other position player on the 40-man roster
Players in the system who might factor into the position
Sean Roby, maybe
Vaun Brown, we can hope
Jairo Pomares, if things go very well
Literally every other position player in the Minors who plays well
The two players slated to be the team’s primary designated hitters this year, Joc Pederson and J.D. Davis, combined to play just 28 games there a year ago. If you want to feel better about the team’s defensive outlook in 2023, there it is.
The player who led the team in appearances as a designated hitter last year, Tommy La Stella, is no longer on the team. Nor is No. 3, Darin Ruf. If you want to feel better about the team’s offensive outlook in 2023, there it is.
You might hate that there’s a designated hitter. I know I do. But it exists. And unlike last year, it seems like the Giants are now aware that it exists.
That’s a positive. That’s a reason for optimism.
Last year the Giants treated the DH like they did so many positions: a catch-all to throw random players into depending on the day, matchup, weather, and status of mercury. This year they’re treating it like an honest-to-goodness position that they’ve planned for.
Need proof? Look no further than the fact that the Giants gave Pederson the qualifying offer in the offseason, locking him in for one year at almost $2 million more than Fangraphs projected him to get on a two-year deal. And then they made it immediately clear that it was to stand in the batter’s box, not the outfield grass.
Pederson finished with a 144 wRC+ last year, which was 13th in the Majors among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. It’s a slightly misleading figure that doesn’t mean he was the 13th-best hitter in baseball, because all the other names around him on that list are everyday players, whereas the Giants treat Pederson with left-handed pitchers the way parents treat 12-year old boys with unfiltered and uncensored private internet access.
But still. Hitting righties the way Mookie Betts and Juan Soto hit anyone is a damn good skill, especially since nearly three-quarters of pitches are thrown by right-handers. And it’s an even better skill when it doesn’t come with a glove that handles baseball about as gracefully as Chris Berman handles the topic of race.
And with J.D. Davis — who has hit well-above average in each of the last four seasons, and about as well as Pederson after coming over to the Giants last year — set to face the lefties, the Giants should project to have one of the top DH positions in the Majors this year.
Lots of other players will see time there. But I suspect it won’t become the landing spot for half-injured players the way it was last year, when La Stella spent a quarter of the season there because he was too unhealthy to play the field. It’s Pederson’s spot against righties. It’s Davis’ spot against lefties, unless he proves more defensively adequate than Wilmer Flores, and then it’s his spot.
Some players will sub in for handedness advantage. And maybe there will be an injury. But, for the most part, there will be stability.
We don’t know how good the Giants will be this year. But that stability — knowing who will play on any given day — is something they’ve lacked, and it’s nice to see. We won’t see 18 DHs this year, nor will we see 10 players with at least 10 games at the position, nor will we see the leader at the position only play 43 games there.
I, for one, am looking forward to that.