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40 in 40: Mitch Haniger

The Mitch Haniger Fan Club is holding their annual convention this week, so someone else had to step in

Haniger family: I am so sorry. I didn’t want to invade your privacy by front-paging your faces, but this (publicly posted) picture was too fun not to share. May Flat and 3D Hanny both triumph this season.
Tee. Always Tee. Forever Tee.

April 25, 2017:

With one out at the top of the third inning, Mitch Haniger tightens his abdominal muscles and powers his hands through the zone, depositing a Jordan Zimmermann fastball into center field for a single. The soft tissue of his obliques stretches and retracts as it has every day he's played the game. All is well.

(Seattle Mariners place Mitch Haniger on the 10-day disabled list. Strained right oblique.)

July 15, 2017:

Before he steps in the box, Haniger turns to check for signs from Manny Acta at third. Acta stomps his feet three times, flutters his hands together like a bird, and touches his head-shoulders-knees-and-toes five times in quick succession. Haniger sighs. Guess it’ll be a bunt. Mike Pelfry begins his windup, and as his arm comes back Haniger squares around. The pitch runs a little inside, but he keeps his fingers on the back side of the barrel and lays down a decent bunt to the left side. Their third baseman makes a great play, and Haniger’s out at first because bunting is a fool’s errand. All is well.

(Mitch Haniger is listed as day-to-day with an injured hand.)

July 29, 2017:

Top of the second, one out, runners at second and third in a scoreless game. Jacob deGrom winds up, luscious locks buffeted lightly by the breeze. As his arm snaps back and he begins to propel himself towards home he can feel the ball shifting in his grip. It’s too early though, too early for that ball to be leaving his hand, and a sense of dread consumes his body as the ball escapes his grip, moving high and inside like he and Travis d’Arnaud had planned, but suddenly too high. Too inside. 95 miles per hour, speeding up and in, and then flying over Haniger’s head. It’s embarrassing, to be certain, but a foot lower and embarrassment would have been the least of deGrom’s problems. All is well.

(Seattle Mariners place Mitch Haniger on the 10-day disabled list. Facial laceration.)

Pondering the what-ifs is foolish, particularly for Mariners fans who may feel as though history/fate/choose-your-own-deity has forsaken them, but I was curious about what a full season of reasonably healthy Mitch Haniger would look like. With the help of my dear friend and personal data monkey, we multiplied a number of Haniger’s relevant stats by 1.5854 to extrapolate his 2017 totals with 650 plate appearances, cross-referenced our calculations with Jake’s super cool projections calculator, and found the following:

Given a healthy season, with some requisite rest days, 2017 Mitch Haniger would have been a 4 win player (4.8 bWAR, 3.5 WARP, 4.0 fWAR), with a 129 wRC+, 165 hits, and 25 home runs. He would have slashed .282/.352/.491 with 148 strikeouts and 49 walks and, assuming pitchers continued to nail him at the rate they did, he would’ve been hit by a pitch 14 times throughout the course of the season, which would have made him seventh on the HBP list in 2017. It wouldn’t have been enough to push him to the forefront of that AL ROY conversation - his post-DL interludes really did a number on his, well, numbers, and Aaron Judge is a Rick James song come to life - but he would have been a compelling choice. For reference, this is what Jeff Sullivan cited in his piece on his ROY ballot.

Injuries decimated the 2017 Mariners, but few player injuries impacted the team in the way that Haniger’s did. Prior to Black Tuesday, Mitch was lighting up the league, garnering early Rookie of the Year talk, and making some of his early proponents more unbearable than usual. He led the Mariners in almost every offensive category, and when he wasn’t making that sweet, sweet contact he was c-ing the the crap out of the z. Then he strained his oblique, hurt his hand, and everything fell to pieces. Oh, and then he took a 95 MPH fastball to the face.

Post-oblique, pre-hand injury:

Post-oblique and hand injuries, pre-scary face smash:

Post-face smash:

Weirdly, that final injury seemed to give him the time off he needed to fully recover from what seemed to be the lingering mental/physical effects from earlier in the season. By the end of the year, Haniger seemed determined to prove that his hot start wasn’t a fluke, though his plate discipline numbers remained shaky.

Mitch was really good last year, when he wasn’t injured, and managed to end up really good overall, despite the lingering effects of said injuries. He’s too charmingly dull consistent to be terribly streaky, so I’m inclined to believe that when he’s healthy next year - real health, not just reinstated-from-the-DL-because-time-was-up-and-he-said-he-felt-fine - we can expect steadier splits throughout 2018.

The projection systems are skeptical of him; ZiPS projects that he’ll be worth 2.1 zWAR in 517 PAs with a 105 wRC+, and a decent drop in both his ISO and BABIP. The 11 fans who’ve weighed in on Fangraphs feel otherwise, and seem to believe that he could be as good, if not better, than what we projected he could have been in 650 PAs in 2017. My estimations fall somewhere in the middle, as all wishy-washy assessments must. Each of his injuries last season was flukey (prior to the oblique strain he had never had any soft tissue damage), so I anticipate a much healthier 2018, with production that will reflect that health. Haniger isn’t an exceptionally flashy guy; for some, that’s part of his charm, but partway through the 2018 season I’m betting you’re going to be pleasantly surprised when you check out his Fangraphs page.

Original photo creds: Kate Preusser; questionable paint job: also Kate Preusser