In 2022, the universal DH came to MLB permanently. When we were prepping for our fantasy drafts in 2022, we did not know how this would affect our game. Now that we have a full season of data, we can look and see what it means for baseball and fantasy baseball moving forward.
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How Did The Universal DH Change Fantasy Baseball?
We want to be careful to not overreact to just one season of data because things can influence the results like a new ball or change in park factors, but there are some interesting differences.
The most obvious were the effects on pitching stats between the American League and National League. In 2022, American League pitchers had a lower ERA than National League pitchers for the first time since the addition of the DH to the American League in 1973. It was also just the third time in which the National League had a higher home-run-per-nine-inning rate than the American League.
I think these are trends you could continue to see with the National League having the two worst parks to pitch in with Coors Field in Colorado and Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, and 10 of their 15 parks being in the top 15 in terms of worst park factors for runs scored and home runs over the last three years. This all tends to point to the National League being a worse pitching environment and better hitting environment than the American League moving forward. However, the more balanced schedule this season will make it even closer.
On the hitting side, we saw the DH help players that are older or injured get more plate appearances. In spite of a torn UCL that required Bryce Harper to get Tommy John surgery, he was able to play in 90 games as the designated hitter and push that surgery to the offseason. Other players like Ketel Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Blackmon, and Justin Turner were able to play big chunks of their season as the DH, which allowed them both to stay healthier. It also allowed defensively challenged players like Daniel Vogelbach, Albert Pujols, Marcell Ozuna, and Nelson Cruz to be better utilized in the National League.
However, most National League teams did not use a player as a full-time DH. Only Luke Voit, Nelson Cruz, and Daniel Vogelbach received over 400 plate appearances as a designated hitter. Most teams used the position to give players a day off from fielding, rotating players in and out of the position.
The only caveat to that was the number of plate appearances some catchers were able to add as a DH. Willson Contreras was able to get 168 plate appearances at DH in 2022, which is a massive boon to his value. William Contreras and Will Smith were the other two who were able to get over 100 plate appearances as their team’s designated hitter. Players like Tyler Stephenson and Francisco Alvarez (as well as Sean Murphy leaving Oakland for Atlanta) are those who could join the three National League catchers this year as players that could really benefit from the DH in the National League this season.
While one year’s worth of data is not enough to draw complete conclusions, it is clear that the addition of the DH to the National League impacted Major League Baseball and fantasy baseball in 2022 and will continue to do so moving forward. With new rules once again affecting our game, it is important to be able to adapt to how these rules and previous ones can change how we approach our drafts and in-season management.
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