Thursday, July 30, 2015

Matt Hague can really hit

I was at yesterday's Syracuse vs. Buffalo Triple-A game. I'd been planning on going most of the week, and when it was announced that Stephen Strasburg would be making a rehab start it was a pretty easy decision. Strasburg wasn't super sharp on the mound but he was spot on in the clubhouse, treating his teammates to delicious Dinosaur BBQ for the postgame spread

The point of this post isn't to debate the merits of the local barbecue scene, however. I wanted to talk about the Buffalo Bisons designated hitter. He was good. How good? Well, he compelled me to write a blog post about baseball, which I hadn't done in about forever. 

Hague went 4 for 5 with a double to raise his season line at Buffalo to a pretty remarkable .353/.432/.490. So why isn't he on every single prospect list? Because he turns 30 in 22 days. Hague first made it to Triple-A back in 2011, and has since compiled 583 games and 2508 plate appearances at the level. He's consistently hit there--.302/.378/.435--but he has never gotten a chance in the majors. 

So, Hague is probably just some Quad-A guy is what you are thinking. Having seen him live, I feel pretty confident that he isn't He reminded me quite a bit of Kevin Youkilis, who also took forever to get a chance. He holds his bat up and in front of his head, like a cross between Youkilis and Julio Franco, but with a much more upright stance. Then, as the pitcher is delivering, he shifts his weight back to an extreme level, going almost into a crouch. So, it doesn't look like a very effective swing. This isn't Ken Griffey, Jr.'s smoothness, folks. 

But, for all the weirdness in his stance, he was showing great hitting fundamentals, particularly with his hands. That enabled him to rip one base hit of Strasburg up the middle, and fist another in the same direction. Later, off of AJ Cole, Hague pulled a (slower) fastball hard for a base hit to left. Then, in the ninth, he hit a double the other way down the line off of left-hander Matt Grace. 

So, I don't really know why scouts or statheads haven't picked up on him. Maybe I just saw him on a particularly good night, but man, it seems impossible that he wouldn't be able to hit at the next level. His strikeout rate would probably go up, sure - but it's only 11% this year! He's not a great defensive player - but so what! Half the teams play a designated hitter, and even if he's a below average 3B/1B he would easily make up the difference with his bat. 

If I had to guess, I'd think he could hit something like .290/.360/.430. That would make him easily an above-average offensive first baseman. And while many teams around the league have that position filled, a team out of contention should absolutely give him a shot. The Red Sox, for example, have a lot of very expensive players. Getting a look at someone who could be a productive, very-low-cost option at first base (or even third!) for at least a couple years seems like a no-brainer. 

It seems like the Moneyball era got rid of players like this - Triple-A sluggers like Roberto Petagine and Jeff Manto who never got a chance because they weren't toolsy. Hague, though, is something of a throwback - a player who should be getting a shot based on his on-field accomplishments but has languished in the minors. Here's hoping someone gives him a chance.

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