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Jays Listed – Top 10 Designated Hitters

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If you’re a team’s designated hitter you’re obviously being paid to do one thing and that’s hit. If you’re just sitting in the dugout for the entire game waiting for your four or five at bats you better do something when you get to the plate.

Through the years the Blue Jays have employed a number of heavy-hitting DH’s. Many had a ton of pop, but very few could also hit for average or get on base with regularity and hardly any also had speed on the bases. That had a real affect on the rankings for the list. The more offensive categories a player made an impact in the more likely they’ll get a higher rank on the list. Sure, you may hit a boatload of home runs, but your .230 average and .318 OBP standout for the opposite reason. Don’t forget about all those strikeouts too.

Putting together the DH list was interesting because there are a few players that have been slotted into the DH spot in Toronto in their later years once playing the field wasn’t such a great option. One that immediately comes to mind is Rance Mulliniks. A few other more recent players that have seen steady time at DH are Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind. All three of these players have already appeared in other lists for other positions. That’s why you won’t find them here.

Now that I’ve gone over who won’t be on the list let’s get to who is. Here we go…

10. Josh Phelps – 2000 – 2004

The Blue Jays drafted Josh Phelps in the 10th round of the 1996 draft. He was originally drafted as a catcher, and played a few games behind the plate for the Jays before moving primarily to DH and first base.

He made his debut with the Blue Jays in 2000, but it wasn’t much of a debut. That season he appeared in only one game, getting one at bat in which he struck out. He had another eight-game cup of coffee in 2001, going hit-less in eight at bats.

He finally cracked the starting lineup with some regularity in 2002. He appeared in 74 games that season, which included 71 at DH. He hit .309 with a .362 OBP and a .925 OPS. He also cracked 15 home runs, had 58 RBI and a 138 OPS+. His WAR that season was 1.4 and finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.

Phelps’ rookie season may have set the bar too high, as he was unable to really match it during the rest of his career. In 2003 his power numbers improved as he had 20 home runs on 66 RBI in 119 games. His peripherals fell though, as he hit .268 with a .358 OBP and a .827 OPS. His OPS+ that season was 113 and his WAR 1.0. For a 25-year-old kid with less than 300 Major League games under his belt that’s still a pretty good season.

The following season his average fell to .237 with a .296 OBP and a .713 OPS. He still hit 12 home runs with 51 RBI in 79 games, but his OPS+ dropped to 80 and his WAR was -0.6. On August 24 that season the Blue Jays traded Phelps to the Cleveland Indians for Eric Crozier.

Any questions as to whether the Jays gave up on Phelps too early were quickly answered. Phelps finished out the 2004 season in Cleveland and spent the rest of his Major League career bouncing from team to team. He spent at least parts of a season with the Devil Rays, Yankees, Pirates and Cardinals before his Major League career came to an end in 2008. He continued to play in the independent leagues, including a season with the Bridgeport Bluefish in 2010 and a season in Italy with the Telemarket Rimini in 2011.

9. Rico Carty – 1978, 1979

Rico Carty had a few stints with the Blue Jays, including one very short one in 1976. Carty was originally selected by Toronto from Cleveland in the 1976 expansion draft. A month after the draft he was traded back to the Indians for Rick Cerone and John Lowenstein.

A couple year later he was on his way back to Toronto when the Indians shipped him to the Blue Jays for Dennis DeBatt on March 15, 1978. Carty was the Blue Jays DH on opening day, 1978. That season he would appear in 104 games with the Blue Jays, hitting .284 with a .340 OBP and a .821 OPS. He hit 20 home runs, had 68 RBI with a OPS+ of 128 and a WAR of 1.6.

Late in the season on August 15 the Blue Jays traded Carty to Oakland in exchange for Willie Horton and Phil Huffman. His time in Toronto wasn’t over yet though. After the season the Blue Jays purchased Carty’s contract from Oakland, bringing him back for the ’79 season.

At 39 years of age in 1979, Carty’s numbers at the plate dropped considerably. In 132 games he hit .256 with a .322 OBP and a .713 OPS.  He had 12 home runs, 55 RBI with a 92 OPS+ and a -0.5 WAR. Carty retired following the 1979 season.

8. Frank Thomas – 2007-2008

The Big Hurt joined the Blue Jays as a free agent prior to the 2007 season, following a rebound season with Oakland in which he hit 39 home runs.

He played nearly everyday for the Blue Jays in 2007, appearing in 155 games and hitting .277 with a .377 OBP and a .857 OPS. He hit 26 home runs, had 92 RBI and posted a 125 OPS+. His WAR that season was 1.8.

Thomas had a number of memorable moments during his first season Toronto. A few of them included a grand slam home run in an 8-5 win over the the Devil Rays, and six different games in which he had four RBI. He terrorized the Orioles in an 11-4 win late in the season, going 4-4 with a home run, three RBI and three runs scored. Thomas also hit his 500th career home run as a Blue Jay and hit three home runs in a game against the Red Sox.

After Thomas’ strong 2007 season he quickly declined in 2008. Through 16 games Thomas was hitting only .167 with a .306 OBP and a .639 OPS. He had three home runs and a 72 OPS+ when the Blue Jays released him on April 20.

