The Giants did not build their 2020 roster with the designated hitter in mind, but when new rules were put into place for a shortened season, few teams looked better positioned to take advantage.
The Giants entered summer camp with two left fielders -- Hunter Pence and Alex Dickerson -- who they wanted to keep healthy, and the extra spot seemed a perfect fit. They had Pablo Sandoval back in the mix and Darin Ruf coming over with a big bat but no obvious position. They had a veteran catcher, Buster Posey, who could use a few easier days.
None of that lined up the way team officials hoped.
Adding a DH proved to be a seamless transition for most National League teams, particularly the better ones. The Atlanta Braves, one of two NL teams remaining, led MLB with a 1.000 OPS from the DH spot, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres ranked eighth and ninth, respectively. The deeper lineups were able to take advantage of the extra spot. The Giants, deeper than in years past, were not.
The Giants were a much better offensive team in 2020, but the DH was not part of the solution. Their designated hitters batted .181 with a .596 OPS, ranking in the bottom four in both categories. The group had eight homers in 232 at-bats and a .260 on-base percentage.
That's the bad news.
The good news is the Giants should be much better positioned to take advantage in future years, when the DH is expected to be universal. It's unknown if the rule will stay in place for 2021, but the expectation across the game is that it will become permanent in 2022 when a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
This front office has proven adept at gaining small edges, but Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris didn't know the DH was coming when they put the group together. While in July it looked like it would be a positive, it's pretty easy to see why the Giants ranked so poorly overall.
Pence was 0-for-19 as a DH before getting DFA'd and Sandoval was 10-for-47. Justin Smoak, who briefly replaced Sandoval, was hitless in five at-bats as DH. Taking those who got DFA'd out improves the numbers, but only a bit. Dickerson was hitless in three appearances as DH. Ruf was much better when playing the field.
The only two players who put up even reasonable numbers as DH were Wilmer Flores (.751 OPS, five homers) and Austin Slater (.760 OPS, two homers), who combined to handle nearly all of the DH at-bats in September. Flores, in particular, looms as an obvious answer for 2020, with the hope being that Slater's elbow gets back to 100 percent and he can return to the outfield full-time. Posey will be back next season, and if Joey Bart can find his way, the Giants may need extra at-bats for players in their catcher and first base groups.
The first run with a DH in San Francisco wasn't very fruitful, but ultimately the rule change should be a good thing for a staff that has shown the ability to find undervalued hitters and get the most out of them.