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I need you to stop freaking out about Mitch Haniger now

Seattle’s young outfielder hasn’t been as good as he was in April since returning from the DL, but that doesn’t mean these struggles are here to stay

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Minnesota Twins
pretty bird
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. note: I wrote this yesterday afternoon, I promise, before Mitch’s 2-for-4, home run and double performance. What a good lil’ Meeshka he is.

Lately I’ve been hearing some rumblings about sending Mitch Haniger to Tacoma and bringing up Leonys Martín in his place, or questions about trading Haniger. Admittedly, since his return from injury, in 96 PAs, Haniger has slashed .195/.313/.293, which is not great. His power has leaked away a little too: despite hitting two HRs, he has just two doubles versus 12 singles. But his K% is what’s really hurting him: 28 Ks, or almost 30%. When in Tacoma, Mitch spoke about the difficulty of getting your timing back after an extended absence: “anytime you have to miss time, from pitch to pitch, your timing is going to be off a little bit,” he acknowledged. We’ve seen that at the plate: Haniger’s swinging strike percentage is just 9%, a hair above average, but his K% is high because he’s watching the ball go by for called strike threes. In April, his swinging strike percent was just 7%, as he was making above-average zone contact, at 92%. So it’s not that Haniger is swinging and missing; rather, that he has to re-learn the edges of the MLB strike zone—or rather, continue learning, as he still has just 314 MLB PAs, total.

But there is good news. Haniger is still walking plenty, at 10.4%. He’s still hitting line drives, at 24%. He’s still making hard contact 31.5% of the time, which is great, versus just 13% soft contact, and he’s making contact in the zone 90% of the time. The most realistic cause for his struggles is the strikeout problem plus a .269 BABIP, signaling he’s getting extremely unlucky on those hard-hit line drives, something that’s borne out by the good ol’ eye test:

Also the Mariners have played some annoyingly good OF defenses lately:

As far as the strikeout numbers go, Haniger’s history suggests that number will regress closer to his April performance. In 95 PAs in April, Haniger ran a 13.7% BB rate against just a 21% K rate, much closer to his career numbers. Haniger has always been selective at the plate, not wanting to swing a lot, and his 51% Z-swing and 27% O-swing post injury have been very similar to his career numbers of a 59.9% Z-swing and 23.2% O-swing. One of the most stark differences we’ve seen so far in pre-and-post-injury Haniger has been his power: a .266 ISO vs. .098 post-injury. In April, Haniger hit four homers, seven doubles and a triple, suggesting his power might have been dampened by the injury; even while otherwise struggling in his MLB debut with Arizona last year, Haniger posted a .174 ISO in 123 PAs. While it’s not realistic to hope Haniger will return to the .342/.447/.608 slash line he ran in April, as the league has more of a chance to adjust to him and considering the nature of his injury, it’s absolutely realistic to expect he will improve on what he’s done so far since coming off the DL.

And aside from these numbers, there’s Haniger’s cerebral, disciplined approach to his game. This is not a player who will abandon his game plan and start taking desperation hacks. I talked with Pat Listach, manager of the Rainiers, about what it was like to have Haniger around during his rehab stint in Tacoma, and he raved about Haniger’s degree of mental preparation and focus, saying he carried himself like not like a rookie, but like a years-experienced MLB vet. I asked him if that made his job easier, having a player who is essentially self-coaching. “If I had a team of Mitch Hanigers, I’d be out of a job,” he responded.

Mitch Haniger is fine. Mitch Haniger is going to be fine. So just calm all the way the heck down, everyone.