7. Jose Canseco – 1998

Jose Canseco spent one memorable season in a Blue Jays uniform in 1998. The slugger set a new career high that season with 46 home runs. It was also one home run short of the franchise single season record at the time. Canseco also had 107 RBI while hitting .237 with a .318 OBP and a .836 OPS. His OPS+ that season was 114 and he had a 1.2 WAR. He also stole 29 bases, nearly reaching the 30-30 mark..

Canseco won the Silver Slugger award in the AL that season, while leading the AL in strikeouts with 159. That’s a franchise record that still stands to this day. If he doesn’t watch out Kelly Johnson could change that later this month.

Despite Canseco’s home run binge in 1999 the Blue Jays did not resign him at the end of the season. He moved on to Tampa Bay the following season and made stops with the Yankees and White Sox over the next three seasons.

6. Brad Fullmer – 2000-2001

The Blue Jays acquired Brad Fullmer as part of a three-team trade with the Montreal Expos and the Texas Rangers in March, 2000. Toronto received Fullmer from Montreal, Texas sent Lee Stevens to the Expos and Toronto sent David Segui to Texas in the deal.

Fullmer’s first season in Toronto was also the best of his career. He hit a career-best .295 with a .340 OBP and a .898 OPS. He also set a number of career-highs with 32 home runs, 104 RBI and 76 runs scored. His OPS+ that season was 120 and he posted a 1.4 WAR.

In 2009 Fullmer actually played more games than in 2008, but his numbers at the plate declined dramatically. His home run total dipped to 18 and he had only 83 RBI. He hit .274 with a .326 OBP and a .771 OPS and his OPS+ dropped to 100. His WAR also sunk to 0.8.

Following the season he was traded to the Anaheim Angels for Brian Cooper. He was part of the Angels World Series winner in 2002 and spent two seasons with the team. In 2003 he joined the Texas Rangers  but was not resigned after a mediocre season. He spent all of 2005 rehabbing from injuries, but did not return to the game and retired after the season.

5. Matt Stairs – 2007-2008

After spending his first 14 years of his career with nine different teams Matt Stairs came home to Canada to play for the Blue Jays in 2007. In his first year in a Blue Jays uniform he made an immediate impact at the plate.

In 2007 Stairs appeared in 125 games for the Blue Jays, hitting .289 with a .368 OBP and a .917 OPS. He hit 21 home runs and had 64 RBI while posting a 138 OPS+ and a solid 2.2 WAR. He was especially clutch with runners in scoring position, hitting .301 with a .439 OBP and a .969 OPS. Stairs led the team in OBP, slugging percentage and OPS that season.

The following season Stairs was unable to repeat his outstanding 2007 numbers, but he still hit .250 with a .342 OBP and a .736 OPS. As the everyday DH he hit 11 home runs and 44 RBI with a 98 OPS+ and a -0.6 War in 105 games. At the trade deadline the Blue Jays dealt Stairs to the Phillies for Fabio Castro. Stairs was a power bat off the bench for the Phillies and delivered a number of big hits, including some timely home runs to help the Phillies claim their first World Series title since 1980.

4. Otto Velez – 1977-1982

The Blue Jays selected Otto Velez from the Yankees in the 1976 expansion draft. He was the starting DH in the Blue Jays first game in 1977, going 2-4 with a run scored. In that inaugural season Velez appeared in 120 games, hitting .256 with a .366 OBP and a .824 OPS. He hit 16 home runs and had 62 RBI while posting a 124 OPS+ and a 1.6 WAR.

Velez had his best season in Toronto in 1979. That season he hit .288 with a .396 OBP and a .925 OPS. He hit 15 home runs and posted a 148 OPS+ and a 2.7 WAR. The following season he hit a career-high 20 home runs in 104 games, while driving in 62 RBI. He also hit .269 with a .365 OBP and a .852 OPS.  His OPS+ that season was 127 and he had a 1.3 WAR.

One of Velez’s most memorable moments as a Blue Jay took place during the 1980 season. On May 4 the Jays played a double header against the Cleveland Indians. Velez hit four home runs in the two games and had 10 RBI. Velez hit for the home run cycle in the two games with a solo homer, a two-run home run a three-run shot and a grand slam.

Velez’s playing time quickly dropped over his last two seasons in Toronto. He played in only 100 games combined between 1981 and 1982, hitting 12 home runs. Velez was released near the end of the 1982 season and moved on to Cleveland the following year.

In six seasons with Toronto Velez hit .257 with a .372 OBP and a .834 OPS. He hit 72 home runs, had 243 RBI and posted a 127 OPS+ and a 8.3 WAR.

3. Cliff Johnson – 1983-1984, 1985-1986

The Blue Jays acquired Cliff Johnson in a trade with the Cleveland Indians following the 1982 season. Going the other way in the deal was Al Woods.

In his first season with the Blue Jays Johnson appeared in 142 games and hit .265 with a .373 OBP and a .862 OPS. He matched a career-high with 23 home runs and had 76 RBI. His OPS+ that season was 130 and he had a 1.7 WAR.

