Astros' Top 5 DHs: McTaggart's take

May 18th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Brian McTaggart’s ranking of the top 5 designated hitters in Astros history. Next week: Right-handed starters

Astros' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1. (2019-present)
Key fact: Set MLB rookie single-season record for OPS last year (1.067)

The Astros have employed a full-time DH for only seven seasons since moving to the American League in 2013. In fact, only three players in club history have played in more than 100 games at DH, so there isn’t a large sample to choose from when deciding the top five DHs. But the man who has been their best DH is no debate, even if he’s a fresh face.

Alvarez burst onto the scene last June and put up one of the best rookie seasons in history, hitting .313 with 27 homers and 78 RBIs in 87 games as the Astros DH en route to being named 2019 AL Rookie of the Year. He homered in his first two Major League games and hit four homers in his first five games and became the first player in history to have six homers and 14 RBIs in his first 11 games. He was named AL Rookie of the Month in June, July and August.

“I was really not expecting it,” Alvarez said after winning the AL Rookie of the Year. “My whole family was telling me I was going to be the winner of the award. When I was selected as the winner, I was very excited and was able to celebrate with my family.”

Alvarez’s prodigious power was must-see TV. On July 19, he walloped a 474-foot homer that was the longest of the season by the Astros and ninth-longest in MLB last year. Alvarez also slugged three homers in a game Aug. 10 in Baltimore. A month later, he became the first Astros player to hit a fair ball into the third deck at Minute Maid Park when he homered down the right-field line.

From his June 9 debut until the end of the season, Alvarez ranked in the top 10 among all AL hitters in RBIs (second), OBP (third), slugging (third), OPS (fourth), extra-base hits (fifth), homers (tied, sixth), doubles (tied, seventh) and batting average (ninth). His 1.067 OPS was the sixth-highest by a player 22 years or younger in MLB’s modern era (since 1900).

2. (2015-18)
Key fact: His 346 career games at DH are nearly twice as many as any other Astros player in history

Perhaps the most amazing statistic during Gattis’ four seasons with the Astros were the 11 triples he hit in the ’15 season. That’s among the highest single-season totals in club history and accounted for all but one of Gattis’ 12 triples in his six-year career. The Paul Bunyanesque slugger was certainly known more for his power.

Gattis played more than 100 games at catcher and dabbled in left field early in his Astros tenure, but made his mark at DH. He slugged 78 homers and drove in 96 runs in four seasons in Houston, posting a .769 OPS. He started 136 games at DH in ’15 in helping the Astros reach the playoffs. He led the team in home runs (27) and RBIs (88) that year. Gattis made 68 starts at DH in ’16, 29 in ’17 and 106 in ’18, which was his final season. His 5.2 bWAR is the highest in franchise history among any players who played at least 30 percent of their games at DH.

3. (2013-15)
Key fact: 47 homers at DH are second-highest at the position in club history behind Gattis (63)

All Carter did was hit home runs. Well, he also piled up strikeouts at a high rate. Carter, acquired by the Astros from the A’s in 2013, cranked 90 homers and drove in 234 runs in three seasons in Houston, appearing in 175 games at DH in that span while also starting at first base. He led the AL in strikeouts with 212 in ’13.

His best season in Houston was in ’14, when he hit 37 homers while driving in 88 runs. In 66 games from July 4-Sept. 20 that year, Carter slashed .286/.363/.612 with 24 homers and 57 RBIs in the best stretch of his career. The Astros non-tendered Carter after he slumped in the ’15 season, and he signed with the Brewers and led the league in home runs (41) and strikeouts (206) in ’16.

4. (2017)
Key fact: Appeared in 107 games at DH in ‘17

Beltrán’s first act with the Astros was more impactful on the field than the season he spent with them at the end of his career 13 years later. After being acquired in a trade midway through the ’04 season, Beltrán helped the Astros reach the playoffs by hitting 23 homers and driving in 53 runs in 90 games. In the postseason, he was a force. He hit .435 with eight home runs and wound up signing a huge deal with the Mets.

That made him enemy No. 1 in Houston, where fans booed him each time he came to the plate for more than a decade. Beltrán signed with the Astros in ’17 and served as the team’s primary DH during its World Series championship season, though he slumped down the stretch and didn’t play much of a factor in the playoffs. For the season, he hit .231 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs.

5. (2016-19)
Key fact: One of only five DHs in Astros history with positive bWAR

Drafted in the 33rd round in ’13, White became an unlikely big leaguer who dominated Minor League pitching. His Major League career got off to a tremendous start when he was named AL Player of the Week in his first week in the big leagues in ’16, but he couldn’t hit consistently enough to stick on Houston’s roster. White wound up appearing in 244 games in four seasons with the Astros, including 54 games at DH, while slashing .241/.319/.420 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs. He was traded to the Dodgers during the ’19 season.