The Importance of Travis Hafner

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

There’s no question the Yankees downgraded their offense this winter, specifically in right field and behind the plate. They did upgrade the left-handed half of the DH platoon though, at least in theory. Raul Ibanez‘s super-clutch late-season homers made it easy to forget he hit .202/.281/.359 for nearly 300 plate appearances (292, to be exact) from mid-May through mid-September and was in danger of being left off the postseason roster. We all love Raul, but he had to be replaced.

The replacement the Bombers brought in is long-time Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year deal worth $2M guaranteed earlier this month. Joe Girardi confirmed last week that Hafner will be the team’s primary DH against right-handers and nothing else — “He’s a DH … that’s the plan,” said the skipper flatly — a role for which he is well-suited. The 35-year-old hit .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties last season and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) over the last three years, but he’s not completely useless against southpaws either (92 wRC+ since 2010). A lefty specialist in the late innings shouldn’t result in an automatic out like it did with Ibanez.

Brian Cashman used the term “big, hairy monster” this offseason to describe the type of hitters he prefers, and Hafner pretty clearly fits the mold. For one, he’s a pretty big dude — the team’s official site lists him at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs. — with broad shoulders and scary-looking biceps and forearms. Two, his menacing batting stance …

… looks like something that would say “I’m going to hurt this baseball and kick your dog” to the pitcher if it could talk. It’s mean.

Third, he hits the ball a frickin’ mile. Hafner’s homers have averaged 398.5-ft since 2010 according to Hit Tracker, which is a huge number. Mark Teixeira, who I think we can all agree has big time power and is capable of hitting majestic blasts, has averaged 390.5-ft with his dingers over the last three years. Hafner will get some help from the short porch, but he has a knack for making most parks look small to start with.

Anyway, Hafner is important to the Yankees because he adds some much needed depth to the lineup. He fits in perfectly behind the middle-of-the-order trio of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira, and in fact the best lineup might have Granderson hitting second and Hafner hitting fifth. That’s a conversation for another time though. The important thing is that Hafner’s on-base ability will help mitigate the loss of Nick Swisher without sacrificing any power production.

Of course, the problem here is that Hafner gets hurt. Like, all the time. He’s visited the DL at least twice in each of the last two seasons and at least once in each of the last five. The ailments range from shoulder surgery (2008) to an oblique strain (2011) to knee surgery (2012) to a bulging disc in his back (2012). Despite his defensive and on-base shortcomings, Ibanez always managed to stay on the field (one DL trip since 2004). That’s why I said the Yankees upgraded the DH spot in theory before, it’s only an upgrade if Hafner avoids the DL.

The Yankees have used a different primary DH in each of the last four seasons, so Hafner will make it five in five years in 2013. He should, at least on a rate base, but the team’s most productive DH since Hideki Matsui in 2009, but that’s only if he stays healthy. Remember, a player doesn’t have to be on the DL for an injury to be a problem either, playing hurt could be more harmful that just sitting out. I’m looking forward to watching Hafner mash some taters this summer, and the Yankees better hope he’s out there more often than not.

Categories : Offense


  1. Kevin says:

    My guess is Hafner hits seventh: Jeter, Ichiro, Cano, Tex, Granderson, Youk, Hafner, Gardner, Stewart

    • jjyank says:

      I’d put Hafner above Youk against righties.

    • pablos ham samwich says:

      My guess is Hafner hits seventh: Jeter, Ichiro, Cano, Tex, Granderson, Youk, Hafner, Gardner burnin, Stewart

    • Tino!_24 says:

      Looking at this lineup – gotta hope they have their “situational” hitting shoes on. It is not a scary lineup anymore but has the potential to get it done – meaning get the timely hits needed.

      • Jim Is Bored says:

        How is it not a scary lineup anymore? As currently constructed we’re still projected to be a top 10 run scoring team, some projections have us in the top 5.

        Maybe not scary relative to some mid 2000 lineups, but still awfully scary compared to most of the majors.

        • jjyank says:

          Yeah, it’s not even out of the realm of possibility that it’s the best offense in the division.

        • Manny's BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte's Fibula) says:

          The offense should be pretty good but I hardly think it’s “scary.”

          The only hitter in the entire lineup who you really can’t pitch to when their hot is Cano.

