While Luke Scott and his excellent muttonchops were the primary designated hitter for the Rays in 2012, Tampa used 18 different players at DH in 2012. Evan Longoria also saw extensive action at the position after returning from his hamstring injury, logging the second most at bats of any player in that slot in the lineup.
Jeff Keppinger produced the best statistics of any player the Rays used at designated hitter in 2012. Over his 73 at bats as DH, he produced a .301/.329/.370 slash line, with a home run and two doubles. Longoria also hit reasonably well as a DH, with a .261/.324/.500 batting line. More importantly, he provided just over 30% of the home runs hit by Rays designated hitters, slugging seven of the 23 they hit over the season, despite accumulating only 15.8% of the Rays at bats at DH.
After seeing his batting average dip to as low as .194, Scott ended the season fairly well, with 33 hits over his final 113 at bats. Over that time frame, he produced a .292/.341/.558 slash line with 13 doubles, five home runs, and 19 RBIs. Scott even chipped in two stolen bases during his late season run.
Overall, the Rays did not get much offense from a position specifically designed for offense. Rays designated hitters combined to finish 12th in batting average, 13th in on base percentage, and 11th in slugging. They also ranked 11th in runs scored and hits. Scott’s overall line as a DH, .234/.294/.445, contributed greatly to the lack of production.
However, a large part of that was caused by the miserable 0-41 streak that Scott went on from June 1st through July 5th. Taking out those 41 at bats, his batting average for the season would have been a much more palatable .264. Yet, his stats from this year are a concern, especially coming off an injury plagued 2011 when he only batted .220.
Looking Ahead to 2013:
Scott has come out and stated that he would like to return to the Rays, as he enjoyed the environment and the clubhouse. However, the Rays have a $6Million option with a $1Million buyout. Given his production, or lack thereof, for most of 2012, it seems unlikely that the option would be picked up. Perhaps the Rays and Scott restructure the contract, lowering the base salary and providing him the ability to earn the rest back in incentives.
Yet, the Rays are a team that needs to consider payroll flexibility. Either Henry Wrigley or Leslie Anderson could potentially get a chance to earn the first baseman job, and could also be in the mix for regular at bats at designated hitter. There are also enough free agents that could possibly fill that role for roughly the same cost or less than Scott’s option. A potentially interesting player could be Carlos Lee, who had a down year in the power department, although he did hit .264/.332/.365 for the season. Another bonus that Lee provides is his low strikeout rate, as he has struck out in only 12.3% of his at bats.
Given the present state of the roster, it is possible that the Rays do not have a steady designated hitter at all in 2013. The positional flexibility that the Rays target allows them to get everyone in the lineup on a semi-frequent basis, and Maddon is not afraid to plug a seemingly unconventional bat into the lineup as the designated hitter, as the 18 different players used there in 2012 would illustrate.
The designated hitter spot in 2013 may well just be a way that Maddon keeps a hot bat in the lineup while getting other players into the field. In all likelihood, DH will just be a revolving door, unless the Rays specifically seek out a low cost veteran to fill that spot in the lineup.