Travis Hafner to the Rescue

Jason Miller

Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis have their faults, but ZiPS projects them both to have productive seasons that could help ease the loss of key players over the offseason.

Managers' Note: Here's another new face to the site. Please welcome Thomas Reese in his PB debut.

The 2012 New York Yankees finished behind only the Texas Rangers in run production with 804 runs. Yet as Spring Training approaches, the Yankees have reason to be nervous about their 2013 offense. The losses of Nick Swisher (.272/.364/.473/.201 - BA/OBP/SLG/ISO), Russell Martin (.211/.311/.403/.192), Eric Chavez (.281/.348/.496/.216), and Raul Ibanez (.240/.308/.453/.214), among others, will be tough to overcome. Making matters worse, they will have to deal with the injury, and steroid suspicion, of Alex Rodriguez, as well as the possible age-related decline of players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter (not to mention Jeter's return from injury). To address these concerns, the Yankees have made offensive acquisitions such as Kevin Youkilis, and will also get Brett Gardner back from the elbow injury that forced him to miss almost all of last season. One particularly interesting offensive piece the Yankees picked up earlier this month was Travis Hafner.

Dan Szymborski recently released his famed ZiPS projections for the New York Yankees. The first thing that jumps out to me is that Hafner is projected for 322 plate appearances. That essentially slots him into the role of Eric Chavez from 2012 (313 PA). The two biggest factors that could change this number, apart from Hafner's production, are the timeframe of A-Rod's injury and Hafner's own potential injuries. The man they call Pronk is known for being injury-prone, and 322 plate appearances seem like a high number for an oft-injured 36-year-old player. Below is a chart of his career plate appearances:

Tumblr_mifqdqgk731r6056fo1_500_medium

Based on his career numbers, 322 plate appearances seems like a reasonable projection, but that could be higher with a prolonged absence of A-Rod from the lineup and Hafner's avoidance of the DL. It certainly seems likely that A-Rod will miss significant time this season, and I'm rather optimistic that the reduced role the Yankees are looking for from him (compared to what the Cleveland Indians needed out of him), will allow for him to remain healthy and productive.

A healthy Hafner will certainly be beneficial to the 2013 Yankees. His most important numbers to keep an eye on in 2013 will be his walk and strikeout rates. Hafner owns a career 12.6% BB% and a 20.0% K%, and has had a wRC+ higher than league average in all but two seasons of his 11-year career (the first was a 23-game stint with the Rangers as a rookie in '02, and the other was his shoulder surgery-shortened '08). This kind of production will be crucial if the Yankees are going to score runs in 2013. The ZiPS projection for Hafner drops him to 10.2% BB% and up to 20.2 K% (for comparison, Bill James projects a 12.5% BB% and 20.6% K%), but this is still very strong and would still allow him to contribute positively.

One way to look at the value of Travis Hafner would be to compare him directly to Eric Chavez. Hafner could match Chavez's 2012 wRC+ and could realistically exceed Chavez' 2012 PA. Instead, I am going to look at Hafner's hitting value combined with Youkilis' hitting value, and compare that to A-Rod and Chavez's 2012 hitting value.

2012:

Player


Age


PA


OBP


wRC+


A-Rod


36

512

.353

114

Eric Chavez


34

313

.348

126

Travis Hafner


35

263

.346

119

Kevin Youkilis


33

509

.336

102

Travis Hafner could slot into the offensive void that has been left by Alex Rodriguez in 2013, and could potentially even surpass the value of Eric Chavez. The key is whether or not Hafner plays. ZiPS projects him to retain his hitting value, and if he keeps that up over extended playing time, he will certainly be a very valuable piece of the Yankees lineup. A good benchmark for Hafner would be to achieve 450 plate appearances. If Kevin Youkilis is able to recover from his poor 2012, which is possible, he too should be able to at least surpass the offensive contributions of A-Rod. The key to Youk's season will be to improve his OBP, which is certainly possible for the Greek God of Walks. It's important to remember, however, that at this point Hafner could be completely broken and unable to reach even 100 plate appearances, and Youkilis could further decline in contact percentage, further bringing down his OBP. Projections do favor them, but health concerns could change all that.

2013:

Name


Age


PA


OBP


wRC+


Travis Hafner


36

322

0.351

119

Kevin Youkilis


34

475

0.360

102

Projections point out that Hafner and Youkilis together could provide greater offensive value to the Yankees than A-Rod and Chavez. By adding a dash of optimism (health) to projections (still have talent), Travis Hafner should combine with Kevin Youkilis to raise the Yankees’ 2013 run production.

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