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Continuing our ongoing series in which we try to determine who the greatest players of all time are by crowdsourcing the task out to randomly googled top 10 lists and adding up the rankings for each player on a 1000-point scale, we now turn our attention to the most recently created position: the designated hitter.

All he did was hit: Edgar Martinez had a 147 career OPS+

This one was tough. It seems that the internet is not fond of ranking the all-time designated hitters, which kind of makes sense because there are fewer candidates to choose from, but kind of doesn’t make sense because it’s still fun to debate who was the best.

Anyway in order to create meaningful rankings I had to bend two of the rules I normally follow when compiling these lists, for accuracy purposes, which are never to include rankings from lists of less than at least 10 players, and never to include rankings higher than 10 except for tie-breaking purposes. But in this case, because there are so few top 10 lists of designated hitters to be found, the list actually became more accurate by bending these rules a bit.

But even with the rule bending, I could only find a handful of rankings of DH’s, so I had to bend a third rule by including rankings from more than one list on the same web page, rather than only including the first or most prominent list. And even then, I could only scrounge up 9 lists, which meant I had to normalize the tallies to a 1000-point scale by multiplying each score by 1 1/9.

Nevertheless, once all the number-wrangling was accomplished, I think the internets actually came up with a pretty decent list. Have a look….

(first place votes in parentheses, *=HOF)

1. Frank Thomas – 992 (4)
2. Edgar Martinez – 991 (4)
3. *Paul Molitor – 984 (1)
4. Harold Baines – 962
5. David Ortiz – 953
6. Hal McCrae – 844
7. Chili Davis – 831
8. Don Baylor – 629
9. Brian Downing – 611
10. Andre Thornton – 507

11. Travis Hafner – 304
12. Jose Canseco – 303
13. Oscar Gamble – 209
14. Jim Thome – 107
15. Willy Horton – 99

It was an incredibly closely fought battle between Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez for first place, with both getting 4 first place votes. Thomas was ranked #4 on one list whereas Edgar was never ranked lower than #3, but the Big Hurt also had four #2 rankings, whereas Edgar had only two.

Looking at the numbers, although Thomas was the better player overall, I personally would probably have given Edgar the edge on this *particular* list because when you just compare the numbers they put up while playing DH, rather than as a position player, Edgar’s numbers were better in those games. Thomas often said he hit better when he also played in the field, and the numbers bear this out. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with either man as a #1 pick as these results confirm.

Which brings us to the question of Edgar’s HOF candidacy. Molitor is already in the Hall of Fame, having somehow entered as a “third baseman” despite the fact that he played significantly more games as a DH, and Thomas is a virtual lock for the Hall on the basis of his transcendent offensive numbers, the significant amount of time he spent at 1B, and his squeaky clean rep vis-a-vis performance enhancing drugs.

But the fact remains that both Thomas and Molitor spent the majority of their careers as DH’s. Which to my mind means that if you believe that Molitor and Thomas belong in the Hall, then you have to put Edgar in as well, because he was a significantly better hitter than Molitor, even adjusting for era, and he was nearly the equal of Thomas.

It simply makes no sense to put Molitor in despite the fact that he played 1174 games as a DH, and then turn around and say undeniably superior hitter Edgar Martinez should be kept out because he was a DH.

Which is not to say that I personally think he should go in, as a matter of fact. I think Thomas should go in because he was already on the border of Hall of Fame worthy numbers before he even became a full-time DH, but I don’t think Molitor should have gone in, and I’m leaning against Edgar at present. But all I am saying is whatever your view, be consistent, and if any player who spent more time at DH should go in other than Thomas, it should be Edgar Martinez.

The other name on this list which caught my eye was Harold Baines. Again, I don’t personally think he should go into the Hall, but give the man credit for being the 4th greatest DH of all time. Again, if you believe that there should be a place for guys that were pretty much only ever DH’s, then you really would have to throw Baines in there too.

So anyway, what do you think? Agree with these rankings? Think they’re completely wrong? Let us know in the comments!

And finally, here are the lists I used to derive these rankings. These are the first 9 lists (on 6 pages) that came up in a Google search:

Top Designated Hitters of All-Time” (TheBaseballPage.com)
top ten dh’s of all time” (Baseball Fever)
Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas (Survey Says: The Best Players in Baseball’s Last 20 Years)” (Bleacher Report)
Top 10 DHs” (Baseball Fever)
Top ten by position: final round” (Baseball Fever)
Three Former Halos Among Best DHs of All Time ” (Halos Heaven)

4 Responses to “Crowdsourcing the Greats: The Greatest Designated Hitters of All Time”

  1. I’ll never forget it. I was watching Sports Center circa summer of 2000. Dan Patrick was going through a White Sox highlight. Frank was playing first. Someone smoked a liner up the first base line and Thomas dove to his left and snagged the laser. Dan Patrick goes: “HE’S NO DH!”

    Of course, Thomas injured his hammy or something in that play, and he was DH forever after.

  2. The hall of fame is for baseball players. Not designated hitters.

    • Jeff Kurashige says:

      Great work as always Nick. One question is, if you don’t support DH’s for the Hall, why do you support closers? Both groups are fairly similar in their “one dimensional” roles. Closers are essentially the DH’s of the pitching corps, as many argue that RP’s are essentially “failed starters” (i.e. starters who could only play in particular/limited circumstances). In the “best RP list” you assumed (rightly in my view) that RP’s should be in the Hall, so I’m curious as to whether you see any inconsistencies in your position?

      • Nick Kapur says:

        Hey Jeff!

        To be perfectly honest, my bias against DH’s is mostly just the result a personal, and perhaps irrational, antipathy for a rule that I think should never have been made in the first place.

        However, I think you may be misinterpreting my position on DH’s in the Hall. I don’t think I’ve actually said anywhere that I would keep all DH’s out of the Hall, no matter what.

        In fact, I did say I would gladly induct Frank Thomas, despite the fact that he played more games at DH than any other position.

        I’m particularly willing to be flexible if people played a significant amount of time at a regular position. And the fact is that most people are not DH’s for their whole career, but start out at some position for a while.

        Mostly what I am against is people sticking around and padding their offensive stats as a DH when they couldn’t really play in the field anymore. Those players are getting an unfair advantage in compiling longevity milestones that players before 1972 did not have.

        And anyway, in the case of Edgar Martinez, I said I was “leaning against him at present,” not that I was categorically opposed to him ever being elected. I recognized the fact that he was a really, really good hitter, and I really wouldn’t be too upset if he got into the Hall. I just wouldn’t vote for him if I had a vote, at present. But I’m perfectly willing to be persuaded!

        So yeah, I’m not against DH’s in the Hall. I just feel the bar should be set really, really high. It’s a bar that Frank Thomas has crossed in my view. And in this sense I think my position on relievers is entirely consistent. I think the bar needs to be set really, really high, and I think only a tiny handful of relievers have been worthy so far.

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