Best Orioles of the Century: Is one elite year enough at DH?

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With fans stuck inside and no live sports for entertainment, it's time to look to the past. Over the next few weeks, NBC Sports Washington is putting together a Best of the Century team for the Baltimore Orioles. Through the past two decades, there has been a surprising amount of star power to come through Charm City, and now we can determine who has truly been the cream of the crop.

Previous positions:
Catcher
First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Shortstop
Right Field
Center Field
Left Field

Similar to left field, designated hitter is a position with lots of options, but no clear favorite. The question quickly becomes apparent: peak or longevity?

As a position, DH is generally a spot for lumbering sluggers who are unable to provide value in the field. The Orioles enjoyed their share of similar archetypes, though under manage Buck Showalter they often utilized the spot to give a regular starter a "day off" from the field. The successful Orioles from 2012-16 relied on versatility at all spots, including DH.

Also similar to left field, DH saw countless starters this century in Baltimore. In 20 seasons, they had a whopping 17 different players lead the team in starts at DH in any given year. Those names include stars, scrubs, and everything in between. In order: Harold Baines, Tony Batista, Marty Cordova, David Segui, Sammy Sosa, Javy Lopez, Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero, Chris Davis, Danny Valencia, Nelson Cruz, Jimmy Paredes, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo and Renato Nunez.

Of that laundry list, Huff, Scott and Trumbo were the only three with multiple seasons. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Hall of Famers like Sosa and Guerrero joined the team well after their respective peaks.

With a lack of encouraging options, this may be the most difficult spot yet to pick. Here are the top contenders at designated hitter, in chronological order.

The Contenders

Aubrey Huff (2007-09)

These days, Huff is better known for his divisive comments on Twitter than he is as a former Major League player and two-time World Series champion. But in his prime, Huff was a quality hitter.

He was only in Baltimore for two full seasons, but he hit .282 with an OPS+ of 112 in that time. Huff's 2008 season was his best with the birds: .304 average, 32 home runs and a career-high 108 RBI. He had 4.1 WAR that season, also spending time at first and third.

Huff was a good hitter, but he wasn't with the Orioles very long, and his peak wasn't as high as some others on the list. He has the third-most home runs at the position, behind two others on this list.

Luke Scott (2008-11)

Scott spent four of his nine career seasons in Baltimore, his most with any organization, after coming over in the Miguel Tejada trade with Houston. His best years came in Baltimore, hitting 23, 25 and 27 home runs in his first three seasons, respectively.

He spent more time in the outfield in his first year with the O's, otherwise he would have the most seasons of any Oriole DH this century. His consistency and longevity places him atop the WAR leaderboard among this group, and he hit just three fewer home runs than Mark Trumbo atop the list.

He never made an All-Star Game, but Scott was a quality hitter who carried the Orioles for weeks at a time whenever he was on one of his patented hot streaks.

Nelson Cruz (2014)

Cruz was in Baltimore for just one year, but oh, what a year it was. Agreeing to terms with Baltimore late in the offseason, Cruz was a steal on his 1-year, $8 million contract. He ended up worth several times that amount, leading Major League Baseball with 40 home runs while helping lead the O's to their only AL East title of the century.

Cruz made the All-Star Game and finished seventh in MVP voting, a remarkable feat in an era when the value of a full-time DH has never been less.

The Orioles were never able to replace Cruz's after letting him walk in free agency, but his time in Baltimore is etched into the memories of Orioles fans everywhere. If this selection comes down to the single best individual season, he is the runaway choice.

Mark Trumbo (2016-19)

Trumbo also led Major League Baseball in home runs his first season in orange and black, hitting 47 bombs in 2016. Unlike Cruz, he stuck around for another three seasons, hitting just 40 more home runs from 2017-18 combined.

A combination of injuries and inconsistency kept Trumbo from repeating his strong 2016 campaign, but he still provided marginal value with the bat. 

In his four seasons with Baltimore, he made one All-Star Game and won one Silver Slugger, both coming in 2016.

The Winner

Without an argument either for peak (Cruz/Trumbo) or longevity (Scott), Huff is the easy first choice to eliminate. When it comes to Cruz vs. Trumbo for peak, Trumbo has more home runs, but Cruz was the better hitter by both OPS+ and wRC+. Trumbo stuck around longer, but his follow up years were majorly disappointing. They both made the postseason, but Cruz won the division whereas Trumbo helped bring them the second Wild Card spot. Cruz wins.

So, Luke Scott or Nelson Cruz?

Scott's counting stats dwarf Cruz's (7.9 WAR compared to Cruz's 4.5, and 84 home runs to 40) but what may be surprising is just how well his best season compares to the Cruz's 2014. Scott hit just 27 home runs with 72 RBI in 2010, well behind Cruz's 40 homers and 108 RBI. But, by both OPS+ and wRC+, Scott actually enjoyed the slightly better season. Plus, he played 28 fewer games, so the total numbers are slightly misleading.

The OPS+ and wRC+ numbers are close enough (144 to 137, and 140 to 137, respectively) to not be definitive, so Cruz was probably better. But, the fact that Scott can essentially match his peak, while also adding two prior seasons of strong numbers - his OPS+ from 2008-09 was 112, still well above average - is enough to give him the edge over the beloved Cruz.

Scott never played for a winner in Baltimore, but his bat certainly was not to blame. And, at the end of the day, strong hitting is all you need from a designated hitter. It's right there in the name and everything.

So, in what may be the most shocking decision of the entire series, at DH the Best Oriole of the Century is Luke Scott.

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Best Orioles of the Century: Is one elite year enough at DH? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington