The Nationals Add Scott Hairston, Nifty Role Player

When a player hitting .172 with a .232 on base percentage is traded for an A-ball pitching prospect, it usually doesn’t generate big headlines. So, you can be forgiven if you haven’t paid a ton of attention to the most recent trade between the Nationals and Cubs, which sent outfielder Scott Hairston to Washington and Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs, plus a pair of PTBNLs, with one going in each direction. According to Jed Hoyer, the two players to be named later “will not affect the balance of the deal”, so it’s basically Hairston for Pineyro, with the Cubs picking up a small part of Hairston’s small contract for 2014.

However, just because this is a minor deal doesn’t mean it’s an unimportant deal. Last summer, Marco Scutaro was traded in a similar kind of swap, and turned out to be the best player acquired at the deadline. Role players have value, and Scott Hairston could be a pretty nice role player for the Nationals.

First off, let’s put Hairston’s 2013 batting line — which is terrible — in context. We’re dealing with just 112 plate appearances, because the play of Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz forced Hairston into something of a bench player, and the Cubs didn’t face enough LHPs for Hairston to get regular playing time. Any performance over 112 plate appearances has limited predictive value, and in Hairston’s case, there’s no reason to think there’s anything actually wrong.

Here are Hairston’s numbers from the last two seasons, side by side:

2012 398 5% 21% 0.241 0.287 0.263 0.299 0.504 0.342 118
2013 112 6% 22% 0.263 0.129 0.172 0.232 0.434 0.282 73

His BB/K/ISO numbers are basically identical, so the drop in his numbers is entirely attributable to a .129 BABIP, which is so hilariously unsustainable that it doesn’t even need any further analysis. Because he hits so many fly balls, Hairston will always post lower than average BABIPs, but his career mark is .272, and he’s never had a season below .236 before. Hairston’s BABIP is nothing to worry about, and thus, his performance for the Cubs is nothing to worry about.

So, Hairston remains roughly a league average hitter who can be an effective platoon outfielder. He’s shown some decent sized splits over his career, but in just over 2,500 PAs overall, you can’t take those at face value. Hairston’s not any kind of impact player, and he shouldn’t be an everyday guy, but he could add value as a right-handed bat against left-handed pitching. He’s exactly the kind of fourth outfielder that the Nationals needed.

Will Scott Hairston be the difference between the Nationals catching the Braves or missing the playoffs? Probably not. We’re talking about a guy that is probably a +1 win player if utilized correctly over an entire season, and the Nationals are picking him up for just the second half. But, quality role players can make a difference, especially in specific match-ups where the outcome of each game is of extreme importance, like a one-game wild card play-in contest, for instance.

If the Nationals end up getting one of the two wild card spots and drawing a left-handed pitcher with their season on the line, they’ll be very happy they have Scott Hairston around. This trade won’t attract a lot of notice, but the Nationals did a nice job picking up a decent player who fills a need. It won’t get headlines, but it was a good low cost improvement for a team that needed improving.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted

I really think the combination of health (Harper, Werth, Zimm, Haren (yes I still think there’s hope))and callups (Rendon), is really turning the tide in DC. I still expect them to take the division.