It's almost February, the Yankees have finally resolved their starting pitching woes, and we've all grown tired of complaining about Alex Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett, so our attention has turned to perhaps the only remaining question mark for the 2012 season - the DH position.
We've heard preposterous trade propositions (Jason Bay?? Seriously???), and the Yankees have been linked to just about every remaining free agent hitter over the age of 35, though most of them are hitters in name only these days. Personally, I'd prefer to see Brian Cashman stand pat, because at this point, with these options, there's really no sense in worrying that much about the 23rd or 24th spot on the roster, not in February or October.
When you think of the DH position, it's a pretty safe bet that the names of at least one of a handful of players will pop into your head - Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas, Paul Moliter. Hitters such as these have become synonymous with the position, but when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they're the exception to the rule, and it's actually quite rare for a team to carry an established, regular DH.
Using the play index at www.baseball-reference.com, I searched for hitters who batted at least 500 times in a season with at least 80% of those plate apperances coming from the DH position. Believe it or not, only 65 players have managed to do it at least once. 31 have done it in two or more seasons, and 7 have managed to do it 5 or more times. Considering that the DH has been around for 39 seasons, these are small numbers. All in all, there have been 538 AL team-seasons since 1973, and using our definition of a regular DH, teams have only had one about 26% of the time.
Does this tell us anything we don't already know? Well, kind of. Throughout recent baseball history, most teams have viewed DH as an inherently flexible position, at least in practice if not in theory, and this makes sense. From a strategic standpoint, it's better to focus on having depth at the actual fielding positions and use the DH as a way to keep everybody in the action. Signing a one-dimensional player like Hideki Matsui, or a fielder-in-name-only like Johnny Damon might fill the remaining DH at-bats, but these types of players do you little good throughout the injuries, day-night double headers, and extra-innings games that inevitably dot the regular season.
Unless he can absolutely rake, the left-handed hitting half of a DH platoon is just a glorified pinch hitter if he can't play anywhere on the field or pinch-run. Accordingly, the Yankees should take a pass on the remaining hitters left on the market, (edit: ESPECIALLY Raul Ibanez) and I
suspect hope that they will.