Sometimes, baseball just leaves us with some inexplicable performances, such as the infamous 50 HR season by Brady Anderson. You can’t explain it – you just realize that baseball is weird sometimes, and strange things happen.
So, in that vein, let’s talk about Jerry Hairston. For his career, he’s a .260/.330/.360 hitter – your garden variety utility infielder. He has okay contact skills and a smidge of power, can play a few different positions, and can run a little bit. He’s had a rather pedestrian career, finding playing time as a role player on some not good teams, and generally just floating around the game as a warm body.
Last year, though, he fell apart. He hit .189/.249/.289 while playing in Texas – racking up 184 terrible plate appearances and generally looking like a guy who couldn’t play baseball anymore. His walks were down, his strikeouts were up, and he posted a pitiful 13.5% line drive percentage, so it’s not like he was scorching the baseball right at people. 52% of his balls in play were flyballs, and when you’re a guy without much power, that’s bad news, because those fly balls aren’t going over the wall, and the outfielders will have plenty of time to track them down. Even worse, 21% of those flyballs were of the infield variety – weak popups that are always outs.
By pretty much any standard, Hairston was one of the worst players in the game in 2007. Texas jettisoned him, and he ended up signing a minor league contract with the Reds. When injuries struck and they needed some help at the big league level, they gave him a call… and he’s had the year of his life.
Hairston is hitting .329/.389/.473. His line drive rate is now 28.2%, as he really is just crushing the baseball every time he swings. He has 25 extra base hits after totaling just 17 in 2006 and 2007 combined. He’s been worth about a win more than an average hitter in just half a season’s worth of playing time, and he’s doing it as an up the middle defender at age 32.
Last year is the type of season that ends a lot of careers – a guy with limited value turning in a terrible performance in a hitters park at age 31. There aren’t many teams that will look at that player and say “hey, he’s due for a rebound”. But Hairston has apparently decided to regress to Barry Larkin‘s mean instead of his own, turning in a season that just makes you scratch your head and wonder what’s going on.
If any Reds fans have any idea why Jerry Hairston has played at an All-Star level for the last few months, I’d love to hear it.