          • Jim Is Bored says:

            I mean, if by scary, you are interpreting it as “Afraid to pitch to”, then no lineup in baseball is scary, as far as I’m concerned.

            • Manny's BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte's Fibula) says:

              Scary is obviously a completely subjective term but IMO, the Angels having to face Trout, Hamilton and Pujols or even Detroit with Fielder, Cabrera and Martinez are scarier than the Yankees.

              I was always “scared” facing the Red Sox back in the day when Papi and Manny were in their prime. It seemed they scored every time the lineup turned over.

          • Govin says:

            Mark can be pretty impressive when hes hot, also. I remember two years ago when he hit five home runs in the first five games, and nearly hit a sixth. It might have been four, but you get the point.

        • Tino!_24 says:

          Scary was a lineup with no letup for a pitcher. Look at the 5 to 9 hitters. Granderson, Youk, Hafner, Gardner, Stewart. I think a pitcher can get through 5 through 9 easily in that lineup in terms of guys who are pure hitters. Granderson hit 232. Youk is not the same 230′s last year, Hafner can only DH and is injury prone and is a 230′s hitter, Gardner is coming off injury season and was mostly a 250′s hitter, Stewart cannot hit period. Yes Youk and Gardner can have bounce back years. Hope springs eternal.

    • Govin says:

      Heres another random tidbit. Joe usually hits Gardner ninth. My guess is he will do the same this year. Also putting Gardner in the nine slot would split up the lefties. We all know how much Joe likes to split up those lefties.

      • Slappy McWaterbug says:

        Also, you want to make sure you have Stewart or Gazoo protecting Hafner in the lineup.

        • Govin says:

          Everyone knows that this will be Stewarts breakout year.I honestly believe that he will more then double his home run production. Going from one to possibly three. And his on base percentage will dramatically rise. Possibly reaching the three hundred mark.
          Here’s a little advice for those of whom are depressed about the catchers offense this year. Do not look at Chris Stewarts stats from last year or any other year for that matter.

      • LK says:

        Based on all the research into optimal lineups, the 9th spot is actually more important than the 8th because the interaction with the hitters at the top of the lineup makes up for the reduced ABs.

      • Kevin says:

        I think he will bat Gardner 8th so he can continually have Stewart bunt him over.

        • Havok9120 says:

          You know, I hadn’t thought of that but that definitely sounds like something Girardi would at least experiment with during ST.

  2. Slugger27 says:

    so the stats you quoted for ibanez were directly after him hitting well to start the season and directly before him hitting well to end the season?

    seems reasonable.

    • pat says:

      What is the point of this comment?

      • Slugger27 says:

        i find it disingenuous mike painted ibanez as a 640 OPS guy rather than the 761 OPS guy (not including playoffs) that he actually was.

        • Jim Is Bored says:

          I mean, he WAS a 640 OPS guy for 5 months.

          Anyone who takes that as illustrative of april and the playoffs too must not have been paying attention last year.

          • Slugger27 says:

            well, for one thing, it was 4 months, not 5. for another, even those didnt represent the vast majority of his PAs. As i stated below, its a little over half.

            and why would we look at his 4 month total anyway? he was a yankee all year. for the year, he had a 761 OPS, and even higher if you count the postseason. so really, for his yankee tenure, it was more like a 775 OPS. quite different from the guy mike portrays.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing the ebbs and flows of an entire season when illustrating how someone hit.

              He didn’t say “This was a terrible signing because he couldn’t hit for 4 months”. He just reminded us of that fact.

        • LK says:

          I mean he told you the endpoints and specifically mentioned the clutch late season homers…how is it disingenuous?

          • Slugger27 says:

            he said raul “had to be replaced” by citing the stats which portrayed ibanez the worst. the guy has no problem citing larger samples to explain why ichiro(despite ichiro moving to a contender and a pitchers park to a hitters park) sucks.

            • LK says:

              A DH who hits at a league average rate does have to be replaced. bWAR has him essentially replacement level last year, and fWAR is only better because his UZR was (laughably) positive. The season as a whole suggests they needed to upgrade. Mike’s point was that *even though he had a bunch of awesome clutchtastic homers* he was pretty bad most of the year. Seriously, the article says “We all love Raul” and you’re saying it makes him out to be the worst? Who’s being disingenuous here?

