Travis Hafner Reborn In Yankee Stadium

Travis Hafner is hitting like it’s 2005. The 35-year-old has raced to a .318/.438/.667 line, replete with six home runs, three doubles and a triple in April. He has helped breathe life into a lineup missing its usual stars. With Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez all shelved, the Yankees have still managed 4.6 runs per game, good for ninth in the league.

The Yankees’ lineup has been 14 runs above average this year by wRAA. Hafner is at plus-9 himself, powering the Yankees lineup like he powered those mid-2000s Cleveland teams.

Hafner’s three-year peak from 2004 through 2006 rivals that of any designated hitter ever. He posted wRC+ marks of 158, 166 and 176 respectively with at least 129 games played these three season. The stretch compares favorably to the best three consecutive years from David Ortiz (2005-07, 157-157-175) and Edgar Martinez (1995-97, 184-165-166). Hafner’s wRC+ heading into Wednesday’s action sits at 192.

Hafner earned something of a reputation as a meathead, grip-it-and-rip-it slugger (as colleague Mike Axisa put it) — as I suppose would be expected from someone nicknamed “Pronk” — but his game was well-rounded at his peak. His strikeout rates, although higher than average, never reached the levels of big whiffers like Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard or Russell Branyan. He took walks — seven consecutive seasons with a walk rate above 10 percent. And he hit the ball hard to all parts of the diamond. Each of his peak years featured a BABIP above .320 and he still owns a career .313 mark over a 4,563 PA body of work.

Hafner wasn’t able to maintain his crazy power levels after his peak years, though. Whether it was the litany of injuries he dealt with — from a broken hand to shoulder surgery to knee issues — or just the normal effects of aging, Hafner’s ability to hit for power to the opposite field dropped off significantly after 2006. After posting HR/FB rates over seven percent to the opposite field in his peak years — nearly double the usual rate for lefties — Hafner fell under 5 percent for the rest of his career. He has one opposite field home run this year, his first since 2009.

But his pull power, even on the decline, has been excellent. Only once has he posted a HR/FB under 35 percent to right field, in an injury-shortened (even more than usual) 2008. This year, his mark sits at just 20 percent, but four of his six home runs have been right on the borderline between right and center judging by HitTracker Online’s graph:

hafnerhrs

Hafner is enjoying Yankee Stadium’s right field power alley — his four home runs at home are the four farthest right in the above graphic. And he’s just raking at home in general — he owns a .351/.455/.784 line at home and has two doubles and a triple to go with the homers. Hafner didn’t hit a single home run in this area last year, but Yankee Stadium is the perfect place to leverage his power. The power alley in right field plays directly into his strengths. Observe, the difference in average home run length by angle for Progressive Field and Yankee Stadium:

ys3vsprog

The key is in the shaded area, highlighting the differences between the right field power alleys. Hafner’s move to New York has given him significantly more leeway with his fly balls and line drives to this area — one of the areas lefties hit to most often. If his increase in fly ball rate — up to 52 percent this year from 38 percent career — holds up, he’ll be able to leverage his pull power with more home runs that would be harmless fly balls elsewhere.

Whether it’s scored as pull or center, the home runs Yankee Stadium’s shorter fences can provide should help Travis Hafner keep his rebirth going as long as he stays healthy. For the meager $2 million the Yankees paid, they’ll surely get their money’s worth.




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29 Responses to “Travis Hafner Reborn In Yankee Stadium”

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  1. isavage30 says:

    It should be noted that Hafner the last two seasons has posted a 156 and 161 wRC+ through April. So, while Hafner’s doing well so far this year, it’s not crazily better than what he did in Cleveland the last two years before inevitably getting ground down by injuries. More than the ballpark he plays in, what’s going to drive his production this year is whether his legs and shoulder remain healthy.

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  2. James says:

    Sometimes when I’m feeling down I remind myself that I’m not an Indians fan. I can’t imagine what its like to see so many former players play well.

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    • Sal Fasano's Mustache says:

      Hafner doesn’t hurt so bad. He produced well – not at this rate, of course – every year in Cleveland. Even last year. Hafner’s issue is staying healthy. We’ll see if he can stay healthy this year.

