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Monday, April 17, 2006

Better Know a Red #7 - Scott Hatteberg

In part 7 of our ongoing series, Better Know a Red, we turn our attention to Scott Hatteberg. Hatteberg, 36, was originally drafted as catcher in the 1st-round (43rd overall) of the 1991 amateur draft. He first debuted with the Red Sox with 2 at-bats in the '95 season, but had to wait until the '97 season for his true rookie debut. He played for 5 years with the Red Sox, but in the '01 season suffered an arm injury which prevented him from throwing effectively. His career as a catcher, and probably a major league baseball player, was over.

Readers of Michael Lewis's controversial book, Moneyball, are already familiar with what happened next. Billy Beane, seeking a cheap, productive hitter to help fill the void left by Jason Giambi, called up Hatteberg and offered him a job...to play first base. He went on to play 4 reasonably productive years with the Athletics, ending last year. Then, in one of Krivsky's first moves as a general manager, Hatteberg signed with the Reds. Initially thought of as a backup, the Bronson Arroyo trade sent Adam Dunn back to the outfield and installed Hatteberg in something of a platoon role with Rich Aurilia at first.

Historical Stats (for explanations of the statistics I use on this page, please see my Baseball Statistics Quicksheet):
Year/Team PA K/BB SB/% OBP SLG OPS GPA EqA VORP GB/OF/LD
2003/OAK 619 0.80 0/0% 0.342 0.383 0.725 0.250 0.258 3.9 ---
2004/OAK 635 0.67 0/0% 0.367 0.420 0.787 0.270 0.279 19.1 ---
2005/OAK 521 1.06 0/0% 0.334 0.343 0.677 0.236 0.251 -3.6 37/21/15
Hatteberg is a very different hitter from most Reds' hitters. In many ways, he's similar to the departed Sean Casey...just not as good. When he's on, he routinely gets on base by walking a great deal and making good contact, as his very low k/bb ratios indicate. He has a little bit of pop in his bat, but he will not typically hit for power--career high HR's is 15. Ultimately, Hatteberg is a ground-ball hitter (37% of all balls hit in '05 were grounders, vs. 21% fly balls to the outfield), which doesn't go terribly well with his complete lack of speed (1 career stolen base).

Last year, he regressed substantially. A 0.334 OBP coupled with a 0.343 SLG makes for very little production, which is a good part of the reason he received 114 fewer plate appearances last year. If he can return to his '04 numbers, he can still be a valuable cog in our lineup. If '05 is a true indication that his skills have faded, he may better serve the Reds as a reserve. The substantial increase in his k/bb ratio last year makes me worry that the latter may be the case.

'03-'05 Splits
Year/Team PA K/BB OBP SLG OPS GPA
vs Left 495 1.41 0.341 0.358 0.700 0.243
vs Right 1267 0.64 0.355 0.394 0.749 0.258
Home 881 0.90 0.338 0.376 0.714 0.246
Away 881 0.75 0.364 0.392 0.757 0.262
Like many left-handers, Hatteberg is typically more effective against right-handed pitchers. His OBP is roughly the same, but he suffers a drop in his slugging percentage. Most striking, however, is the substantial increase in his strikeout rates vs. lefthanders. We can't expect a dramatic improvement in his overall numbers in a platoon situations, but he will more reliably make contact against righties. Given the rest of our lineup, that's one of the major benefits he brings to this team: contact.

Home/Away splits refer to his performance at Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum, which over 5 years has an overall park factor of 99, indicating that it's very much a neutral ballpark. Why he performed better away from home is therefore a mystery to me--maybe it has to do with the pressure of playing for Billy Beane?

Fielding Stats:
Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) Dial ZR (runs/yr) Gassko (runs/yr) D*G (runs/yr) Pinto (runs/27ot) Davenport (runs/yr) Bunt (+/-score)
1B 2003 MLB 1111
--- --- --- --- --- -14 ---
1B 2004 MLB 1280
--- --- --- --- --- -15 ---
1B 2005 MLB 478 -15 -0.2 --- --- 0.663 -15 39.9
These fielding stats indicate that Hatteberg is a fairly average to below-average fielder, with one major exception: bunts. Last year, Hatteberg received a score on bunt plays of 0.970 according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible. The average score for first basemen was 0.571, indicating the Hatteberg did an amazing job on those plays last year. Nevertheless, he also played far fewer innings in '05 than is typical of a starter, playing many more games at DH than in the prior two years in favor of Dan Johnson. Therefore, it's possible we're seeing small sample size issues here.

Nevertheless, Narron repeatedly complemented Hatteberg's defense this spring, citing a major advantage of the Arroyo trade was having Hatteberg at 1B over Dunn due to the defensive skills Hatteberg brings to the table. What gives? One of the major limitations of the above fielding statistics is that they say nothing about the first baseman's primary job--receiving throws from infielders. These stats just investigate player performance on balls batted toward his position. Therefore, these stats should not be viewed as a composite view of Hatteberg's defense at first base, nor for any first baseman. John Dewan's company is apparently also recording information about special plays, like digging throws out of the dirt. I'm hopeful that future releases from his company will contain these sorts of stats so we can begin to better evaluate first basemen.

Projections:
Year/Team PA K/BB SB/% OBP SLG OPS GPA EqA VORP
PECOTA75 379 0.93 0/0%
0.352 0.383 0.735 0.254 0.271 6.8
PECOTA 414 1.00 0/0% 0.336 0.359 0.695 0.241 0.257 0.0
PECOTA25 370 1.15 0/0% 0.307 0.317 0.624 0.217 0.231 -10.3
ZiPS 551 0.82 0/0% 0.332 0.358 0.690 0.239 --- ---
Both ZiPS and PECOTA predict that Hatteberg will approximately duplicate last year's performance, which is right about at replacement level. This really means that the Reds should look elsewhere for a daily first baseman--for example, Carlos Pena is apparently still available, though he may be having discussions with the Yankees. Hatteberg's a very, very serviceable backup. He brings a lot to the table as a bench hitter, and I feel great about bringing him in as a pinch hitter with the game on the line in late innings. He'll get you a good at-bat, see a lot of pitches, and if he doesn't walk he'll probably make contact with the ball on the ground. But he clearly is not "the future" at 1B, and is more likely to help us as a reserve than a starter this year.

References:
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Fielding Bible
Hardball Times '06 Annual