Robinson Cano is the face of the Yankees. He leads the team in HR, RBI and AVG. He may be on his way to his best season yet. But, he’s not the best rate hitter on the Yankees this season. That honor belongs to none other than Travis Hafner. Hafner has a higher wOBA than Cano’s, .416 versus .410, driven by a substantially higher OBP, .402 versus .376. Cano is the more valuable player because he plays a premium position and gets more plate appearances than Hafner, but in any given plate appearance Hafner is the most productive Yankee. Can he keep it up?
“I was working on a bunch of things mechanically (in spring training),” Hafner said. “And then basically scrapped everything and really tried to simplify my swing to the point where there’s nothing going on. And I’ve had a lot of success with that. It feels really good and really simple. Hopefully I’ve found something that can be really good and consistent.”
Travis Hafner has been one of the hottest the Yankees thus far, and has carried the team to wins with a few early season home runs. We only have two weeks of data at this point, but Hafner has already been accused of being “rejuvenated” by pinstripes. I like to think this “rejuvenation” is the work of his hitting coach and months of preparation, rather than the symbol on his hat. The quote above tells us that the left-hander has done some work to his swing, and I was interested in seeing the difference between this year and last year.
The GIF above shows a home run hit in 2012 and 2013. While the one in 2012 came on a two-handed follow through, and the one in 2013 was hit on a one-handed follow through, Hafner has not ditched the former. This season, the designated hitter has alternated between these two approaches, and it looks like he chooses the two-handed approach on pitches up or in, while the one-handed approach comes on pitches that are low or away.
The biggest difference in his swing, is on contact with the pitch. In 2012 and 2013, Hafner begins in an open stance and on stride he brings his front foot parallel to the plate. But when unloading his hips, you’ll see both his front and back feet pivot back to an open stance in 2012. In 2013, his feet do not pivot, and he remains in a square stance after the stride.
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Tonight, the 2013 Major League Baseball season begins, with the Texas Rangers playing the Houston Astros. The most beautiful thing about the baseball season is that it changes how I spend my leisure time. Nothing on TV tonight? They always play baseball. Can’t think of something to do after work? Call a buddy and watch some baseball. Don’t know how to spend time on a sunny afternoon? Upper deck tickets are cheap on Stub Hub and the 4 train moves fast. 162 games plus the playoffs means something to do, something to watch and something to talk about for half the year, and in terms of weather it’s the better half of the year.
After the gift of always having something entertaining to do, my second favorite thing about the baseball season is following story lines. Most Yankee fans are upset because the team enters 2013 in the weakest state that it has been in since 2008. Not only is the team not favored to win the AL East, but many believe the team will miss the playoffs. Win or lose, challenging seasons at least give fans like me more story lines to follow. When the Yankees put a juggernaut on the field and it demolishes its opponents every success was essentially scripted and only the failures make headlines. When the team is predicted to struggle, as it is this year, then new story lines will emerge, not only about failure but also about unexpected success. If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs they’re going to need to get strong performances from a number of players who are not household names, especially while household names Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are on the DL. Here are some of the story lines I’ll be following during the first month of the season:
When two of the defining storylines of your team’s Spring Training are “lack of power” and “injuries” and Travis Hafner is on your team, it’s more than reasonable to expect that he’s going to factor heavily into those stories. After all, his calling card at the plate is power and you can pretty much set your watch to him pulling, tearing, or spraining something. That hasn’t really been the case for the Yankees so far this month, as Hafner hasn’t been a presence in the lineup so much as a name on the lineup card. To be honest, I kind of forgot he was even in camp with the team, what with the lack of power and the fact that he’s still walking around without limping.
Believe it or not, Hafner is in camp and has actually been playing in games. He just hasn’t done much in those games. Hafner is just 4-29 this spring, with a single solitary home run and an even dozen strikeouts. He’s still somewhat of a presence in the lineup with four walks, but after Teix and C-Grand went down he became a much more critical part of that lineup. As of this morning he hasn’t given much of an indication that he’s ready to be that critical part of the lineup and that’s a tad unsettling.
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Over the past few seasons the Yankees have had incredible success with single season, aging platoon DHs. First it was Marcus Thames. After him it was Andruw Jones. Last year it was Raul Ibanez. Will it be Travis Hafner this season?
At first glance you have to imagine that the only role Hafner will play in pinstripes is as a member of the DL. Despite his mass, Pronk is made of porcelain. The last time he played in more than 100 games was 2010, and then he managed just 118 games. Last season he had just 263 plate appearances in 66 games. Pronk is entering his age 36 season. Another injury seems inevitable.
While it is difficult to see past Hafner’s lengthy injury history, the numbers he puts up when he stays healthy are still impressive. He managed a .342 wOBA last season, with a .346 OBP and a .438 SLG. In 2011 his wOBA was .354 and he managed to get into 94 games. Pronk has never been able to do anything but hit, but when he’s healthy he still brings a solid bat to the ballpark.
In light of those numbers, it is clear why the Yankees signed Hafner. He’s a low cost gamble. If he can stay healthy enough to get into 100 games, he figures to give the Yankees a .340-.350 wOBA bat against righties. In addition, he has upside for the Yankees. His left handed bat figures to play well at Yankee Stadium, potentially inflating his power numbers. All told, while it is still most likely that Hafner will suffer an injury and play in just 50 games, he remains an intriguing, somewhat overlooked addition to the offense.
In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players’ OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results: [...]
You’ll remember that last week, I mused about the possible lineup construction for the 2013 squad. Let’s revisit the idea of the lineup one more time, with something else in mind. If you’ve read this site, then you’re probably familiar with the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and its CAIRO Projections. The last iteration of them [...]
(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod) “Platoon” is a word that’s slowly worked its way into the collection of words typically associated with the Yankee lineup over the past few seasons, right next to “patience” and “power.” Older veterans on the downside of their careers who are drawn to New York [...]
For most of the offseason, I’ve lamented the losses of two key batters: Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. By no means are those players superstars, but they were perfect fits for the Yankee offense. Both Swisher ad Martin provided power and patience, cornerstones of the team’s offense for the last two decades. In their places, [...]