April 20, 2014

Up is Down. Left is Right. Jack Hannahan is…Good?

It’s easy to forget that Jack Hannahan is still a Major League Baseball player—at least in part—because of Gavin Floyd.

Because until Floyd broke Jason Donald’s left hand with a high-and-tight fastball on March 6 of last year, Donald was slated to be the Indians’ bridge to Lonnie Chisenhall.  The best laid plans of Mark and Chris…

Of course, even after Donald’s injury ruled him out, there were still other options to consider, and Hannahan was a far cry from the presumptive favorite.  This snippet, taken from an AP story on the Donald injury, serves to reminds us where the 3B Zeitgeist was at the time:

Although he hasn’t officially been picked as the starter, Donald’s the front-runner to be the Indians’ everyday third baseman. The team has other options in Jayson Nix, Jack Hannahan, Luis Valbuena and highly touted prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, whose [sic] having a solid camp and could make things interesting if he keeps hitting.

It’s one thing to be listed as the second of three options.  It’s quite another to be juxtaposed with Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena by the Associated Press as viable third basemen for a Major League team.  Sort of a crushing blow to one’s self-esteem, I’d imagine.  In fact, I’m sure if I looked for it I could even find a piece that I wrote that besmirched Jack’s good name.  But I digress.

The point is that Jack Hannahan needed a lot of luck to become the Indians’ opening day starter in 2011.  He needed Gavin Floyd to break Jason Donald’s hand.  He needed a good Spring Training (.860 OPS and no errors).  He needed “competition” like Valbuena and Nix.  And he needed the Indians’ front office to recognize that Lonnie Chisenhall wasn’t ready for the Big Leagues, despite mashing taters all over the Cactus League (1.451 OPS).

So at this point, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised by anything we see from Jack Hannahan.  Except I am surprised.  By almost everything I’ve seen so far this season.  His patience.  His power.  His batting average.  And yes, his defense too.  So maybe we should have a quick look at where he stands, to see, as always, how much of this we can believe, and how much might be a mirage.

We should remember that this isn’t the first time Hannahan has seemed to be a changed hitter.  Through his first 23 games played in 2011—he’s only played in 12 so far this year—Jack had a .284/.356/.481 (.837 OPS) line with four home runs in 90 plate appearances.   Of course, he finished the season with a .250/.331/.388 (.719 OPS) line along with the reminder that all that glitters isn’t gold, etc.

So for our purposes, let’s look at his career numbers along with his hot start from 2011 and 2012 YTD numbers to see what we see:

  OBP SLG ISO BABiP BB% K%
Career 0.321 0.362 0.127 0.300 10.9% 23.8%
2011 Start 0.356 0.481 0.197 0.328 10.0% 21.1%
2012 Start 0.429 0.488 0.146 0.419 14.3% 20.4%

 

If you’re thinking that Hannahan has never looked better than he has so far this season, you’d be right.  Every metric above save his isolated power is up in 2012 over both his career and his hot 2011 start.  And we probably shouldn’t worry too much about the ISO anyway, since his slugging is up so considerably.

Of course some of that improvement might be real and some of it might be the noise associated with 12 game samples.  Our job is to try to separate the two as best we’re able.

Let’s think about the parts that could be real (read: repeatable) improvements first.  You’ll notice that so far this season, Hannahan is doing particularly well in the strikeout and walk departments compared to his career line.  While I’m hesitant to suggest that all of this improvement is real, it’s certainly possible that a decent part of it is.  Plate discipline and swing-strike rates are fairly repeatable skills for hitters, so when we see improvements there we might be more likely to assume an improved approach rather than mere luck.  Sure enough, Hannahan’s career swinging-strike rate is 8.9%, but this season it’s down to only 7.8% after sitting 7.9% in 2011.  (In both 2009 and 2010, his swinging-strike rate was over 9.5%.)  Furthermore, his Z-Contact% (his ability to make contact when he swings at pitches in the strikezone) is nearly 90% this season, despite a career rate of only 86.1%.  All this is supported by a more patient approach at the plate: for the first time in his career Hannahan is swinging at fewer than 40% of the pitches he sees.  It’s no coincidence that this increase in patience has coincided with a jump in his on base percentage.

But that’s probably as far as I’m willing to take the improvement theory.  Because there’s just no way that Hannahan’s going to sustain a batting average on balls in play (BABiP) of .419 for the rest of the season.  While batters do have a bit more control over their BABiPs than do pitchers, we should remember that only 3 players in baseball history have ever sustained a BABiP over .419.  Those players would be: Babe Ruth’s 1923 (.423 BABiP); Roger Hornsby’s 1924 (.422); and George Sisler’s 1922 (.422).*  Only twice since 1967 has a player with more than 500 plate appearances had a BABiP over .400.

