Were you, by chance, to make a list of the best offensive seasons in the post-Barry Bonds world, which baseball players do you think would crowd the top? Albert Pujols, sure. David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera – the usual suspects.
You might overlook Travis Hafner, as his body betrays him during his decline phase. But Travis Hafner was once great – really great. As in, the second best season by wOBA since 2005. Travis Hafner was on fire in 2006, hitting 42 home runs in just 129 games, posting a .308/.439/.659 slash line good for a .450 wOBA.
The Hafner of those days is gone, ravaged by injury and excessive Clevelandness. He hasn’t made 500 plate appearances since 2007 but, when he’s around, Travis Hafner mashes the baseball. He still ranks among the best DHs in the game since 2009, though in limited duty.
As a cheap pick up with the potential to smash baseballs in the twilight of his career, Travis Hafner is the prototypical cheap Yankee pick up – it seems too good to be true and it will only haunt Yankees haters.
Beyond the pedigree/narrative aspect of this deal, Travis Hafner is all but perfect for Yankee Stadium. After spending basically his entire career playing at
JacobsProgressive Field (a nice spot for lefties in its own right), Travis Hafner gets to call one of the cosiest right-field porches in the game his home. Mapping his 2012 home runs onto Yankee Stadium with Hit Tracker Online shows the ease with which Hafner’s previous shots would excite his future home.
Hafner isn’t exactly the type of hitter to merely scrape the back of the fence with meek fly balls, but the sheer distance between his homers’ landing place and this representation of the right field wall suggests a few more are sure to find those seats.
As the Yankee Analysts point out, Hafner can hit the ball all over the field but his pull power stands out. To Hafner’s advantage, he won’t sell out his existing approach to take advantage of the short porch in right field. Many hitters, when confronted by what appears to be an irresistible place to deposit cheap home runs, screw with their swing in a futile attempt to pad their stats. Hafner has always been all pull, all the time, so nothing needs to change.
Despite numerous injuries to their veteran core, this figures to be the exact scenario in which the Yankees deploy Hafner – as the lefty-hitting side of a DH platoon. As a hitter willing and able to pull nearly any pitch with authority, a healthy Hafner will simply pound the right field seats at Yankees Stadium.
Few teams pay the big bucks for a single, full-time DH. More and more teams will follow the Yankees model, DHing by committee and using that spot to spell their grey beard regulars. At $2 million for one year, there is next to no risk for the Yankees and significant possible reward. Travis Hafer will hit – the only thing the Yankees concerning the Yankees his minimizing his injuries. He is all but assured to miss time, it is more a matter of when.
With all the other headaches and concerns right now, putting the DH position to rest at least takes one issue off Brian Cashman’s plate. If only Travis Hafner was an expert in contractual law…