      Hafner left because this team didn’t want him anymore. The front office, and the fanbase really, had moved on. Honestly, I’m OK with Reynolds at DH, who is a lot more durable and is also murdering the ball.

      I’m glad to see him playing to his potential, though.

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    • dannyrainge says:

      This is how Mets’ fans feel as well (I’m not one but have listened to WFAN long enough to know).

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    • joser says:

      Like being a Mariners fan, but with more postseason appearances to look back on?

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  3. phoenix2042 says:

    This is Cashman’s strength, identifying buy-low candidates whose skills perfectly suit the team. He seems to get big years out of his bench players every year. I feel like he wishes he could run the Yankees like a small market team, because he really messes up longer term deals. Though, to be fair, some of that is the Steinbrenners going over his head.

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    • Preston says:

      Yes and no. Cashman knows better than anyone that the best laid plans can go south in a hurry. Having a big name all-star at every position guarantees nothing, injuries and under performance happen every year. His strength is that he almost never sits on his hands. He is always looking to get the last gasp from a veteran or squeeze some life out of a waiver wire pick-up. You don’t remember the Randy Winn’s because they’re gone as quickly as they arrived. But every once in a while he strikes gold. I think he wishes that the Yankees didn’t feel the need to have so many “name” guys, so he could have some more financial and creative flexibility with the roster, but i think he also realizes how good he’s got it with his resources.

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      • Spit Ball says:

        Certainly Cashman has done an excellent job on these post peak players, finding guys who fit the stadium, the roster etc.. Obviously I can’t cite any evidence but I think going to New York and playing on these Yankees teams for a half a year or a year lifts some of these guys such as Hafner and Ibanez on a spiritual level. No way to measure it but my intuition leads me to believe playing in Pinstripes can get the best out of a player past their prime or in their Golden years in a way Cincinnati does not. I also think Cashman has an upper hand on these low price short term players. Where would you want to go if you were Hafner, Jones, Ibanez etc. and already made money. Some of these guys will take a one year 2 million dollar deal with the Yankees as opposed to a slightly better offer somewhere else. All this being said I think Cashman has done an excellent job of filling holes in the roster for cheap, identifying players who fit the teams needs perfectly.

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        • Preston says:

          I think players are happier to accept a diminished role in which they can still thrive on the Yankees than on other teams. Many are happy to platoon, move off there preferred positions, and hit down in the order to play for the Yankees, when they weren’t willing to do the same for their former clubs (at least not willingly). The advantage of having 27 WS banners and making the playoffs all but two years since 1995.

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        • Jason H says:

          Preston,

          I believe they’ve made the postseason every year but one since 1995 (2008 being the exception).

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  4. Preston says:

    I get that eventually the short right field porch will help Hafner. But that really isn’t the story so far. The only HR on that chart that is under 400 feet is the one to LF. None of these were Yankee stadium cheapies. Hafner is and has been a great hitter. He’s healthy, and when healthy he rakes, I’m pretty sure anybody who glanced at his Fangraphs page knew that his modest .228/.346/.438 line in 2012 was mostly due to an unlucky .233 BABIP and that an uptick in production was coming. How much bang the Yankees get for their buck just depends on how long his health lasts.

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    • CS Yankee says:

      Agreed

      Also, the article lists his 3-years as favorably to Ortiz and Martinez, whereas his best 3-year run is slightly better than ortiz but short of edMart.

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  5. Synovia says:

    “He has helped breathe life into a lineup missing its usual stars. ”

    People keep saying this, but the Stars coming back are going to be replacing the guys who are playing well.

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    • Jay29 says:

      That doesn’t make it untrue, does it? The worry in the spring was that the dropoffs from Granderson to Wells, from A-Rod to Nix, from Teixeira to Hafner/Overbay, and from Nunez to Jeter were going to make this team struggle to score runs.

      Sure, maybe they can’t keep it going forever, but April was a pleasant surprise for Yankee fans. Just because those 4 guys won’t play nearly as much when (if) the stars are all healthy doesn’t discount their performances to date.