*I don’t know enough about 1920′s baseball–perhaps we should ask my wife–to understand why the highest historical BABiPs all seem to centripetally coalesce in the first 25 years of the 20th century (again, click that link in the previous paragraph).  But I’m sure there’s a good reason and that you’ll fill me in on in the comments.  Fat fielders?  Huge ballparks?  Slap hitters with notoriously low K-rates (though this wouldn’t explain Babe Ruth)?  What gives?

Let’s look at last year’s top five BABiPs to figure out what sort of player typically leads in this category:

  BABiP
Adrian Gonzalez 0.380
Matt Kemp 0.380
Emilio Bonifacio 0.372
Michael Bourn 0.369
Michael Young 0.367

 

I see two MVP candidates, two serious speedsters, and a guy with a career BABiP of .339 who may have had some balls bounce his way in 2011. Now, we can hope that Jack will have balls bounce his way in 2012 like Michael Young did last year, but even if he got that lucky, he’d still lose more than 50 points off his current figure.  And that’s not even pointing out that Hannahan’s career BABiP rate is already 40 points below Young’s to begin with.

In other words, there’s going to be some regression in Jack’s future: he just can’t continue to poke singles through the infield in the fashion he’s been doing so far in 2012.

And while that’s not exactly what we want to believe, it’s also useful to remember that regression cuts both ways.  Jack Hannahan has typically been a useful enough player not because of his bat, but because of his glove.  From 2008-2011, only Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre had a better UZR/150 among third basemen with more than 2,000 innings played.  Over the same time period, Hannahan was second in errors and third in fielding percentage.  In other words, the Indians entered this season with about as reliable a defensive third baseman as you could find.

So far in 2012 though?  He’s committed four errors.  He is the only third baseman in baseball with a fielding percentage below.900 (.879).  And despite his torrid start with the bat, he is only sixth on the team in fWAR, largely because his defense has already cost the team three runs compared to what an average third baseman could have fielded.  Extrapolated out to an entire season, Hannahan would cost the Indians roughly 47 runs with his glove if his current level of play were to continue.

But we know that won’t happen, right?  Because players are, largely, who they are—especially by the time they are 32 years old.  We look to their past history to make our best guesses about how they’ll play in any given year not because we don’t believe they can change, but because we understand that a career full of history has a lot more meaning than a few games in April.

No, Jack Hannahan won’t end the season with 54 errors.  We know better than to believe something like that based on such a tiny sample.

And for the same reason, we can safely assume that this 12-game offensive onslaught will soon give way to the reality of Jack Hannahan-ness.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Karsten Treu

    Believe it, nonbelievers. He’s a rock solid ballplayer, and a great dude, I love Jack to bits.  Also, I’ll put money down that his numbers do NOT decrease as much into the season as they did last year, especially not to his numbers of other past seasons. Regular play time, a supportive team, and his new bat are doing wonders for the guy.

  • doneson

    Could someone explain what isolated power (ISO) power is?

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Pretty sure there were much bigger ballparks back then. 

    I was commenting to my brother (who is finally, after years and years, coming around to sabermetric thinking, and only because he’s a blind follower of Indians’ management) last night that 5 Indians starters are in the top 20 in BBs and OBP. In fact 3 of the top 6 in the AL in BBs are Indians – Hafner, Duncan, and Santana. Between that, the intense GB% pitchers who don’t walk people (well, in theory, though Masterson/Jimenez struggling), etc., it’s fascinating to see a team play on stats.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Oh and for all the ripping on Brantley – he has more BBs than Ks (6:5), he’s just been remarkably unlucky. I wouldn’t throw in the towel on him so quickly.

    In fact, the Indians as a team not only lead the league in BBs, but only the NYY are close when it comes to BB:K for their hitters. 

  • WFNYJon

    Slugging % – AVG

    It measures the rate of a batter’s extra base hits. If all you hits are singles, you’ll have a .000 ISO

  • kjn

    If you look at team BABIPs in the 20′s, they’re not that different from team BABIPs today.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Pretty funny about Longoria and Hannahan’s fielding, btw – Longoria literally lost a game with 3 errors recently. Even the best have their days. 

  • kjn

    And by that, I mean to say league avg. BABIP. But since I couldn’t find that in a simple chart anywhere, I was left with FG’s team BABIPs.

