On the Topic of Jesse Hahn’s Success

San Diego right-hander Jesse Hahn, absent from probably every preseason top-100 prospect list everywhere, has produced four starts of considerably high quality in June — the first four starts, one notes, of Hahn’s entire major-league career. What follows is an interview conducted by the author (a noted dummy) with his own equally dumb self, for some reason, regarding the state of things with Jesse Hahn.

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Managing editor of FanGraphs, Dave Cameron, encouraged you to write about Hahn today, suggesting something to the effect that he’s “your type of guy.” With the understanding that no one reading this really cares about you, specifically, explain what Cameron probably meant by that comment.

I believe what he was referring to is how I generally exhibit undue enthusiasm for the exploits of fringe-type prospects. Hahn, as one who was absent from the usual top-100 lists but who has produced results, matches that profile.

This appeal for you of the marginalized — do you suppose it’s an expression of your psychology?

To the extent that anything I do or say or feel is manifestly an expression of my psychology, then yes. Of course.

What, specifically, does it indicate about you, though, is what I mean?

I’d feel more comfortable addressing matters pertaining directly to Jesse Hahn for now. Perhaps we can discuss the matter of my psychology later?

A reasonable request. With regard to Hahn, then, what about him merits attention at the moment?

Most immediately, his short but impressive major-league resume. He’s conceded just six earned runs over four starts and 22.2 innings with the Padres. Moreover, his fielding-independent numbers, including a nearly 30% strikeout rate, indicate that his run prevention hasn’t merely been a product of the fortuitous distribution of baseball events.

That success, is it a product merely of Petco?

No. I mean, it’s possible that his raw totals are slightly better than they might have been otherwise — like if he’d made all four of his starts in Denver — but his park-adjusted numbers, including a 68 ERA- and 71 xFIP-, are also excellent.

So how’s he doing it? Is this his real talent level we’re seeing?

I’ll answer that second question first, because it’s easier. No, is the answer. Jesse Hahn will likely not continue preventing runs at a rate about 30% better than league average because almost no pitcher — with the exception, perhaps, of Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez — is likely to prevent runs at that rate.

What about at a league-average rate, at least, or slightly better?

Well, the most responsible answer to that question is also not the most interesting one — which is, “Let’s look at the projections.” Steamer forecasts him to record a 3.91 FIP as a starter; ZiPS, a 4.24 FIP also as a starter. For reference, teammate Alex Torres‘s 3.60 FIP equates to a 101 FIP- and Nick Vincent‘s 4.03 FIP is equivalent to a 114 FIP-. Using those figures as a guide, in conjunction with the aforementioned projections, the most likely outcome is that Hahn concedes runs at a rate about 15% greater than league average.

But he’s obviously pitched well so far. How’s he done it?

So, that’s a line of inquiry which obviously begins, and maybe ends, with a conversation about Hahn’s repertoire. Below is a PITCHf/x chart featuring the velocity versus the horizontal movement of Hahn’s pitches through four starts — as effective a way as any, that, to get a sense of what he’s throwing. I’ve outlined the most obvious of clusters to provide a basic sense of what he’s throwing.

hAHN'S pITCHES gRAPHS
Jesse Hahn’s pitch usage. Click to you-know-what.

So he’s throwing some combination of fastballs along with a changeup, slider, and curve?

Right, although another way of phrasing it — one which perhaps best represents his approach — is that Hahn throws either a fastball or curve 90-95% of the time. The two are about 60/30.

Would it be fair to refer to him a “two-pitch pitcher”? Because there’s generally some concern associated with deploying that sort of pitcher in a starting capacity.

Well, the problem typically concerns said pitcher’s ability to deal with opposite-handed batters. A right-handed pitcher, facing a right-handed batter, typically has the advantage. If he’s facing a left-handed batter, though, that’s more difficult. When a manager can set his lineup for the purposes of facing a specific pitcher, that’s difficult for the pitcher in question if he doesn’t have a means by which to attack opposite-handed batters.

The changeup is usually that pitch.

Yes, but it’s not the only possible one. Generally speaking, pitches with horizontal movement (like sliders) are prone to platoon splits, while pitches with vertical movement are something like equally effective against left- and right-handed batters, regardless of the pitcher’s own handedness.

So for Hahn that means what?

Well, it means that his curveball — and the degree to which it’s able to neutralize left-handed batters — is likely to inform his future success. Which, that’s somewhat fortunate, because his curveball is fantastic. Or, if not always fantastically effective, at least fantastic to watch. But, yeah, his curve has produced a swinging-strike rate of 17.1% — this compared to the league average on that same pitch of just 11.1%. Coincidentally or not, Hahn has recorded better strikeout and walk numbers against left-handed batters so far (29.6% and 5.6%, respectively) than right-handed ones (28.2% and 12.8%, respectively).

This would seem to be an appropriate time for this post to devolve really in just an exhibition of different GIFs featuring Hahn’s curveball.

Yes, other version of me. What follows are all GIFs of Hahn’s curve from June 14th at the Mets (box), which club’s home-field slow-motion camera is likely the league’s best.

A curve to Lucas Duda for a swinging strike three:

Hahn Duda

And that same pitch in slow motion:

Hahn Duda Slow

A curve to Bobby Abreu for another, different swinging strike three:

Hahn Abreu 2

And that same curve to Abreu, in slightly different slow motion:

Hahn Abreu 2 Slow

And finally, a curve for strike three looking to Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada — a pitch, this, with -15 inches of horizontal movement (according to PITCHf/x) relative to a spinless ball. About 10 inches greater of negative vertical movement, that, than the typical curveball.