              • Slugger27 says:

                im not saying i dont agree he needed to be replaced. im saying i dont agree with mike portraying him to be a 640 OPS scrub. the guy had 451 PAs, as a yankee and the total for everything was around a 775-780 OPS. the PAs mike cited represent 64% of his season. so yes, for 64% of his PAs, he was mediocre. the other 36%? he did fantastic. the end result was something pretty decent, and certainly above league average.

                hafner fell off after april last year, but thats not cited in the article. its not cited because 1) it doesnt fit mikes point and 2) because its not important anyway …. hes directly comparing 2 players, why select bad endpoints for 1 and not the other?

                • LK says:

                  I don’t agree that he portrayed him as a scrub. He mentioned the clutch homers. He said we all love Raul.

                  I can’t speak for Mike, but I’m guessing he felt he needed to remind us of Ibanez’ bad stretch and not Hafner’s because one of the players had one of the most clutch postseasons of all time for the team the blog is about and would have an inflated perception among the team’s fans, and the other didn’t?

          • Cris Pengiucci says:

            I understand the point of wanting to see the whole picture. However, many of us have a more rosey view of his production due to his

            • Cris Pengiucci says:

              … due to his strong playoff performance. However we should also remember the previous 4 months were pretty terrible. A strong April and a strong October don’t change the fact that he was really bad for 4 months and almost didn’t get the opportunity to be on the playoff roster.

    • jjyank says:

      Well, that sample size is still almost the entire season. Even if you want to include everything, Ibanez posted a 102 wRC+ and Hafner posted a 119 wRC+ last year. So it’s likely an upgrade either way. I think Mike was just trying to illustrate how bad he was for most of the season.

      • Slugger27 says:

        Well, that sample size is still almost the entire season

        no not really. june july and august represent 206 of his PAs, out of 425 for the season, less than half. so if you want to count the ABs after may 21st (almost undoubtedly mikes arbitrarily picked endpoint) and up to Sep 19th (the other endpoint) it still represents only a little over half the seasons PAs

        • jjyank says:

          He said mid-May through mid-September. That’s ~four months of a six month season. I consider 2/3 of the season “most of the season”.

          • Slugger27 says:

            as do i, but wouldnt you agree that plate appearances is a more important measure than just simple timeframe? the timeframe may be 2/3 the season, but the PAs dont represent 2/3 the season.

            look, its clear i touched a nerve. this board is full of ppl that swear by mike and defend him when anyone dares accuse him of being disingenuous, and you certainly are no different. i apologize for ever questioning his agenda.

            • jjyank says:

              Oh relax, this isn’t about defending anybody. I posted Hafner’s and Ibanez’s full season numbers in my original comment, which you chose to ignore and instead accuse me of blindly defending Mike.

              The whole point of this is that Hafner is an upgrade from Ibanez, at least at the plate. It doesn’t matter what the endpoints are, so who really cares?

              • Slugger27 says:

                the whole point of the site is for intelligent discussion about the yankees. we can all just go to fangraphs, look at his numbers, and conclude that hafner had a better season than ibanez last year and therefore is likely an upgrade.

                i just dont think its fair for him to essentially say “after he did really well and then before he did really well again, he wasnt very good” … no shit.

                hafner ended up only 23 points higher than ibanez did. granted, he didnt hit in yankee stadium. hafner also really fell off after a monster april. of course tahts not mentioned in the article, nor are his post april stats posted. hafners larger samples are. cuz, you know, thats whats important.

                • jjyank says:

                  I understand what you’re saying, and I agree that normally I would want to compare similar sample sizes, not a full season up against a partial one. So I agree with your premise. I think they way Ibanez’s season played out, however, lends more credence to the idea of highlighting those 4 months.

                  I assume what Mike was trying to do was to point out Ibanez’s performance without that few week run at the end of the season. Just like with Ichiro, I’ve noticed a rather rose-colored view of Ibanez because of that, one that isn’t really warranted in my opinion.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              Oh come the fuck on with the “I upset the mike apostles”.

              I vehemently disagreed with Mike yesterday on his painting of Martin as a 2 win upgrade over Stewart/Martin.

