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Three NL hitters who benefit from the universal DH rule in 2020 fantasy baseball

Heath talks up his three favorite guys who stand to benefit from the proposed universal DH rule.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

One side effect of the pandemic is the National League adopting the DH position. For my part, I wanted to zero in on the three guys I liked most based on current NFBC ADP data. These are players whose ADPs could rise if we get additional clarity on lineups and player roles heading into 2020. So yeah—for now, this is just conjecture. But the DH does open up some doors...

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

OF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

NFBC ADP: 242

In my mind, Ryan Braun can now play every day unless he needs a rest. This also means Avisail Garcia is someone that people may feel a tad more strongly about—if they were previously skittish due to Braun potentially playing a little outfield in 2020. Garcia is now an even more solid play in his own right, but he is also being drafted 40 or so picks ahead of Braun.

Braun is 36 years old and his ability as a defender has waned, but he’s still studly with the stick and projects to bat somewhere in the middle of a deep Brewers lineup. Last year, Braun slashed a healthy .285/.343/.505 with 22 homers and 11 steals. He was pretty neutral on the splits, too. At least, neutral enough. He beat up on lefties (.287/.360/.573) but he was still quality against right-handed pitchers (.285/.334/.470). Are the Brewers really dying to play Brock Holt and Ben Gamel over Braun? Is the right-handed Jedd Gyorko a better option against right-handers than the right-handed Braun? Gyorko has a career .236/.297/.408 slash against righties, if you’re curious...and last year Gyorko slashed .200/.267/.309 in a 44-game sample in that split. I don’t see how Braun isn’t getting all the hitting time he wants in 2020. He’s not a ceiling play at this point of his career, but he’s really solid and those are the guys I like drafting.

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

OF Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

NFBC ADP: 257

Myers was likely ticketed for a bench role in 2020, backing up the corner outfield and infield spots. That’s a pessimistic view, though. Do we really have giant reservoirs of faith in Franchy Cordero? And I know Trent Grisham is a trendy late-round pick, but he’s also just 23 years old and likely slated to take a seat against southpaws, against whom he struck out 38.9% of the time and slashed .219/.306/.406 in 2019. Add in the DH spot and it’s Myers who stands to reap the rewards for San Diego. There’s no reasonable threat from Brian Dozier, Greg Garcia, or Juan Lagares...at least not in my book. Add in that Myers simplified his approach in Spring Training and saw dividends in the form of an 18.2% strikeout rate, and I’m very intrigued. Last year’s second half, too, was beautiful: .271/.332/.442. That’ll play, even if it was fueled by a .384 BABIP. What was interesting to me was a lack of pulling the ball in the second half. Myers’ pull rate fell from 53.6% to 37.3% last year, and as a result he made far less soft contact (21.2% to 12.7%). In truth, it may not be a direct result...but it’s possible that it is one result. And this spring, the “simplified” approach seemed to involve using all fields more:

I’m not generally a Myers fan (or a Padres fan) so if anyone paid close attention to this during the second half of last year and/or this spring, find me in the comments and further convince me to acquire Myers’ services in 2020. I’m already “in” on him at his ADP. But I could start printing t-shirts for the fan club...

Atlanta Braves v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

OF Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

NFBC ADP: 287

Riley gets the most obvious boost from expanded rosters and the DH spot, but there’s actually a plethora of ways the Braves can use the DH. Freddie Freeman could benefit from a rest day from the field on occasion. The suspect defense of Marcell Ozuna could also move to the DH spot on occasion. In fact, moving Ozuna to the DH role on nearly a full-time basis wouldn’t surprise me in the least given his recent roller coaster of “defense” in the outfield. The DH is a gift to the Braves, for sure.

The cool thing with both of the above moves is that Riley can cover left field (Ozuna), third base (in the event Camargo handles first for Freeman), or first base (Riley started six games at first in 2019). Of course, it’s also true that Adam Duvall can cover left field and first base, too. For what it’s worth, Duvall didn’t see any time at first base in 2019, though.

If I were building a Braves lineup against a southpaw today, Austin Riley’s .262/.338/.646 slash in that split from last year would be in the lineup, and Camargo’s .215/.282/.415 would be on the bench. There’s still room for Duvall (another lefty-masher) to cover either corner outfield spot too, as Ender Inciarte could take a seat and Ronald Acuña Jr. could slide over to center field. Duvall and Riley are givens when the Braves face a lefty.

That just leaves the everyday lineup against a right-handed pitcher. Assuming Johan Camargo keeps the third base job, the battle would be between Nick Markakis and Austin Riley for the additional at-bats that exist due to the DH. This may not come in the form of actually playing DH—not if the Braves need to hide Ozuna there—but you get the idea. That additional hitter to the lineup against a righty as it stands right now is likely Nick Markakis. He’s 36 years old, but a quality veteran presence. He’s still potent against righties, as last year’s .298/.371/.446 slash line in that split shows. There isn’t power here (.147 ISO) but the batting average and on-base skills are legitimate and not to be understated. Cracking the lineup against a righty over Markakis won’t be the easiest of tasks for Riley. He’ll need to earn it.

That said, there are still multiple ways Riley finds the field in 2020. He has the bankable bashing lefties skill. And against righties, he could beat out Markakis or Camargo. There’s also a scenario where Ender Inciarte continues to flail around with the stick and the Braves stick Ronald Acuña Jr. into center and get Riley’s bat into the lineup that way. In all, there are just too many scenarios where Riley finds a pathway to relevance in 2020. With his 70-grade power and an ADP approaching 300, I’ll bite on the 23-year-old despite last year’s gargantuan 36.4% strikeout rate. There may be safer options before and after him, but not none with power to surpass what Riley could offer.