Mitch Haniger’s Six Great Comps and One Boring One

So far, Mitch Haniger has been one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s not alone — Freddie Freeman has also been one of the best hitters in baseball. Eric Thames and Francisco Lindor and Khris Davis have been some of the best hitters in baseball. By definition, we’re talking in pluralities, but Haniger is one of a small group, and I would like to write about him. This is what that is. Yesterday, Haniger batted five times against the Marlins. What did he do? Here’s the first plate appearance.

(That’s a walk.)

Here’s the second plate appearance.

Here’s the third plate appearance.

Here’s the fourth plate appearance.

In the fifth plate appearance, Haniger singled. I’m not bothering to show it because it was a blooper. In the fourth plate appearance, the Marlins were charged with an error, even though Haniger hit the ball sharply, at a Statcast-calculated 108 miles per hour. The single was lucky. The error was unlucky (from a statistical perspective). Things even out. Four positive outcomes and a blooper. That’s a good way to be good.

By the letter of the law, Haniger is a rookie, but he debuted in 2016. Some things went well and some things didn’t, and then Haniger was packaged in the Jean Segura/Taijuan Walker trade. At the time, we wrote about Haniger a lot, because he was one of those swing-change guys coming off a massive breakout in the high minors. Now, Haniger is building on that success. I’m not writing this so that we can pat ourselves on the back. I spent all offseason being the high guy on Keon Broxton and his current wRC+ is 12. None of us can actually see the baseball future. It’s just that a case like Haniger’s is interesting, and now we have more data. Why not make use of it to see what Haniger might truly be?

Long story short, I’ve run another player comparison. Specifically, I’ve searched for hitter comparisons, ignoring defense and baserunning entirely. For now, I’ve settled on four statistics that reflect a hitter’s profile. Obviously, there’s average exit velocity, and average launch angle. I’m also making use of contact rate, and the difference between Z-Swing% and O-Swing%. These four numbers capture discipline, bat-to-ball skills, and batted-ball skills. That covers much of the ground that needs to be covered.

For Haniger, we have parts of two years of data. With Statcast overall, we have more than two full years of data. As usual, Statcast information comes from Baseball Savant. I ran comparisons to Haniger by looking at all the hitters since 2015, and calculating and adding together z-scores in the four stats. The players with the lowest combined z-scores are the best comps, showing up below with the smallest Comp Scores. This is a heck of a table. This shows Haniger’s seven best comps; there’s a large gap between comp number seven and comp number eight. These are the only guys with Comp Scores under 1.0.

A Table of Comparisons
Player EV LA Z – O-Swing% Contact% wRC+ Comp Score
Mitch Haniger 91 14 38% 79% 124
Edwin Encarnacion 91 13 40% 78% 140 0.7
Bryce Harper 91 14 39% 77% 160 0.8
Jose Bautista 93 13 38% 80% 130 0.9
Paul Goldschmidt 93 13 38% 78% 147 0.9
Trevor Plouffe 91 12 39% 80% 97 0.9
Manny Machado 92 13 37% 82% 129 0.9
Mark Teixeira 90 12 38% 79% 111 0.9
EV = average exit velocity, LA = average launch angle, data coming from Baseball Savant.

Read it aloud to yourself. For maximum effect, rearrange a couple names. Encarnacion! Harper! Bautista! Goldschmidt! Machado! Teixeira! …Plouffe. Six recognizable threats, and Trevor Plouffe. It’s not that Trevor Plouffe has been bad. He’s just conspicuously weird as a member of this group. And, hey, maybe that’s great news for Plouffe and the A’s — maybe this should actually be a Plouffe article, not a Haniger article. But, I’ve made my choice. Mitch Haniger is compared here to six great hitters and one Trevor Plouffe.

Looking at the seven comparisons, the average wRC+ is 131, and the median is 130. It’s also worth noting that Teixeira was slow and hurt by the shift. Bautista hasn’t run well in a while. Encarnacion is no speedster himself. Haniger doesn’t have a scout-y speed rating of 80 or anything, but he’s right-handed and he can move, so one shouldn’t expect him to run BABIPs that are too terribly low. The speed is what rounds out his game — it makes him additionally effective on the bases and in the field. Haniger seems to be a well-rounded player. He’s a 26-year-old player, and he has just 50 games of big-league experience, but all the evidence is positive. I don’t know which of the numbers above he might be “faking.” His career WAR/600 presently stands at 5.2.

I think there was concern Haniger’s game might include too much swinging and missing. His strikeout rate is basically average, and his contact rate is even better than that. He hasn’t shown any kind of tendency to chase, and pitchers have already attempted adjustments, dropping from 60% to 49% fastballs. Haniger’s had the answers. He hasn’t given many plate appearances away, and although he doesn’t have upper-echelon raw power, he seems sufficiently able to tap into what he has. I don’t think that Mitch Haniger can hit a baseball as hard as Bryce Harper can hit a baseball. That, though, isn’t a line a hitter needs to reach. Harper’s a freak. Haniger seems like he’s just a good player.

Which would make him another swing-change success story. In a sense, he’s already another swing-change success story, since he’s playing in the major leagues. We’ll be able to be more conclusive a few months from now. Haniger scouting reports are still being written, and pitchers are going to target what they perceive to be flaws. It’ll be on Haniger to continue to adjust, and he’s not going to maintain the line he has today. Remember Trevor Plouffe — right there in the otherwise promising table is a boring, league-average bat. Even without much changing, that could be the Haniger result. But that’s one guy out of seven. Opponents will be searching high and low for Mitch Haniger’s offensive weakness. This is going to be harder than they might’ve assumed.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Haniger is an amazing human being. All hail Haniger!