How the Colorado Rockies should use the designated hitter if it stays in 2021

The Colorado Rockies offense was not great in 2020 but the designated hitters were above the team average, and it could even be better in 2021 for a few reasons.

The Colorado Rockies are at a bit of a crossroads as a team. They have not made the playoffs in two seasons and one of the biggest factors in the Rockies not being a postseason team is because of their lack of offense.

Outside of Nolan Arenado (when healthy), Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies have only had one above league average season from a player that played in 100 or more games: David Dahl‘s 110 OPS+ in exactly 100 games in 2019.

With the distinct possibility that the designated hitter will be here to stay in 2021 and beyond, the Rockies could benefit from that immensely.

They could decide to go a few different ways with that. They could either trade for or sign a full-time designated hitter. While both are possibilities, it’s unlikely. The most likely way they will go is to have a DH by committee. They could use it to give players a half-day off of sorts. While the Rockies wouldn’t want to lose their defense every day, they could do that for Arenado or Story.

But the way the Rockies should use it is actually more with their outfielders with a platoon of three players: Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, and Ian Desmond.

This would be hardest to do for Charlie Blackmon, who stated his disdain for the permanent DH back in August.

“It’s something of a necessary evil for this year,” Blackmon said to the media, including Rox Pile, in late August, when he had to DH for a few games. “I don’t really like DH-ing, but the other option would be to maybe sit out a game in order to rest. I don’t think it’s a great idea for me to play these 20 games in a row as a right fielder. That’s a good way to make guys tired, put them at risk for injury or, at the very least, keep them from being very productive.”

He has been on the record for his disdain of defensive metrics as well.

“Honestly, I think the defensive metrics are worthless … anything that’s park-adjusted is garbage, in my opinion,” said Blackmon in that same interview in late August. “I’m looking and seeing players who I know are a certain caliber defender, and I’m seeing them graded out all over the map — compared to other defenders who I know how good they are, and it just doesn’t add up.”

Whether you agree with Blackmon on his statements or not, you can fairly say that Blackmon is not a Gold Glove outfielder. Average? Maybe. Below average? Also, maybe.

Even if you consider him to be average, as he said himself, for long stretches where the Rockies don’t have an off-day, he (and others) shouldn’t be playing 20 or more games in a row, especially if they are struggling or have a history of injuries, which leads us to the next player: David Dahl.

A permanent DH would be a great way to help keep Dahl off of the injured list. He has ended each of the last two seasons on the injured list. He was also limited to a total of 96 games in 2018 due to a foot injury and just 19 games in 2017 due to a stress fracture in his rib.

Dahl still could play the outfield as well but using him more in a DH role may be more beneficial for him. Essentially, the Rockies could use Dahl and Blackmon interchangeably against right-handed pitching: one plays the field and one would be the designated hitter.

As for the third player, Ian Desmond, his struggles have been well documented throughout his tenure with the Rockies. He opted out of the 2020 season so you may have forgotten about him but he could be of value as a DH, especially against left-handed pitchers.

Like with Blackmon, you can choose to believe the outfield metrics on Desmond or not (he had -21 DRS in 77 games in center field in 2019) but regardless, he’s an average defensive outfielder at best. But if you look at his splits in the last two seasons, one thing is evident: he struggles against right-handed pitching and actually hits left-handed pitching well.

Here’s a look at his splits:

    • 2018 vs. RHP: .216/.297/.382
    • 2018 vs. LHP: .280/.332/.509
  • 2019 vs. RHP: .226/.282/.375
  • 2019 vs. LHP: .297/.350/.626

Particularly in the power department, Desmond is much better against lefties. 14 of his 20 home runs in 2019 were against lefties (or 70 percent) when he only faced lefties in a total of 41 percent of his 2019 ABs. For comparison, Nolan Arenado’s overall OPS in 2019 was .962. Desmond’s against lefties was .976.

Desmond’s tOPS+ (OPS+ in a specific split relative to the player’s overall OPS+) says that he was 44 percent better against lefties in 2019 and he was 29 percent better against lefties compared to righties in 2018.

If the Rockies could get those numbers, even just against lefties, the Rockies would definitely take it. That plus Dahl or Blackmon DH’ing against righties and the Rockies may have solved about four potential issues, all with the NL adopting the DH.