Can Travis Hafner continue to produce?

Pronk can hit. But can he stay healthy?

(This post is being syndicated from Pinstriped Bible)

Travis Hafner has been better than anyone could have imagined this year. Given his history of DL trips, it was unclear if Hafner would even be able to stay on the field, never mind post a gaudy 148 wRC+. The soon-to-be 36-year-old dealt with a plethora of injuries in his career, averaging just 86 games played over the last 5 years. But other than a minor shoulder issue, Hafner has managed to stay on the field in 2013.

Pronk hasn’t quite been an everyday player as he’s been part of a strict platoon at DH. Nonetheless, he’s played in 36 of the team’s 46 games, putting him on pace for 127 games played—which would be his highest total since 2005. All told, he holds a robust .396 wOBA, good for best on the Yankees. While Hafner’s strong performance is unexpected, it’s not entirely shocking. He’s posted a wRC+ of 115 or higher every year since 2009. Most of it came in fragmented seasons though, due to his numerous injuries. There’s no denying that Hafner has been great, and it’s a little scary to think about what the team’s lineup would have looked like without him. But can we realistically expect him to continue to be a reliable offensive piece going forward?

Despite his impressive contributions, there’s nothing underlying his performance that screams fluke. In a small sample, the most telling signs of a hitter’s talent are those associated with plate discipline. According to research done by Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus, strikeout and walk rates stabilize sooner than other hitter statistics. Hafner looks very good in that regard. He’s walked in an exceptional 14% of plate appearances and has managed to limit his strikeout total as well.

Power has always been a hallmark of Hafner’s game and this year has been no different. Despite limited playing time, he’s hit 8 home runs and holds a .270 ISO. Even with Yankee Stadium’s short porch, Hafner’s probably not going to keep hitting for power like he has. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t expect his power output to regress too far downward, either. His numbers may seem a bit unsustainable, but it’s worth noting that almost half of the balls he’s hit have been fly balls. It’s still a small sample size, but FB% stabilizes relatively quickly. With 74 balls in play this year, Hafner’s basically reached the point where half of this performance can be attributed to his fly ball hitting prowess, with the other half to random chance. His 20.5% HR/FB rate is certainly not absurd compared to his 18.5% career mark. So if the fly balls continue, so should most of the homers. He also doesn’t appear to have been exceptionally lucky on balls in play. His .297 BABIP is higher than what he posted last season, but falls in line with what he’s done in the past.

In terms of baseball skills, there’s little reason to believe that Pronk will stop performing. Despite his health issues, he hasn’t lost the ability to hit and has looked better than ever this season. Avoiding injury is clearly the biggest hurdle he needs to avoid. He has been uncharacteristically healthy this year, but could realistically go down at any time. As a result, the Yankees need to do everything in their power to make sure he says on the field. As painful as it is to watch Ben Francisco play, utilizing a strict platoon is probably the best option for the Yankees. This enables them to decrease the probability that Hafner gets injured while still leveraging him in situations where he’s most effective. Hafner has been a savior for a Yankees’ lineup that has been decimated by injuries. Hopefully he can continue to produce, but even if he were to hit the DL tomorrow, he’s done a fine job of helping the team tread water with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira on the shelf.

Photo By Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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