With a curve like this, Hahn might be more real than his lack of a prospect pedigree suggests.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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Johan Santa
Guest
2 years 1 day ago

So… Carson’s favorite Hahn since Noodles, then?

David
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David
2 years 1 day ago

“Generally speaking, pitches with horizontal movement (like sliders) are prone to platoon splits, while pitches with horizontal movement are something like equally effective against left- and right-handed batters”

Yes, but what about pitches with horizontal movement?

David
Guest
David
2 years 1 day ago

Given that the above was followed shortly thereafter by the below, I’m wondering whether Carson’s psychic split somehow impacted the ability to differentiate the words horizontal and vertical…

” a pitch, this, with -15 inches of horizontal movement (according to PITCHf/x) relative to a spinless ball. About 10 inches greater of negative vertical movement, that, than the typical curveball.”

Chad
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Chad
2 years 1 day ago

That confused me too. I guess he meant to say vertical on the second one

jim
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jim
2 years 1 day ago

Anyone want to start a Hahn Club for this curveball? **bows***

Cave Dameron
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Cave Dameron
2 years 1 day ago

Cars?n, my next prompt for you is Pirates SP Locke. He’s changed his pitch mix, and is now getting more swstrk’s and oswings than ever. Easy article, go make me some money.

Reply guy
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Reply guy
2 years 1 day ago

Loved Jesse Hahn, especially once she got her teeth fixed. That Playboy spread? Ooh la laaa!

Bobby Melody
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Bobby Melody
2 years 1 day ago

Saw Jesse Hahn pitch against the Giants Tuesday night. They did not know what to do with his curve. Lots of swings and misses. Buster Posey got the only decent hit off of him- a line drive down the 3rd base line. Jesse looked legit.

randplaty
Member
randplaty
2 years 1 day ago

That curve is straight nasty.

With that curve, I wonder why his K rate wasn’t that high in the minors.

hittfamily
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hittfamily
2 years 1 day ago

It’s a good thing Friedman traded Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn for Logan Forsythe.

Who needs an elite reliever and good young starter when you can have an awful infielder and some non-prospects?

jayman4
Member
jayman4
2 years 1 day ago

As a Padres fan, I was confused by this trade as well, though welcomed it. Though now fired, I wonder if Byrnes stumbled upon a market inefficiency: people scared to trade with Oakland or Tampa. He traded frequently with Oakland and this once with Tampa and seems to have come out better. I am too lazy to compare the trading volume of Tampa and Oakland vs. other teams to see if there is indeed a case for teams fearing trading with intelligent front offices.

hittfamily
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hittfamily
2 years 1 day ago

As a Rays fan, I fear when Friedman has to judge unestablished talent. He is great at signing a dozen veterans to 1 year deals, or spring training invites. Kotchmann, Loney, Keppinger, Farnesworth, Bedard, Rodney etc were all 1 year deals (some had team options). He is great at getting value, as he can turn $1 into $5 with the best of them. Then, all of the sudden, he trades that $5 for 3 $1 bills, and I am left scratching my head.

Jaso for Lueke?
Dane De La Rosa for Steve Geltz?
Torres and Hahn for Forsythe and 3 minor,minor prospects?
Heath Bell?

It’s a good thing that 2 trades have gone right for him, because he can’t draft, and he certainly can’t trade unless a big name is involved and another GM is desperate.

He has signed 2 free agents to multi year deals in his time with the Rays: Fat Burrel and Grant BallFour (others have re-signed {Peralta, Loney}). As happy as I am to have him as my GM, hindsight doesn’t look favorably at many of his trades and signings.

WSoxFan22
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WSoxFan22
2 years 11 hours ago

He’s the best General Manager in the game. He has acquired talent at a discounted rate better than any mind in baseball.

Shauntell
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Shauntell
1 year 11 months ago

As a fellow Rays fan, I need to reprimand you for forgetting that Boxberger was in that deal too and has been noticeably better than Torres this season if you look at K and BB rate. Nobody knew Hahn could be this good and that’s not a given in the future.

Heath Bell was part of the trade that got the Rays Hanigan, the Rays took on 5 Million and Bell to get Hanigan essentially. Bell wasn’t that bad the previous year and you can’t predict relief pitchers’ performances.

randplaty
Member
randplaty
1 year 11 months ago

Its not that I distrust projection systems, but I read articles like this to see if I can get MORE insight than a projection system. Projection systems don’t account for everything… and I want to see if there’s something about this guy that the projection system didn’t or isn’t accounting for.

Kyle
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Kyle
1 year 11 months ago

“With a curve like this, Hahn might be more real than his lack of a prospect pedigree suggests.”

Not that he’s been frequenting top prospect lists or anything but he was a projected 1st round pick in the 2010 draft. 2 days before the draft he hurt his arm and the Rays took him in the 6th knowing he was scheduled for Tommy John surgery and wouldn’t pitch until 2012. Without the injury, he may have gone in the 1st round as projected, frequented prospect lists, and been in a starting rotation as early as straight out of spring training `last` year. His seeming lack of pedigree is imo really due to bad luck on the timing of injuring his arm 2 days before the draft.

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