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An early April Mitch Haniger Hype Train update

The Mariners’ promising right fielder is back on track with last April’s breakout.

Tee Miller (@TeeMil24)

Seattle’s early season success is attributable to a few things. Strong work from the bullpen. Improved baserunning (Seager notwithstanding). A rotation that has averaged nearly six innings a start after a season where they barely averaged five. But most of all the Mariners have won on the backs of their offense. They’ve won on the back of Mitch Haniger.

We begin with our daily rite.

The Mariners have three position players in the top 30 by fWAR despite having played just four games, with Dee Gordon and Robinson Canó providing potent support. But it’s Mitch who has stepped up biggest. Following his 3-for-3 Opening Night against Corey Kluber, Haniger has delivered haymakers daily. Most valuable, of course, has been his timely performance the past two games stepping in for Nelson Cruz. With how hard Haniger has been hitting the ball, you could be forgiven for thinking Cruz hadn’t left. While it’s much too early to draw lasting conclusions about what will happen going forward, we can absolutely determine how he’s been so successful.

Haniger has put 13 balls in play in his 16 plate appearances, and he’s done quite a lot with them. Five of those balls have been hit over 100 mph, and all five have resulted in “barrels.” Barrels are MLB and Tom Tango’s stat developed to define balls off the bat that have the ideal combination of velocity and angle off the bat to become hits at least half the time and deliver extra-base hits as well. Intuitively, the harder a ball is hit, the more forgiving the angle that it is hit at can be.

MitchMash at 107.9 mph

Like Jake and I talked about last year around this time with Haniger, exit velocity is great and fun and new, but it’s not everything. If you hit the ball hard into the ground all the time, with how good MLB defenders are, you’re just going to generate a lot of quick outs **side-eyes 2017 Robinson Canó**. The reason Haniger is successful despite “only” having an average exit velocity of 95.8 mph is that when he makes contact on line drives and low fly balls, he tends to punish them.

The things he’s doing well now are the same things that he did so brilliantly in the first month of 2017, and even when Nelson Cruz returns from injury, his excellence may merit a bump up in the lineup. There’s always been the possibility that Haniger would be a star, and after a hot first week I think Mariners fandom is feeling cocky. His strikeout rate will rise some, and he’ll slump and roll over pitches at some point, but right now Mitch Haniger looks like a star.

The Mariners need one of those.