For a player who is as consistent and steadfast in his routine and preparation, it is ironic—maybe even cosmically unfair—that Mitch Haniger is such a streaky player. With the help of FanGraphs, let’s take a bird’s eye view of how streaky Haniger has been using wOBA.
With a player as thoughtful and consistent as Haniger, you’d expect that blue line to hew a little closer to average or slightly above—the .350 mark in the graph, more or less. Instead, what’s represented here are some truly high highs and some very deep valleys, indeed.
The pattern becomes even more drastic when you isolate a single season. Even in his most consistent year—2018, when he played 157 games and was close to a five-win player—you can see that the highs were high and the lows pretty darn low.
Of course, there’s a fair amount of interruptions for injuries throughout his career. 2017 had the strained oblique, which he came back from only to immediately be hit in the face with a Jacob DeGrom fastball. 2019 had the injury that shall not be named, which led into a back/core injury, which led to a lost 2020 season. So far in 2022, it’s been the ankle and some back discomfort. Even his healthiest season, his All-Star 2018 season, had a minor knee injury. It’s hard to be consistent at anything when your body hurts.
With Haniger’s talent and appetite for hard work, however, he’s always been able to pull out of slumps and wind up somewhere in the 120-140 wRC+ range. He might lose his swing momentarily, but he’s practiced enough to find it again. Those graphs might look shaky, but they even out to tell the story of what Haniger is, when healthy: an overall high-average to above-average player.
However, the 2022 season is quickly drawing to a close, and with it, Haniger’s chance to turn around what has been a pretty dismal stretch for him of late. Shield your eyes, children—this is not pretty.
In August, after returning from his IL stint, Haniger was slashing .270./330/.427, capped off most memorably by his walk-off hit leading the Mariners to victory.
But September came and brought with it an ill wind for the Hanimal. So far in a very quickly closing month, Haniger is slashing just .197/.275/.254, and his strikeout rate has ballooned to over 30%—very un-Mitch-like numbers, even as he continues taking his walks. Haniger has grounded into six double plays this year; two were at the very start of the season, and the remaining four have all come since August 24th, with two of them occurring in the same game, Friday’s debacle against the Royals (as opposed to Sunday’s debacle against the Royals). I don’t know if the trajectory of Brady Singer’s pitches is just a terrible match for Mitch’s swing plane or what, but this pitch was 94 in the middle of the plate and Mitch just pounds it into the ground.
Maybe Haniger is pressing, trying to be a hero, or maybe this is just one of the inevitable ebbs for a player who has peaks and valleys like Haniger, but the Mariners desperately need Haniger to flip the switch over these last few games. With the heavy hitters in the lineup in Julio and Eugenio Suárez sidelined with injury, and Cal Raleigh battling a thumb injury, it’s up to Haniger and Ty France to lead the charge and start generating some offensive consistency. France (115 wRC+ for September) has started to show signs of life after a dreadful August (47 wRC+); now it’s Haniger’s turn to get going.
And now, if you’ve read this far, here’s your little treat. Without looking too closely, let’s look at how Haniger has finished each of his last complete seasons as a Mariner (we’re discarding 2019 here because he ended the season hurt):
Are you seeing the trend? Haniger might lack consistency in the day-to-day, but one thing is consistent: like a sickly houseplant that springs back to life once you actually, you know, water it, Haniger bounces back at the end of the season to finish strong. We saw this in action in 2021, when Mitch valiantly yet unsuccessfully attempted to drag his teammates into the playoffs, and my gut feeling is we’ll see it again.
Because there’s one thing these graphs can’t show, and it’s who Mitch Haniger is, the iron will he possesses, the drive to do better and be better. It’s the reason his teammates call him “our champion”, the reason Scott Servais has said the quality of conversations in the dugout is higher when Mitch Haniger is present. It’s the will of a man who won’t let his physical limitations define him, who famously promised Mariners fans we’re going to “end this f*cking drought.”
This past road trip tested Mariners’ fans patience, and their belief. But Mitch Haniger, more than any other Mariner, knows these peaks and valleys. He has made magic before in front of a sell-out crowd on a chilly night at T-Mobile Park. He’ll do it again.