Pronk’s just what the Yankees need at DH

Cafardo: Yankees among teams interested in Masahiro Tanaka
2013 Draft: Sean Manaea

I’m not sure about you, but I’ve really enjoyed watching Travis Hafner in pinstripes this season. Quite frankly, he’s already surpassed my expectations in terms of production (and durability), and he has done a really good job of fitting in with the organization’s preferred style of play — that is to say, power and patience.

Over 128 plate appearances, the man they call Pronk has batted .275/.383/.550 (.397 wOBA, 149 wRC+) with the Yankees. As indicated by the spray chart below (provided by Texas Leaguers), he’s been willing to hit to all parts of the field, though most of his home runs have landed in right, as to be expected given his handedness. He’s done a great job of crushing right-handed pitching (though he really hasn’t been bad against lefties either).

Travis Hafner Spray chart

What’s more, it appears as though his bat speed really hasn’t declined very much; he’s listed at 6.6 wFB (fastball runs generated above average). This is especially comforting given his age and the number of high velocity arms in the league. In terms of plate discipline, according to PitchF/X, Pronk’s swung at 64.9% of the pitches thrown in the strike zone, and only 22.9% outside of the strike zone — resulting in am excellent 13.3 BB%. Meanwhile his 22.7 K% is basically in line with his career norms.

And then there are the hits. Pronk’s .275 ISO is not an accident. Most of his home runs are not Yankee Stadium cheapies either. In other words, his power is most certainly as advertised. As of this point, he has the third most home runs on the team (8), despite having about 60 fewer at-bats than both Robinson Cano and Vernon Wells (who lead him with 13 and 10 HR respectively). Much to our delight, we’ve also seen that several of hits have been timely — he most recently victimized Orioles All-Star closer, Jim Johnson.

While I typically do not like to spend much time focusing on a player’s intangibles, in this instance, I think it worth a quick mention. We never hear anything negative about this guy in the club house. More importantly, Hafner has completely embraced his role with the team. There were no surprises when he was signed for a one-year, $2 million dollar pact. Both he and the organization were in agreement that his job was to be a designated hitter — and a platoon bat more often than not. Unlike many players who dread the DH part time role, Pronk welcomed it from moment one and has thrived because of it. Anecdotally, all to often it seems that a club’s expectations do not align with that of the player. Fortunately, that is not the case here.

Unlike players such as Jason Giambi who have vocalized their preference to remain on the field throughout the game (as it apparently helps them remain focused), Hafner seems to relish sticking by his rituals in-between at bats and disappears afterward (which incidentally, helps the team on the field defensively quite a bit too). While the rotating DH has proved itself a convenient method of resting veterans during the Joe Girardi era, it has simaltaneously resulted in some mediocre results occasionally from the designated hitter slot over the past few seasons. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have a guy optimally suited for the role.

Will he wind up being the 5+ fWAR player that he was with the Indians back in the 2005-2006 circuits? Probably not; but as long as he stays healthy, he’ll absolutely remain an effective offensive threat for the Yankees. In other words, keep those cortisone shots coming because Pronk is just what the Yankees need at DH.

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Cafardo: Yankees among teams interested in Masahiro Tanaka
2013 Draft: Sean Manaea
  • Andrew

    Give me No Stick Nick or give me Death!

  • MannyGeee

    Can we keep him? Please???

    Straight up love this dude. please stay healthy.

  • jsbrendog

    he is at 0.8 fwar and 0.9 bwar

    realistically if he stays healthy he can be a 3 win player, which is A-OK by me

  • Betty Lizard

    Nothing more handsome than a homely guy who hits. Love him!

  • nsalem

    Never made an All Star team despite some incredible seasons. Maybe it’s DH prejudice. Or maybe hey don’t shower after games.

  • Brian

    For whatever it’s worth, Jason Giambi splits
    1b: .296/.420/.554
    DH: .244/.380/.467
    I always felt it was worth the negative defensive value.

    • http://RiverAveBlues.com Matt Warden

      That’s certainly a valid point, Brian. And ultimately, I agree with you — big time offense wins out over miserable defense in my book.

      Unfortunately defensive metrics are still somewhat hazy in terms of reliablity. It makes me wonder just how much of Giambi’s offsensive skillset was negated by his defensive shortcomings. It also reminds me how much of a revelation Tex was in 2009.

      • nsalem

        Would love to know how many double plays we may lost between 2002 and 2008 by Giambi’s failure to attempt to covert anything but the easiest of the 3-6-3 situations he encountered. Are these lack of attempts figured into any defensive metrics?

        • http://RiverAveBlues.com Matt Warden

          Hah! I’d love to know that too. Off the top of my head, I don’t believe “non-attempts” as it were are figured into the metrics.

    • pat

      Those types of splits are tricky to discern info from because usually if a guy is DH-ing it’s because he’s banged up or nursing an injury which would lead to less production had he been in the field too.

      • http://RiverAveBlues.com Matt Warden

        Thanks for chiming in with this point, Pat. It’s a good point.

      • Guns

        Not to mention the fact that – if those are his career splits – he mostly played 1B during the prime of his career and his monster years in Oakland. He DH’d more during the tail end of his career.

  • trr

    Fully agree with article , and would prefer to see him DH against LHP’s too, especially instead of Sam Francisco non-treat

    • mitch

      Me too, but he needs days off. He’s one guy they definitely can’t afford to have get injured.

      • trr

        yeah; that should be less of a problem as the season goes on; when Youk, Jeter, A-Rod, even Tex, return they’ll all need to DH some….

  • pat

    I wonder if his crazy in game preparations have A)Kept him from being out of the league and off the face of the earth entirely or B) are the reason he has had so much trouble staying healthy.

    • MannyGeee

      Is it at all possible that he has honed this in game ritual to a point now that it helps him stay healthier where a “beefier” Pronk would just go lift heavy things for hours on end in between ABs back in 2008?

      • vicki

        subtle.

  • LarryM Fl

    I enjoy watching his at bats especially when the ball is driven. He is a true professional hitter. The foul ball home run that he hit out of the park last night was a bit much. He should still get a plaque installed for longest foul ball hit out of park in Baltimore.

    Pronk stay healthy!

  • vicki

    good stuff. but for what it’s worth, the rotating dh in the pre-pronk girardi era (08-12) generated the second best woba and third highest wrc+ in the league.

  • Rolling Doughnut

    Great article, great comments. It appears the baseball sages are in agreement. A blog first?

    • vicki

      it warms the heart that we can all come together on a $2M 149ops+ guy.