A Short History of the Short History of Cubs Designated Hitters
In the opener of the Cubs' just-completed series in Toronto, Derrek Lee, playing the part of Designated Hitter, went 0-for-3 with a strikeout; Aramis Ramirez, in his regular third base role, went 2-for-5.
On Saturday, Ramirez took over the DH role and went 1-for-5 with two K's and left five men on base; Derrek Lee returned to his accustomed position at first base and went 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
Always one to jump to a quick conclusion, on Saturday night, I got to thinking that just maybe this DH thing was a little trickier than one might imagine, especially for National League players who don't know what it is to have four or five at-bats in a game separated not by time in the field, but by long idle stretches in the dugout, or back in the clubhouse, doing whatever it is DH's do when they're not sitting idle in the dugout.
Anyway, I took a look at how the Cubs' designated hitters have fared since the onset of interleague play in 1997. Here's what I found (numbers are cumulative figures for Cub DH's season-by-season):
(The numbers all come from Baseball-Reference.com; sOPS+ compares the split in question—in this case, the OPS of Cubs Designated Hitters—against the same split, the OPS for Designated Hitters, in all of Major League Baseball; and the "Designated DH" is the Cubs player who had the most plate appearances in a given season as the team's DH.)
Some notes and observations:
— The Cubs have handled this DH thing pretty well. In 7 of the 11 seasons of AL/NL competition before this year, the performance of Cub DH's has been in the top half of the National League. Comparing Cub DH's to all Major League DH's, in all but three of these years—'99, '00. and '06—the Cubs have been better than average.
— Roosevelt Brown's name has never been juxtaposed with such sweet numbers as it is in this chart. His '01 performance was hugely influenced by a single, 5-for-6 game against the Tigers, a game the Cubs won 15-9, thanks in no small part to Brown's double, HR and 3 RBI. Similarly, Todd Hollandsworth was a DH dandy in '04, when he had a pair of 2-for-4 games at Anaheim and then another one in June, when the Cubs visited the South Side to play the Sox.
— In 2003, Dusty Baker's first year with the Cubs, he gave all of the team's DH plate appearances to Moises Alou, and Moises fared okay, with a homer, 8 RBI and a .286 batting average. The problem was, while Moises was DHing, the left field duties were being handled by Tom Goodwin, Dave Kelton, and Troy O' Leary.
— Dave Clark not only was the DDH in the Cubs' first year of interleague play, he was also, literally, the first Cubs DH ever. When the Cubs visited the White Sox on June 16 of that year, Clark hit fifth in the order and delivered a first-inning single off of Jamie Navarro in a game the Cubs would go on to win, 8-3.
And, oh, yeah, about jumping to conclusions regarding the difficulty of National Leaguers trying to fill the DH role...if I had waited until Sunday, I might never have jumped at all. Derrek Lee, returning to the DH role, went 3-for-4 and scored twice in the Cubs' 7-4 win over the Jays.