If you go to the leaderboards here on the site, you’ll see a whole bunch of familiar names that you’d expect to see doing well, a couple of interesting guys having rebound seasons, and Jack Hannahan. The Indians third baseman is mixed in with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Troy Tulowitzki, and he’s doing it in a surprising manner.
Hannahan has always been a terrific defensive third baseman so it’s no surprise that he’s racking up the fielding value again, leading all third baseman in UZR. Most of his value has come at the plate, however, and from the one area – power hitting – where he hasn’t traditionally shown much ability. Hannahan already has four home runs this year, as many as he hit in all of 2009 when he racked up 301 plate appearances for the A’s and Mariners.
But, that’s not the most surprising thing. Hannahan is strong enough that a four home run binge over the course of a few weeks isn’t all that weird. It’s an outlier, and it’s the kind of thing you come to expect from small sample sizes in April. What you don’t expect, however, is this.
That’s the Major League leaderboard for best results hitting off of left-handed pitchers. Troy Tulowitzki, the right-handed slugging shortstop for the Rockies, is head and shoulders above the rest, clocking in at a ridiculous .715 wOBA. Given his handedness and abilities, seeing Tulowitzki at the top of this list isn’t that surprising. But one spot behind him is Jack Hannahan, who hits from the left-hand side, and hasn’t traditionally been all that good at the plate. But there he is.
So far this year, Hannahan is hitting .529/.619/1.059 against LHBs, good for a .684 wOBA. Yes, it includes a ridiculous .700 BABIP, but Hannahan has also shown legitimate offensive skills against lefties – four of his nine hits have gone for extra bases and he has a 4/5 BB/K ratio in 21 plate appearances, which isn’t easy to do against same-handed pitching, even in a small sample size.
He’s obviously not going to keep this up, but looking through his career, it’s interesting to note that Hannahan has actually hit LHPs better than RHPs, posting a slight reverse platoon split. He has only 250 career plate appearances against southpaws, so we’re still dealing in small samples, but his core numbers don’t change much regardless of who is on the mound. It sets up an interesting – and somewhat unorthodox – option for the Indians.
Hannahan was essentially brought in to keep the seat warm for top prospect Lonnie Chisenhall, who is currently performing just okay in Triple-A. Chisenhall is clearly the future at third base for the Tribe, but he’s not quite Major League ready just yet. His biggest problem? Hitting left-handed pitching.
Chisenhall is hitting .351/.442/.541 against right-handers this year, but just .189/.262/.324 against left-handed pitching. His struggles are a common problem for young players who haven’t seen many southpaws during their career, and are still making adjustments to hit same-handed pitching. It’s still in the Indians best interests to keep Chisenhall in Triple-A and let him face as many southpaws as possible, but if Cleveland keeps winning and they want to put their best team on the field this summer, perhaps they should consider platooning Chisenhall and Hannahan, even though both are left-handed.
Hannahan’s glovework at third base makes him a viable role player even when he’s not hitting like Babe Ruth, and his success against left-handers would give the Indians a natural place to keep rolling him out there even after Chisenhall was called up. Against right-handed pitchers, they’d likely get an offensive upgrade, and they’d still have Hannahan as a late inning defensive replacement or pinch-hitter for Chisenhall if the opposing manager brought in a tough southpaw.
You don’t see that many L/L platoons, but given the Indians surprising start to the season and the respective skillsets of the two third best third baseman in the organization, perhaps the Indians should look into just that. It might be their best chance at keeping this division race interesting over the rest of the summer.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.