Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What the Pronk?

The Indians’ offense has, once again, become the hot-button issue in town (despite my buddy Dozer’s insistence to talk about 4th round picks and that Beau Bell is a “diamond in the rough”) and the disturbing trends that reared their ugly heads earlier in the season are seeing daylight again as the Indians’ main cogs of offense are underperforming and putting unnecessary pressure (and a bright spotlight) on the bottom of the order and the players designed to be complimentary parts of the roster.

Consider that the most RBI in the Tribe lineup has come from the #8 hole (19 RBI).
Next up? The #9 hole and, of course, the #2 hole with 16 RBI.
That’s right, the #3 hole (14 RBI), the #4 hole (11 RBI), and #5 hole (13 RBI) don’t even crack the top three run producing spots in the order to date.

What gives? We all know that Garko is hitless in his last 23 at-bats, that Peralta is maddeningly inconsistent, and that Victor has only 4 extra base hits (all 2B) in his 27 hits and is sitting on an OBP (.397) that almost matches his SLG (.417). Since when did Vic the Stick become Ichiro?

Let me throw an answer out there for you…and don’t stop me because you’ve heard this one before – it’s Pronk, or better yet, a lack of Pronk. Going into Tuesday’s game, Travis Hafner’s OPS sat at .667, slightly ahead of Julio Lugo (.663) and slightly behind David Eckstein (.673) as the Tribe approaches their 30th game. LUGO?!? ECKSTEIN?!?

Regardless of what Big Papi’s doing (.611 OPS, in case you were wondering), Hafner’s 2007 struggles look to be carrying over to 2008 and weighing down the lineup like an anchor. It’s true that the #2 hole remains a work in progress (though Dellucci has acquitted himself nicely against RHP), but the fact that Hafner is looking more timid at the plate than ever and is sabotaging rally after rally is killing the Indians’ offense.

Those situations that Pronk used to stride into like a WWE wrestler making his way to the squared circle have become a distant memory. Those pitches that Pronk used to (as Rick Manning so eloquently puts it) “spit at” are finding their way into the catcher’s mitt with a raised right hand of the umpire behind it or are barely making the infield grass.

What in the name of Bruce Banner is going on here?
Let’s start to examine the numbers, starting with Hafner’s “famous” eye that drove him to having an OPS over 1.000 in 2005 and 2006. Hafner’s BB rate is the lowest (11.1%) since 2003, peaking at 18.1% in his superb 2005 campaign. Conversely, his K rate is the highest it has been (at 27.1%) since that same 2003 season. So, the combination of walking less and striking out more means that he’s not seeing the ball as well, right? Well, actually the percentage of strikes that he’s swinging at (66%) and the overall pitches he’s swinging at (about 40%) have remained pretty steady since 2004 with him actually swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this year than he ever has in his career, only swinging at 14.5% of pitches outside of the zone in 2008. He’s making worse contact on pitches outside of the strike zone (hitting only about 31% of the non-strikes he’s thrown) than he has in the past, but he’s chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, so that’s not too big of a concern.

Want a shocker? In his brief 2008 season, Hafner has the highest percentage of contact of strikes he swings at (88%), the highest percentage of contact when he swings (78%), and seeing the highest percentage of strikes (50%) of his career.

All of that tells us that he’s swinging at about the same rates that he’s always swung the bat, both in terms of swinging at strikes and making contact with strikes and is making better contact when he swings and, more importantly, when he swings at strikes…which he’s seeing more than he ever has.

But, in reality, those pitch and swing statistics (acquired via Hafner’s Fangraphs.com page) don’t get to the heart of the problem with Hafner, which has nothing to do with WHEN he’s swinging or how often he’s simply MAKING contact. To me, it comes down to HOW he’s swinging and HOW he’s making contact as the answer to both HOW’s right now bring to mind one word – weakly.

It looks like Hafner’s having difficulty recognizing pitches and, by the time he decides whether to swing or not, he’s either watching the ball fly by him or he’s waving at it, weakly grounding to points in the infield (the balls he’s hit in the infield is DRASTICALLY up from years past…about three times his 2006 totals). So maybe he is making contact with pitches and swinging at the right pitches…he’s just doing it with weak swings because of late recognition. His Home Run per Fly Ball percentage (how many fly balls he hits go for HR) is down to 12.5% from the likes of 24% in 2005 and 30% in 2006, so the lack of power, when he is making contact, is very disconcerting.

Whether his lack of power comes from him not making an early decision to swing at a ball and not getting much behind the swing or if the “shift” has caused him to overthink his approach as teams dare him to try to hit it down the LF line remains unsolved. Whatever the cause of his lack of power or putting the bat solidly on the ball, the Indians can’t continue to allow his struggles squash run-producing opportunities in the middle of the lineup. Perhaps a move down the lineup will take some pressure off of Hafner; of course, it could just as easily further damage his fading confidence.

At this point, though, the Indians need to remedy this offense and simply giving Andy Marte or Ben Francisco plate appearances isn’t going to serve as a saving balm. The only thing that will rescue this offense is the return of Pronk. Maybe a move down the lineup will release the inner Pronk that the Indians need to solidify their whole lineup. Until Pronk returns and the rest of the lineup can feed off of his productivity, the Indians’ offense will remain as toothless as their DH.

7 comments:

Jason said...

Think maybe Pronk converted from Voodo to Buddhism in the winter of '06? Maybe Kobayashi can help him find that Bushido warrior inside him. If we see the dugout shaking little balls at him we'll know for sure.

Whatever it is, he needs to get it back. This is getting silly.

minktrapper said...

“We’re getting impatient around here,” “We need to step up."....
"We’ve given them a month and there are options we can turn to. I hate to say that on a good game, but we’ve got to get some guys going.”

This is a quote from John McLaren speaking about the game last night.

Whose locker room was he in when he said this?!!!!

Halifax said...

Their offense is BAD regardless, but it does become passable if Hafner hits.

Pitching drives this club and if there's not at least mediocre hitting, they're done.

If you look at the lineup do you really have great expectations?

Joshua Whitman said...

Another useful stat to backup your argument.

Hafner is batting .304 in games that the Tribe wins. And .130 (holy crap!) in games that they lose.

While I'm not a professor of Sabermetrics, that seems to be very telling.

csusi said...

and if anybody runs into pronk, you might want to let him know that pitchers are throwing him a first pitch strike, EVERY SINGLE TIME. ive missed one game this year and out of all the others i would go so far as to say 95% of the time you watch hafner at the plate, he's watching the first pitch cruise by him, falling into the hole and eventually swinging defensively just to fight the ball off. thus, like you said, leading to weak hits. pull the trigger hafner. lets go! great post by the way paul.

Halifax said...

Sorry to interject some Cavs talk, but Mavs coach Avery Johnson was let go today. Is it too early to get him for the Cavs?

He's a great coach!

Halifax said...

Last night was the best game Hafner has had in some time. He needs to spend some more time watching the games and hitting in the cage.

Keep up the good work, Pronk.