The following season Johnson raised his average to .304 with a .390 OBP and a .897 OPS. He hit 16 home runs and had 61 RBI with a 143 OPS+ and a 2.7 WAR. After the season Johnson left Toronto and signed with the Texas Rangers as a free agent. He returned to Toronto very soon.

In 1985 at the trade deadline the Blue Jays brought Johnson back in a trade with the Rangers. Heading to Texas in the deal were Matt Williams, Jeff Mays and Greg Ferlenda. In 24 games with Toronto the rest of the season Johnson hit .274 with a .349 OBP and a .664 OPS. He hit one home run and had 10 RBI.

Johnson was part of the first Blue Jays team to advance to the postseason in 1985. In the ALCS against the Kansas City Royals he went 7-19, hitting .368 with two RBI and one run scored.

Johnson returned for the 1986 season, which would be his last in Toronto and also the last of his Major League career. In 107 games that season Johnson hit only .250 with a .355 OBP but he still hit 15 home runs and had 55 RBI. His OPS+ was still a solid 110, while his WAR was 0.7.

2. Dave Winfield – 1992

The Blue Jays added some clout to the DH position for the 1992 season by signing veteran Dave Winfield. He didn’t disappoint.

The 40-year-old veteran appeared in 156 games for the Blue  Jays in 1992, which included 130 games at DH. Winfield hit an impressive .290 that season with a .377 OBP and a .867 OPS. He ripped 26 home runs to go along with 108 RBI. He won the AL Silver Slugger and finished fifth in MVP voting after posting a 138 OPS+ and a 3.8 WAR.

Winfield became an immediate fan favorite during this short stay in Toronto and it wasn’t just because of his performance at the plate. Winfield also brought veteran leadership and and challenged the fans to make the SkyDome a place visiting teams did not want to play in leading to the ever-popular “Winfield Wants Noise!”

Winfield had a reputation for not showing up in the postseason but he took care of that with one swing of the bat in the World Series. In Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves with the game tied Winfield stepped in to face Charlie Leibrandt with Devon White on second and Roberto Alomar on first. Winfield smacked a double down the third base line that bounced around in the outfield corner to score both White and Alomar. Those would prove to be the winning runs as Toronto held on to win 4-3 and capture their first World Series title.

Winfield did not resign with the Blue Jays at the end of the 1992 season and instead moved on to Minnesota. He spent two seasons with the Twins before being traded to Cleveland during the 1994 strike. He played one season with the Indians during the shortened 1995 season and retired after the year. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

 

1. Paul Molitor – 1993-1995

After Dave Winfield moved on following the 1992 season the Blue Jays needed a new lethal bat at DH as they attempted to repeat in 1993. They found it in Paul Molitor.

After spending his entire 15-year career in Milwaukee up to that point Molitor came to Toronto in search of that elusive championship. Molitor had some big shoes to fill after Winfield left and he not only filled them, he surpassed Winfield.

Molitor played nearly everyday in 1993, appearing in 160 games and hitting .332 with a .402 OBP and .911 OPS. Molitor hit 22 home runs, had 111 RBI and stole 22 bases in 26 attempts. He posted a 143 OPS+ that season and a phenomenal 5.5 WAR. Molitor’s impressive season earned him a trip to the All-Star game, the AL Silver Slugger, and he also finished second in MVP voting.

In the postseason Molitor found another gear. In the ALCS against the White Sox he was a force, hitting .391 with a .481 OBP and a 1.18 OPS. He had one home run, five RBI, and seven runs scored in the six-game series.

As good as Molitor was in the ALCS he was even better in the World Series. Molitor owned Philadelphia Phillies pitching hitting an amazing .500 with a .571 OBP and a 1.57 OPS. He hit a pair of home runs, had eight RBI and scored 10 runs in the series. Molitor was an obvious choice for World Series MVP.

In 1994 the Blue Jays started to slide down the standings in the AL East, but it wasn’t due to a lack of offense from Molitor. When the strike ended the season Molitor was hitting .341 with a .410 OBP and a .927 OPS. In 115 games he had 14 home runs, 75 RBI and 20 steals in 20 attempts. His OPS+ was 138 and his WAR that season was 3.4.

Molitor finally began to slow down at the plate in 1995. That was to be expected at least somewhat at 38 years of age. In the shortened season Molitor appeared in 130 games, hitting .270 with a .350 OBP and a .772 OPS. He had 15 home runs, 60 RBI and was once again perfect on the base paths with 12 steals in 12 attempts. His OPS+ fell to 101, while his WAR was only 1.1.

Molitor left Toronto following the 1995 season to finish off his career with three seasons in Minnesota. In his first year with the Twins he turned back the clock again, hitting .341 with a .390 OBP and a .858 OPS. He drove in 113 runs that season and posted a 116 OPS+ and a 3.5 WAR. Molitor was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004.

A few other Blue Jays Designated Hitters:
David Segui
Dave Hollins
Bob Brenly
Pat Tabler
Cecil Fielder
Willie Greene
Lee Mazzilli
Juan Samuel

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