              • Slugger27 says:

                “come the fuck on” ….? its an internet message board, relax and lighten up.

                and he deserved the flack he got for that, cuz it was a bullshit number he made up out of thin air (the 2 WAR thing). this isnt nearly as bad as that was, agreed. and i do apologize for the “upset the mike apostles” angle… but hell, even yesterday there were ppl in that thread somehow defending him.

                every time i even come close to questioning something he says, there are ppl that immediately jump down my throat for doing it, even when its embarassingly wrong. my comment wasnt meant for you specifically, but there are tons of ppl on here that live and breathe all things axisa, which is what makes this place feel a lot less welcoming to non-regulars than it was even a couple years ago.

                • Jim Is Bored says:

                  I can understand that feeling, but I think well thought out posts are still accepted. I think there’s actually a little more dissension in the ranks than there were 3-4 years ago.

                  I mean it also makes sense that people who agree with what Mike is saying are more likely to stick around. No one likes to constantly read something they disagree with. So you’re more likely to find those folk hanging around in the forums.

                • jjyank says:

                  I realize you’re speaking generally here, but I sure hope you’re not referring to this particular argument here. I’m not defending Mike, I’m defending the idea that Ibanez was pretty bad for most of the season and Hafner should prove to be an upgrade. Having a similar opinion as Mike =/= blind defense of the guy.

                  • herby says:

                    If he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. I’d really be surprised to see that happening. I’d really expect to see some good numbers early, and either a large injury that puts him on the shelf for an extended period, or nagging injuries that hinder production.

                • Robinson Tilapia says:

                  Never mind the possibility that ALL OF YOU are right on some level. He was shit for four months, which was bookended by great stuff. We should be ignoring neither.

                  You’ve been around here a while and, honestly, your comments can stand on their own and are better than sinking to the “Kool-aid Pollyana Mike defenders” nonsense.

                  • Slugger27 says:

                    my apologies for the mike defenders comment. i still dont agree with how he slanted this article.

                    ready to get out of the office.

                    • Robinson Tilapia says:

                      You and me both.

                      He’ll always have True Yaknees status for the extra inning home run, no matter how these ruffians above want to drag his name through the mud.

            • Govin says:

              Mike is just saying that due to Ibanezes good ending people are overating his offense. Also the cold streak Mike talked about accounted for 68% of Ibanezes atbats.

      • trr says:

        and remember, Ibanez wasn’t exactly a gold glove candidate either

  3. Jim Is Bored says:

    Concerns aside, I’m excited to watch him hit.

  4. MannyGeee says:

    “Brian Cashman used the term “big, hair(y) monster” this offseason to describe the type of hitters he prefers, and Hafner pretty clearly fits the mold”

    Wait… Did Cashman really say that? You’re fucking with me now, right? I am gonna need a reference of some sort.

    I always thought this was just an #EddardWorld meme.

  5. Kevin says:

    This lineup could be very good, we obviously need a bounce back somewhat from Granderson. But from a power perspective we could have 30 HR guys in each of the 3-4-5 spots with 20 HR power in 6th and 7th spots.

  6. Adam "Bulge" Warren says:


  7. I am a new blogger with you guys. I am a refugee from LI who lives in Oxford, MS. No flack, guys; Eli still lives here, too. Stop all the complaining. I go back a long way with this team. The first game that my Dad took me to had Joe D in the line up. This is not 1965. This is a good team despite Hal Steinbrenner. At least he didn’t sign Steve Karsay, Ed Whitson. Dave Kingman and give away Willie McGee. Maybe the problem is parity; The AL East is resembling the NFC East, where every team is very good, but nobody is great. The pitching staff is excellent. The ’63 Dodgers and the ’69 Mets won the WS with terrific pitching and minimal hitting. Does anyone remember the starting line up of the 2001 Dbacks?

  8. nsalem says:

    When I think of Big Hairy Monsters I think of the mini dynasties of the 69-71 Orioles and 88-90 A’s. They were significantly favored to win the 6 WS they participated in combined and only won twice. It is a SSS, but it also should be noted that in 3 of the 4 loses the BHM’s suffered total ass kickings by the smaller and more multi dimensional teams in the form of a sweep and two five game series. These beating were reminiscent to what the Giants did to the Rangers in 2010 and the Tigers in 2012. The 1963 WS was also quite similar (as Mississippi Doc mentions). The Dodgers won it with a mighty offensive outburst of 6 hits and 3 runs combined in games 3 and 4.

  9. amanda says:

    alfonso soriano might be coming back to the bronx 32 homers last year that would replace swisher

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