  • mgbode

    Tulo also has 6 errors this year and had 6 errors the entirety of 2011.  it happens.

  • mgbode

    ah, I would like to point out in that disparaging Jack article of yours I had a glowing review of him:
    “it’s not like Valbuena is going to be great and whoever we put there is just a hold until ‘the Chis’ so we might as well make our pitchers happy”

    hey, at the time, that was a glowing review :)

    anyways, it’s obvious that Jack Hannahan will regress from what he is doing presently.  if he can avoid the epic dropoff in May/June/July that he had last year though, it would be appreciated.   I don’t mind the regression as all players will have hot/cold streaks, but Jack’s seem to always be in the extreme.

  • mgbode

    also, we had a discussion on this last year at some point involving the Yankees/Red Sox extreme behavior involving working pitch-counts.   if you can “chase” a starting pitcher because you rack up their pitch count then you can get into the bullpen where the pitchers are not as good.  thus, you can increase your own offensive production just by a by-product of the pitch count. 

    well, at least in theory.  we did just recently see this theory at work vs. King Felix in Seattle though.  he was at 120+ pitches and it allowed us to see League instead of Felix.  while League is good, he is no Felix and we were able to come back and win that game.

    (I don’t think we pursued the topic well enough to know how much of an effect it actually can have overall)

  • @37Crookshankave

    interesting, when you compared the two starts statistically, you mentioned before his start last year numbers for 23 games, did you compare 12 games this year with the 12 last or with the 23 last year? just wondering.

    also I agree he is a decent option not a game changer but a good guy to have at the bottom of your lineup playing third base. I see a little improvement over last year is very reasonable to expect as well as defense improving over his slow start there, yet gotta ride the hot hand as long as its there.

    Also a Jason Donald story could be unbelievably good I hope someone is paying attention esp if he ends up having an Allen Craig, type of post season or something with all hes been through in his major league career so far.

  • DCTribeFan

     “centripetally coalesce”I wrote that down.And I fully intend to use on some unsuspecting victim in the next 5 days.Boom, roasted…in a coalescent sorta way….

  • Karsten Treu

    Hannahan isn’t botching routine grounders, from what I saw most of them were pretty hard hits and tough bounces. Don’t read into the E’s at 3rd at all.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    True. Though I thought it fascinating that in a Moneyball era like this seems to be, the league leaders in hitting (and not just AVG) are Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, who see the least pitches in baseball and swing at the most first pitches. Not only are they great hitters, but if they know everyone is always throwing strikes more than trying to get people out, the good hitters take advantage.

  • erchoov

    I agree 100%.  These WAR statistics are a bit ridiculous.  It doesn’t take into account how many runs a good defender with range saves by laying out for every ball he can get do.  A guy like Jhonny Peralta wasn’t punished for never laying out or having zero range.  Asdrubal saves a lot more runs than Peralta even though he makes more errors.  The fWAR wouldn’t factor that correctly by any means.

  • WFNYJon

    Yes. It does.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    looking for the kanicki acknowledgment from when i pointed out last year the astounding difference in the tribe’s record when hannahan was in the lineup versus not.

    alas.

  • WFNYJon

    Not being a jerk, just making sure we’re on the same page.  WAR *does* include a fielding component, but it’s not errors–which, as you point out, is subject to inaccuracies due to range.  fWAR’s fielding metric is UZR, which includes range–it just measures how often batted balls become outs when they’re hit to certain buckets.  rWAR’s defensive metric (at least for 3B) also includes range.

    Now, whether we should trust 12 game samples of *anything*, much less range-dependent fielding assessments, is what I’m trying to get at with the final few paragraphs.  Also, that we don’t get to believe that only the bad stuff (fielding) will regress to normal while the good stuff (hitting) will stay the same.  That’s just cockeyed optimism.

  • kjn

    Park factors… they play half their games in Arlington. It’s a good place to play for guys who swing away.

    split+ @ Arlington  vs. @ away
    Young= .040/.050/.080
    Hamilton= .020/.015/.100

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Didn’t understand the numbers (though agreed on Arlington).

  • mgbode

    layers of the onion.  it could conceivably be better at times to go for that first pitch strategy, but if pitchers catch on to it, then it’s less effective.   tit-for-tat and all.

  • mgbode

    well, it’s right above this comment :)

  • BenRM

    I’m glad he realized it takes steroid use to become a good ball player. Keep juicing, Jack!

  • Steve

     If he didn’t put up a .538 OPS in May and June combined last year, he would have gotten plenty more chances to rack up losses with the rest of the roster that didn’t have a top prospect waiting behind them.

