Wow! Two posts in one day. You should all feel very, very fortunate for this bounty which I have bestowed upon you… or you can feel bad for me because this should be an indication of how effing bored I am at work today. Seriously, all I’ve done today is Youtube music videos, run out of sports news to read, and obsessively refresh my twitter feed for entertainment. So at this point I’ve decided to write another article, and what an entry it’s about to be. This time we’re going to take a look at the riddle that is Travis Hafner, the Cleveland Indians much maligned designated hitter. What are the reasonable expectations for Hafner this year? Can we rely on him to find even a small bit of what made Pronk? Let’s take a look.
The Designated Hitter
Travis Hafner will once again be the designated hitter for the Indians in 2011. That’s right Travis Hafner. Pronk.
Only Pronk hasn’t been Pronk over the past few seasons. The plate discipline and power we had grown accustomed to from 2004 through 2007 has been nonexistent. There are a lot of theories out there concerning what’s gone so wrong. Many have pointed to a bad shoulder which has caused him to lose power driving through the ball and bat speed, forcing him to start his swing sooner and causing him to swing at pitches out of the zone and taking pitches down the middle. This makes sense as on many occasions it looks like Hafner is at the plate playing a guessing game as to which pitch is coming and its location.
I think another factor at play is the number of times Hafner has been hit with inside pitches. In 2005, Hafner was hit in the face by White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and then suffered a broken hand in 2006 when he was hit by Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson. After a while that would weigh on anyones mind, especially a player that relies on owning the inner part of the plate. The broken hand, in addition to the bad shoulder, could also help explain the loss of bat speed.
Then there is also the change in Hafner’s body. No one seems to want to mention it within the media, but it hasn’t gone unnoticed among me and my friends. Over the past two years Hafner has looked much, much smaller and less bulkier than he did during the years in which he was mashing the baseball. By less bulky I don’t mean a guy who was fat and lost some weight. I mean a guy who was really muscular and looks like he stopped lifting. Now… I’m not accusing Hafner of being on the Jose Canseco/Barry Bonds work out regimen, if you know what I mean… but what if he was? Couldn’t that explain the decrease in production that seems to coincide with all of the new drug testing? It certainly makes you think. Then again maybe Hafner has simply learned to lay off the Pronk Bars.
Regardless of your opinion, the numbers point to a bigger problem. Whether it be the injuries, or drug testing, or even something mental, you can’t argue that Hafner hasn’t been Hafner. Combine that with his age, he’ll turn 34 in June, and you have to think Hafner’s better days are behind him.
I know thats kinda small. Here’s the link to the full size image. Pronk’s Stats
You can see from his statistics that Travis Hafner’s career has followed the bell curve typical of most players. He started off slow, then as he gained experience and played in more games his stats began to climb in an upward trend. At a certain point everything peaked and then began a downward sliding trend to get to the point we are at now. So, now I have to ask all of you… Do you really expect to ever see the old Travis Hafner ever again? Like most of you I want to believe that. I want to say that Hafner will play in close to 150 games, hit 30+ home runs, drive in 100+ runs and walk close to 100 times. The truth of the matter is that it’s not going to happen. It’s not being pessimistic or negative. It’s being honest with the situation and how baseball works.
So that begs the question… What, if anything, can we expect from Travis Lee Hafner in 2011? If he can stay healthy I would expect Hafner to play somewhere around 100 games sharing DH duties with Carlos Santana and probably some Shelley Duncan and Austin Kearns, especially when the Tribe faces tough left-handed starters. With that amount of games I think the optimistic prediction is home runs somewhere in the 15 to 18 range with 50-70 RBI and an average somewhere in the .270 range. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but not the numbers you’re looking for from someone making the money Hafner makes and hitting in the middle of the line up as a DH.
Unfortunately the Indians have no choice but to play Hafner and try to make it work. He makes too much money and it’s all guaranteed. That means no one is going to be willing to trade for him unless the Indians agree to pay a large portion of his remaining salary, or release him and still have to pay him. Given the current economic state of baseball the Indians can’t afford to be dishing out millions on a player that doesn’t even play for them. As much as everyone seems to despise the Dolan’s for their cheap tactics, Hafner is the primary example for why trading players before they begin to decline for younger players has to be done. Can you imagine this team being stuck with Hafner, Martinez, Sabathia, and Lee as they approach the back 9 of their careers making mega dollars. Sure it would have been good for a year or two, but the risk outweighs the reward.
Yes, before anyone says anything about how I continually bash such practices, I acknowledge that I don’t like it. But when taken in proper perspective of a particular conversation with a prime example it at least begins to make sense. The truth is that given Hafner’s limited skill set he never should have been signed to an extension. He should have been traded. Had we not committed so much to Hafner we might still have Sabathia, Lee, Or Martinez. The Indians simply put all of their eggs in the wrong basket due to Hafner’s popularity with the fans. Then again, as always is the case, hindsight is 20/20.
Regardless of your opinion on whether or not Hafner has anything left in the tank, there is one thing we can all agree on. Travis Hafner needs to be productive if the Indians have any hope of having a successful 2011. I’m not saying he has to be the Pronk of old. But if Hafner can be reliable and drive in runs when the situations present themselves rather than striking out on three bad pitches or weakly grounding out it’ll make everyone else in the line up better. I don’t want to call him the key. I think that falls more in the lap of the youngsters in the line up (Santana & LaPorta).
So as Hafner continues his ride into the twilight of his career with the Indians people will continue to bitch and moan about what he does and doesn’t do. I just hope for his sake and the sake of everyone that goes to Jacobs Field…errr… Progressive Field wearing a Travis Hafner jersey this season gets a chance to remember what once was every now and then. Let’s hope that Travis Hafner is able to send some balls flying out into right field landing safely in Pronkville.
Let’s hope that this year we get to see more of Pronk being Pronk…