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Breaking down the All-MLB DH candidates

@mattkellyMLB
November 3, 2020

Voting is underway for the second-ever All-MLB Team presented by CohnReznick, and with no All-Star Game staged this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, All-MLB Team honors are the best way the game can honor its top overall players at each position. Fans can vote here once every 24 hours

Voting is underway for the second-ever All-MLB Team presented by CohnReznick, and with no All-Star Game staged this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, All-MLB Team honors are the best way the game can honor its top overall players at each position.

Fans can vote here once every 24 hours until the polls close at 2 p.m. ET on Friday, November 13, and the All-MLB first and second teams will be announced in early December on MLB Network. The DH portion of the ballot has five big boppers, but only one will make each of the first- and second-team lineups.

Below is a quick statistical primer for the five All-MLB Team candidates at designated hitter.

Michael Brantley, Astros
2020 stats: .300 AVG, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 2 SB, .840 OPS
Several of the Astros’ stars suffered a dip in their offensive numbers following last winter’s sign-stealing scandal, but Brantley was not one of them. The 33-year-old paced all Houston regulars in average, OBP (.364) and doubles (15) while putting up his fifth season with a .300 or better average in his last seven campaigns.

The case for Brantley: Would Houston have even made the postseason (and subsequently marched to within a game of the World Series) without Brantley’s consistent bat? The Astros finished the regular season below .500 but were able to clear the Mariners for the American League West division’s second automatic postseason spot by two games.

Key number: Brantley was one of just five hitters who finished the 2020 season hitting .280 or better against each pitch group (fastballs, breaking balls and offspeed pitches), with a minimum of 30 plate appearances against each grouping.

Nelson Cruz, Twins
2020 stats: .303 AVG, 16 HR, 33 RBI, 0 SB, .992 OPS
The old adage is that time waits for no man, but Cruz is doing one heck of a job keeping time on hold. The 40-year-old slugger took his power naps in the afternoons and then knocked out opposing pitchers time and time again, pacing the “Bomba Squad 2.0” Twins with 16 homers while also clearing a .300 average and a .390 OBP for the second consecutive year.

The case for Cruz: How impressive was the “Boomstick” at the plate? By FanGraphs’ version of WAR, Cruz was the second-most valuable player on the AL Central champion Twins (behind ace pitcher Kenta Maeda), even though he didn’t play a single inning in the field.

Key number: Cruz’s league-adjusted 169 OPS+ tied for the sixth-highest single-season mark by any player in his age-39 or older season (min. 150 PA) since 1900. The only 39-or-older players with a higher OPS+ in one year: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Jim Thome and Ted Williams (twice).

Marcell Ozuna, Braves
2020 stats: .338 AVG, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 0 SB, 1.067 OPS
Ozuna enjoyed one of the greatest bet-on-yourself seasons in recent memory after he signed a free-agent contract with the Braves for just one year and $18 million prior to 2020. He was already enjoying a strong season before vaulting himself into NL MVP Award consideration with a bonkers month of September in which he hit .394, got on base nearly 50% of the time, clubbed 10 homers and drove in 33 runs.

The case for Ozuna: It’s much harder to make a case against Ozuna as this year’s best DH, as he led all designated hitters with at least 150 plate appearances in homers, RBIs, hits (77), walks (38), average, OBP (.431), slugging (.636), OPS (1.067), runs (38), extra-base hits (32) and total bases (145).

Key number: Ozuna became the first player to lead his league in both homers and RBIs since Giancarlo Stanton (then with the Marlins) in 2017, and he fell just 13 points shy of NL batting champion Juan Soto (.351) -- meaning he very nearly became the first to win the NL Triple Crown since Joe Medwick in 1937.

Franmil Reyes, Indians
2020 stats: .275 AVG, 9 HR, 34 RBI, 0 SB, .795 OPS
Reyes was leading the AL in hitting as late as September 2 before cooling off a bit over the final weeks, but he was often the main muscle for a Cleveland offense that struggled in 2020. The third-year slugger put up career bests in OBP (.344) and walk rate (10%) while still finishing among the top 10% of qualified hitters in average exit velocity at 92.4 mph.

The case for Reyes: The Indians slugged just .372 as a team in 2020, the fifth-lowest slugging percentage for any AL playoff team in the Divisional Era (since 1969). If you took away Reyes’ 211 at-bats (and thus his .450 slugging), that team mark would have dipped to .363. That’s how important Reyes’ power was for Cleveland.

Key number: Reyes made each of his nine home runs count, averaging a projected distance of 422 feet. That average homer distance was second only to Ozuna (429 feet) among the 88 hitters who knocked at least nine long balls in 2020.

Jesse Winker, Reds
2020 stats: .255 AVG, 12 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, .932 OPS
Winker was already known locally as an on-base master, but after a somewhat pedestrian 2019 he added much more power in '20 to go along with his keen plate discipline. His .544 slugging percentage topped a Reds lineup packed with boppers like Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, Eugenio Suárez and Joey Votto.

The case for Winker: The 2020 Reds became just the third team (following the 1906 White Sox and 2007 D-backs) to earn a postseason berth despite finishing last in its league in batting average (.212), and their .312 team OBP tied for the ninth-lowest by any playoff team in the Divisional Era. So Cincinnati might have missed the postseason entirely without Winker, who led his club with a .255 average and .388 OBP.

Key number: Barrels, Statcast’s term for balls hit with exit velocity and launch angle combinations that typically yield extra-base hits, are the best type of contact a hitter can make. No hitter in baseball improved his rate of barrels per ball in play more than Winker, who went from just a 4.3% barrel rate in 2019 to a dangerous 13.5% in ‘20.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.