  • WFNYJon

    Let the record show that during the 2011 Indians baseball season, Kanicki confused correlation with causation.
    ;)

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    thank goodness for google.  :-)

    hannahan sits, tribe loses. tribe has lost SEVENTEEN straight games in which jack hannahan sits.
    -kanick, 7/27/2011

    i dont know if the line between correlation is 17, 18, or 19 games but it’s in there somewhere.
    :-)

  • kjn

    I may be wrong, but I think errors are used in computing UZR in some way, shape, or form. I believe runs given up due to error is a component. Too lazy to check…

  • kjn

    Sorry. Kind of confusing.

    Those are how much higher their career avg/obp/slg are in Arlington vs. outside of Arlington.

    So Young’s Arlington average is forty points higher then his non-Arlington average and so on.

  • WFNYJon

    Yes. In “some way”, as you say. 

    I should’ve written “but it’s not *just* errors.”

    There’s an “ErrR” component, which compares how many runs have been allowed via errors compared to the *average* player at his position.  This isn’t errors per se, but you’re right: they do enter the picture to some extent.

    We might note here that Hannahan’s RngR measurement–his “range runs”–is well below average so far this season as well, completely apart from the errors.  So it’s not like he’s getting dinged specifically for committing errors on balls that others can’t get to.  Because he’s not.  At least not according to any objective measurement I can find.

    Now let me say again loud and clear so I’m not misinterpreted:  we should be reading absolutely nothing in these numbers (just like his offensive numbers YTD, actually).  That’s kinda the point here.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Got it, thanks. Wow. 

  • kjn

    True. Defensive stats supposedly need a multi-season sample size to be useful.

  • Steve

    From the beginning of May up until July 27, Hannahan put up a .190/.286/.270 line. I’d say that Acta had good reason not to play him, and him playing in those 17 games wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    man.  you guys a bit stubborn on this.  if i were todd mcshay or mike mayock, you’d be linking to me for these pearls.  

    but im just a guy.  just a guy who noticed hannahan does things you dont see in box score.  great fielder.  contact hitter, but not great average.  but somehow, when good things happened last year, hannahan was involved.

    i trusted my eyes.
    then i looked up the stat.

    but you guys seem resistant, so here’s more.

    2011 indians record with hannahan:
    66-44  (.600)

    2011 record without hannahan:
    14-38  (.269)

    whatever, that doesnt count to yall for some reason.  i dont get it.  but you want more data.  you say he’s got a low BA and a crappy OBP.

    but if you look a little deeper instead of ragging on poor ol kanick:
    .350 BA with runners in scoring position.
    .500 OBP w RISP
    .959 OPS w RISP

    is that enough?  cripes. YOU GUYS!

  • bridgecrosser

    I’ve read this site since inception, and your thread title and league are bush league.  First off, Jack would be a MLB player based off his glove.  A top 5 glove man in MLB at the hot corner.  Nobody is comparing him to Mike Schmidt but there seems to be a veiled idea that he needs to produce steroid era offensive #’s to serve a purpose.  In history, outside the roid era, 3B is not exactly the most important offensive position.  

    It’s quite possible he’s opening the year on a hot streak and won’t keep it up.  But he is a legit MLB player, (role TBD) but he does have more value to a team with a # of groundball pitchers.

    Your title and lead are straight troll material.  Please don’t get like the troll writers (non-Lisk) over at thebiglead.  I respect the site a ton but a trolling is trolling.

  • Steve

     Because none of these things you brought up are expected to last from year to year.

    Yes, they won when he played – mainly in April and May. But winning over the long term is not dependent on one guy, but twenty five. Even inner-circle hall of famers can’t carry a team by themselves.

    Your RISP numbers are 61 ABs, nowhere near enough to say anything definitive. Yeah, he hit well last year with RISP, but that’s nowhere near enough evidence to say he’ll do it again. His career line w/ RISP? .235/.357/.332. Not too much different from his overall career line.

    I’ll give you this much – your numbers show that if Hannahan is hitting the ball well, it makes a difference for this team, which desperately needs some more offense at the bottom of the order. It’s just that he put up only 2 good months last year, one of them fueled by an unbelievable, and incredibly unlikely .514 BABIP.  The other 4 months, he was easily replaceable by Chisenhall.

  • Steve

     Up until last year, Hannahan was barely above replacement player. Then he put an average, but certainly not good, year. There are plenty of replacement players who put up a career year which approaches league average. That doesn’t mean they suddenly are good players. This certainly could have been the case with Hannahan. Let’s not assume he’s good just yet.