If It Comes Down to It, Palka or Davidson as Designated Hitter?

With all the hype surrounding “Palkamania”, there’s still no total clarity on the future of lefty slugger Daniel Palka. In all likelihood though, the White Sox will at some point face the choice between Palka and Matt Davidson for a designated hitter roster spot. A plethora of impressive prospects are making their way up the minors, almost certainly leaving no room for both in the 2020/2021 Chicago clubhouse. Having that in mind, who is on track to get the nod?

All things considered, it’s a very tough call. Most Sox fans might balk at that, citing Palka’s clutch factor and recent fireworks, but it’s only logical to compare the pair’s season stats, and not base it on the last week of Palka laser blasts. They’re still awe-inducing, though:

Following Friday’s 10-4 win over the Cubs, Palka is hitting to the tune of .242/.293/.503, good for an impressive .796 OPS mark. Davidson compares with a .238/.333/.441 (.774 OPS) hitting line. Despite the OPS differential, Fangraphs believes Davidson’s offensive contributions are equal to Palka’s, giving them both a 113 wRC+. This surely stems from Davidson’s ability to get on base more.

How are Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and Co. supposed to decide on those numbers, though? The gap in overall offensive production is incredibly narrow, or perhaps even non-existent. Let’s dig deeper.

One important distinction is the lefty-righty split. Both players dominate pitchers of the opposite hand, but Davidson still handles righties well (98 OPS+) while Palka is no match for lefties (60 OPS+). If the White Sox elect to roll with Palka, they’ll be better off against the more common adversary—righty pitchers. On the flip side, Palka is an absolute liability against lefties, and Davidson presents a more balanced option as a guy who obliterates lefties and also isn’t an absolute liability versus righties. Again, it’s hard to give the upper hand to either in this category, but I’d have to go with consistent option in Davidson.

Surprisingly, Palka is only a half-year younger than Davidson. However, we pretty much know what we’re getting with Davidson after seeing him play three years of pro ball, while Palka is yet to completely establish himself in the MLB. From this standpoint, White Sox management would be enticed by Palka’s extra potential over his counterpart. The lefty hitter has undoubtedly improved over the course of the season. There is an argument to be made for Davidson though, in that Palka’s 2018 numbers are much more likely to be a fluke. Once more it’s a very tough choice, this time between experience and promise.

Next, it’s important to note that Davidson does have a clear advantage in fielding and versatility. While Palka has proved to be a subpar outfielder, Davidson is a mediocre option at third and first base should his number be called.

In conclusion, the battle between these two sluggers is astonishingly close. After doing all this research, I still can’t make a decision, other than to assert that both would be quality DHs, and the White Sox should use as much time as possible to choose their guy. In the meantime, I implore my fellow South Side die-hards to take a step back from Palka’s mammoth blasts and lovable nature, and realize that Matt Davidson is a similarly valuable player.

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