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    • Cliff says:

      Who are you referring to exactly? The position players who are playing well are Hafner, Wells, and Cano. All will continue playing when the injured starters come back. Hafner has been platooned to a large extent thus far and will continue to be the LH DH. Youkilis was playing okay but he’s on the DL and if A-Rod ever comes back I’m sure Youk will spell him even then.

      If Ichiro continues to pick it up, they may have a difficult decision to make about whether to replace Wells or Ichiro when Granderson comes back. So Wells is the only player who might lose playing time, and then only if he cools off.

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      • Jay29 says:

        There are only 3 spots in the lineup on any given day for Youkilis, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Hafner. Obviously three out of those four are seriously injury-prone, so there probably won’t be many times where Hafner sits the bench, but he’s probably the odd man out most of the time if all four are healthy.

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  6. Synovia says:

    “Hafner is enjoying Yankee Stadium’s right field power alley — his four home runs at home are the four farthest right in the above graphic.”

    Those are all balls hit just off center, and hit 400+ feet. They’re out in almost every park in the majors.

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    • CPT says:

      I haven’t heard much of this theory recently, but when the New Yankee Stadium opened up, I recall many people talking about the jet stream out to right. Could this be a factor here?

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      • Donut3 says:

        It’s mostly just the shorter porch in right-rightcenter. Pop-ups go out there.

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      • Tyler says:

        Instead of the right-field wall be angled it just juts out straight across towards center now, as you can see in the first graph in the article. Definitely leads to more homers.

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  7. Sam says:

    So excited to see them again kicking!

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  8. Mookie says:

    “For the meager $2 million the Yankees paid, they’ll surely get their money’s worth.”

    His salary is $2M, but he gets a TON of incentives, which are so numerous that I’m going to C/P from the contract page. He’s going to make much more than $2M at this rate. Not that it detracts from the overall point if he keeps hitting like this, but still – it’s a significant difference.

    Incentives:
    a) $100K for each of 150, 155, 170, 185, 200, 215, 230, 245, 260, 275 PA
    b) $125K for each of 290, 315, 330, 345, 360, 375, 390, 405, 420 PA
    c) $175K for each of 440, 455, 470, 485, 500, 515, 530, 545, 560, 575 PA

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    • MyrAn says:

      Easier way to think about it.

      $2M + $4M of incentives
      Up to 275 PA, he’ll make between $2M and $3M
      Up to 425 PA (+150 PA), he’ll make between $3M and $4.25M
      Up to 575 (+150 PA), he can get to his max of $6M.

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  9. Kyle says:

    So, based on these incentives Pronk is paid $10,000 for the first 149 PAs, $20,000 for the next five, $7,500 for PAs 155 – 289, $5000 for PAs 290-314 $8,333.33 for PAs 315 – 419, $6,250 PAs 420 – 439, $11,666.67 PAs 440 – 590 and after that the rest are free. The fact that the his pay per PA declines from 150 – 314 seems odd.

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    • Kyle says:

      Edit that’s $13,333.33 for the first 149 PA’s

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    • Kell says:

      I believe you are overthinking the incentive payouts. IMO, he earns $100,000 when he gets 150 PA. Then, he earns another $100,000 when he gets 155 PA, and so on and so on. So if he gets 220 PA, he’ll earn an extra $600,000 in incentives.

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  10. AMLumber says:

    RE-gressive Field? Amirite?

    *Looks Around*

    I’ll show myself out

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  11. robert mitchell says:

    Hafner’s woes the last few years had most,me included, were the possibility he was getting off the juice like Ster-Rod.Maybe it was just injuries.Branyan played for about 5 weeks, with Scranton,trying to get back to the bigs.Hit.310[b.a.is so overated]with 12 dingers&40 rib eyes in just 33 games,from June 1st-July 5t,before throwing out his back legging out an infield bingle.He wasn’t able to get back on the field and the Yanks released him.Even if healthy N.Y.had no spot for him but the Dodgers were serious about him when they were getting nothing out of Loney.I’m biased but think he was 1 of the best part time players.Never had 500 at bats but hit 194 h.r’s in 2,934 at vats.30 homers 71 ribs every 440 at bats.15th all time with tater every 14.9 at bats.

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