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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Jerry Hairston Jr.

The other signing yesterday was veteran infielder/outfielder Jerry Hairston Jr. Hairston is part of an outstanding baseball family: his grandfather, Sammy, had a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 1951, while his father played for 14 big league seasons as a reserve outfielder. Furthermore, Jerry's younger brother, Scott, is currently with the San Diego Padres.

Hairston is also notable because of his associations with allegations of human growth hormone use. His name, along with a photocopy of a personal check made out to Kirk Radomski, who claimed he supplied Hairston with HGH, appeared in George Mitchell's report in December. He also was implicated as among those players who had purchased HGH from an online pharmacy, though he vehemently denied those allegations. To my knowledge, he has not yet addressed the Radomski allegations.

Back to baseball...Hairston was Baltimore's 11th round selection out of Southern Illinois University in the 1997 draft. He moved up quickly, getting his first taste of the big leagues in 1998, and ultimately securing the starting gig at second base with the Orioles in 2000. In the minors, he showed good doubles power to go with his plus speed. But unfortunately, he never hit for any kind of power in the major leagues, relying on his on base percentage to provide value to his club. In the end, after a few years as a starter with the O's, Hairston has settled into a reserve utility role.

Recent stats:
2005 29 CHC 430 11% 7% 23% 0.282 0.261 0.336 0.368 0.107 0.704 -2.803 4.4 8.6
2006 30 TOT 192 18% 7% 12% 0.245 0.206 0.270 0.253 0.047 0.523 -0.059 2.0 -9.3
2007 31 TEX 184 13% 6% 14% 0.189 0.189 0.249 0.289 0.100 0.538 0.408 2.2 -8.0
3yrs --- --- 806 13% 7% 19% 0.252 0.231 0.293 0.323 0.092 0.616 -2.454 3.2 -8.6

It's hard to look at his numbers the past few years and see much reason for optimism moving forward. Entering his age-32 season, Hairston is showing a fairly typical aging curve for a borderline talent. He seemed to peak in 2004 at age 28 (0.378 OBP), and then he quickly fell off. His performances the last two seasons have been dreadful, especially when one considers that he played half his games in Arlington--a fairly severe hitters park (5-year regressed park factor=1.05). Last season, his BABIP was unusually low, but his line drive rate was such that one wonders if he's making any kind of hard contact any more. Even his speed has been unimpressive--particularly his 8 for 17 success rate in 2005 when playing for Dusty Baker.

On the positive side, I guess I could say that he does walk more often that Brandon Phillips or Corey Patterson, while keeping his strikeouts at a reasonable level. ... but that's not enough to make someone worth plugging into a lineup.


Hairston is a versatile fielder, having logged substantial numbers of MLB innings at second base and all three outfield positions. His 2003-2007 UZR totals put him at +3 runs/season at 2B, +16 runs/season in LF, -2 runs/season in CF, and +0 runs/season in right field. Altogether, including position adjustments, that pegs him as about a +3 fielder at a neutral position (like second or third base).

The Fans Scouting Report hasn't been quite as generous. While they had him well above average in 2004, his ratings have been routinely a tick below average the past three seasons (typically 1-3 runs below average). I think what we may be seeing here is an indication that he may have a lost a step as he's aged.

Money Matters

He's on a minor league deal, of course, so he's essentially "free." And unlike Corey Patterson, I'm not sure that he's likely to make more than league minimum ($400k) if he makes the team, or more likely, gets called up mid-season as an injury replacement. But is he even worth 400k?

In terms of projections...he's averaged below-replacement level hitting the past three years, and the most optimistic fielding estimate would have him as an average defender, accounting for position adjustments. We also should deduct a half-win or so for aging.

So, we're essentially looking at someone who projects as a sub-replacement level performer. It's fine to have more warm bodies in camp and all, but he ranks well below guys like Paul Janish, Jerry Gil, Chris Dickerson, etc, on my depth list. And even then, the Reds should be able to acquire someone for almost zero cost who can provide more value than Hairston. I don't mind giving the guy a chance in the spring, but unless Dusty is feeling incredibly loyal to his old player, I'd project that we're unlikely to ever see the guy in a Reds uniform after March.

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Wireimage