In the two years the National League has had the designated hitter — 2020 and 2022 — the Dodgers have used that position to cycle through players who need a partial day off. In 2020, AJ Pollock was their most frequent DH, but only 21.9% of his plate appearances came at DH and 15 different players got at least one plate appearance there.
Last year, it was a little more lopsided, with Justin Turner having more than twice as many DH plate appearances as anyone else, but even then, JT got just 36.4% of the team’s DH PAs and 17 different players had at least one PA.
In 2023, Los Angeles will be going a more traditional route with the DH after they signed JD Martinez in December. Martinez has been a full-time DH for a few years, and that’s the plan for him in LA. As multiple outlets reported recently, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects Martinez in the DH spot the vast majority of the time.
“I don’t expect J.D. to DH 162. But he’s going to be the guy who’s going to be in that position 99.9 percent of the time.”
We won’t get into semantics or math or whatever it would be to point out that 99.9% of 162 is still 162, but it’s worth wondering how often Martinez will actually be in the lineup. Over the past five seasons, Martinez has played in almost exactly 90% of his team’s games, so that seems like a safe target. That would be 146 games this season.
One of the most important ways Roberts used the DH last year was to get a break for catcher Will Smith while keeping his potent bat in the lineup. Smith made 25 starts at DH last year, and Roberts was asked about the obvious but unspoken implication that Smith will get less playing time because of Martinez. As Jack Harris reports in the Los Angeles Times, Roberts was hesitant to commit to that.
“The one thing I don’t want Will to hear right now is [Smith’s] gonna get less at bats,” Roberts said. “We’re gonna manage it, monitor it and see how it goes. I can say things and expect things, but they change quite often. And also, depending on how guys are swinging, certain guys might need a day here or there.”
If Smith were to get all 16 starts at DH that Martinez doesn’t make, then he’d only have to catch nine more games than last year to break even. He started 106 games at catcher last year and 111 the year before. It’s not crazy to think he could handle 115 starts behind the plate this year.
Catchers will always get more days off than other position players because of the demands of the job, but there should be a path to Smith getting as many plate appearances in 2023 as he did in 2022. If anything, it’s backup catcher Austin Barnes who will likely see his playing time drop because of Martinez.
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