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40 in 40: Sam Haggerty

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The speedy utility man has the inside track to a bench spot after a solid 2020 showing - and also has the inside track to my heart

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

When Sam Haggerty arrived via a waiver claim from the Mets last January, little fanfare followed. While his minor league track record has shown strong plate discipline (13.2% career Minors walk rate) and base stealing skills (81.2% SB%, including a 2017 in which he swiped 49 bags in High-A), he’s cracked just fifteen minor league homers across 1707 career plate appearances. Not exactly a thumper. Turning 27 in May, he’s never been much older than the rest of his competition, but only got his first taste of the Majors in September 2019, appearing in eleven games while going 0-for-4 at the plate, with most of his time spent pinch-running. Although he had put up a solid campaign in Double-A (a 120 wRC+ with a .370 OBP is far from a slouch) that year, he was in his age-25 season, and by the time he came over to Seattle, his production had seemed to stall out at “solid depth option” rather than “future big league contributor”. But hey, for a 25th round pick in 2015, making the bigs at all is an accomplishment.

In a lot of ways, it was easy to scan Haggerty’s FanGraphs page at the time and conclude that he was an infielder version of old friend Ian Miller. Each has elite speed and limited power, they were both relatively late draft picks, and neither are exactly young. While never coming close to reaching the infamous Patrick Wisdom Discourse, some saw using a 40-man spot on Haggerty as a bit of a head scratcher. After all, Dylan Moore, Tim Lopes, and Shed Long, Jr. were all ahead of him on the depth chart, and he had been in that liminal ballplayer space where they likely could have signed him on a Minors deal after he cleared waivers. Nonetheless, he played well in the Cactus League, and had an outside shot of making the Opening Day roster before COVID forced MLB’s hand in mid-March. He started off the year at the alternate site, but after the M’s parted ways with Daniel Vogelbach and sent a floundering Mallex Smith to Tacoma, Haggerty was called up on August 19th, and found himself batting eighth and playing left field that same day.

Expectations weren’t super high on my end - I would have been happy to see him notch a few hits and flash his speed, and the switch-hitting was a fun aesthetic bonus. Across the thirteen games he got into, however, Haggerty exceeded them and more. His .260/.315/.400 slash line and exactly league average 100 wRC+ don’t knock your socks off, but he opened his Mariner tenure with an eight-game hitting streak, and reached base safely at least once in each and every game he played in. He started in each of his appearances without a day off (well, the whole team had a couple days off at the start of September thanks to an outbreak on the A’s, which he was not pleased about), spent most of his time in the two-hole, he filled in at third on one occasion, and was a perfect 4-for-4 in base stealing, with a 1.8 BsR that was the second-best on the team to boot. My greatest enjoyment, though, was the fun spark he brought to a team that desperately needed one at the time - their record going into August 19th was a truly putrid 7-18, but they rebounded in a big way while Haggerty was around, going 9-4 in that span. Yeah, part of it is that the Mariners beat up on the hapless Rangers during his time up, this is undoubtedly true, but he found ways to contribute seemingly every night, and his cumulative WPA of +.133 reflects that. Here’s him burning some rubber by racing all the way to third on a ball hit to the left field corner:

Here’s his first big league home run two days later, where he turned on a full count inside fastball from veteran Mike Minor:

And here’s a nice sliding catch he made in left that same day, using his speed to quickly readjust on an initial misread:

A forearm strain he suffered on September 5th unfortunately ended his season, but over the small sample of a baker’s dozen games and 54 plate appearances, Haggerty left me wanting more. Although his walk rate stayed in the single digits for the first time in his professional career and he saw a spike in his strikeouts (which, honestly, I expect every player’s first hundred or so Major League plate appearances to feature an inflated K-rate. The stuff and sequencing at the highest level is wild!), he didn’t chase a ton, with his chase of 23.9% about four points lower than Major League average. He scuffled a bit hitting left-handed, but as a righty swinger he packed some serious damage in 20 plate appearances, posting a 177 wRC+ with as many extra-base hits as singles. His exit velocity jumps off the page, too; with the caveat that he only had 34 batted ball events in 2020, his average EV of 90.6 was third on the team, behind only Luís Torrens and Evan White. That hasn’t translated to barrels just yet - he just had one all season, and it funnily enough was not his home run - but he made up for it last year by putting up an infield fly ball rate of 0.0%, and although it’s unlikely he’ll ever be much of a dinger threat, slashing line drives into the gap and lacing ground balls into the outfield corners is a good recipe for success with his speed.

Like Tim Lopes before him, Haggerty is a second baseman by trade who spent much of his time in the Majors playing the outfield. The latter, though, has much more minor league experience as a true utility man, and spent a couple dozen games playing center field for Binghamton. He also has a couple hundred innings at shortstop and third under his belt, but the center field experience, however limited, is a plus for a team that is pretty thin in the “true CFer” department. With Dylan Moore stepping into an everyday role, Lopes’s departure to the Brewers, and Shed Long, Jr. falling down on the depth chart thanks to a brutal 2020, the super-utility spot on the bench is suddenly Sam Haggerty’s to lose, and his solid performance last year combined with some interesting numbers under the hood could portend a Moore-esque breakout in 2021. In any case, the Swaggy Ham is sure to see some more action next year.