Jack Hannahan, Middle Infielder

Dave · August 4, 2009 at 8:59 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Adrian Beltre is set to come off the disabled list and join the team in Kansas City today. That means that the M’s are going to have to send out one of their infielders, and since Jack Hannahan has options left, he’s the obvious candidate. Chris Woodward is certainly not as good as Hannahan, but he offers Wak experience at shortstop, and coupled with Hannahan’s ability to go to Triple-A for a month, it makes this a fairly easy call.

However, the M’s have Matt Tuiasosopo playing third base regularly down in Tacoma, and after missing most of the season due to an elbow injury, he needs the reps over there. They could play him at first base, but that’s currently being manned by Mike Carp, Brad Nelson, and Bryan LaHair, so it’s a little crowded as well. So, where should Hannahan play in Tacoma while waiting for the rosters to expand in September?

I vote for second base and shortstop. Hannahan has been extremely impressive defensively at third base, showing off terrific range at the hot corner. UZR agrees with what we’ve seen, too – he’s +5 runs in just 151 inning as a Mariner, which is a +38.2 UZR/150 pace. His career UZR at third base is +22.8 in 1,831 innings, which works out to about +16.5 runs over a full season. For comparison, his defensive numbers are almost exactly a match to Evan Longria. Hannahan can really pick it at third.

Last winter, I did a couple different posts showing that players who can play third base are quite likely to be able to play second base as well. There’s very little shift in defensive performance if a player moves from 2nd to 3rd or vice versa, suggesting that the two positions are fairly equal in terms of relative defensive ability and importance.

We can infer, from Hannahan’s defensive excellence at third base, that he should be able to be above average defensively at second base as well. Not surprisingly, he actually has a decent amount of experience there, having played 97 games at second base in Triple-A in 2006 and 2007. Getting him work at second base down in Tacoma would give him the chance to get re-adjusted to turning the double play and getting the middle infielder’s footwork down, and give the M’s more flexibility in how to use him when he comes back to the majors.

But I wouldn’t stop at using him at second base. I’m fairly sure he could play there without any real problems. His defensive skills make that an easy move. I’d challenge him a bit by sticking him at shortstop as well, and taking some time to evaluate whether or not he has the range to stick at the most demanding defensive position on the field. I think he just might.

It’s not as crazy as it might sound. Marco Scutaro was a 2B/3B when he came up through the minors – the A’s didn’t shift him to shortstop until he was 29. Ryan Theriot spent most of his time playing second base in the high minors and got to the big leagues as a 2B, but moved over to shortstop when the Cubs had a need and has solidified himself there. Neither of these guys are flashy, Omar Vizquel type defenders, but they were solid fundamentally and had enough range to convince their teams to let them slide over, and it’s worked out exceedingly well.

Hannahan has that kind of ability, I think, and I’d like to see the M’s evaluate his ability to play shortstop. As you know, the M’s have nothing in terms of depth of middle infield in the upper minors, and they’re running out a bad player if either Wilson or Lopez get hurt. If Hannahan shows he can handle the middle infield, he just got a lot more valuable to the M’s.

As a left-handed bat with patience and gap power, Hannahan is a significantly better hitter than your typical reserve infielder. If the M’s grow him into a guy who can cover all four infield spots, they could have a left-handed Mark DeRosa, the kind of versatile play-everywhere-and-hit guy that managers dream about and makes the team quite a bit better. As a super-reserve, Hannahan would become one of the better bench players in the game, and be a significant asset to the 2010 Mariners squad.

The M’s have an opportunity here, with Beltre’s return buying them some time to experiment in Tacoma. Send Hannahan down and try him out at 2B/SS. If you like what you see, you’ve just added another real nice piece to the 2010 team.

Update: Or, they could just keep Hannahan around as the team’s only backup infielder and have him work on his 2B/SS skills at the big league level. Which is apparently the plan.


67 Responses to “Jack Hannahan, Middle Infielder”

  1. mw3 on August 4th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Beltre could play short and probably pretty well, but why would you move one of the best third sackers ever off of his natural postion.

  2. mymrbig on August 4th, 2009 1:17 pm

    Jack – you may be right that DeRosa is twice the offensive threat Hannahan is (career wOBA of .336 vs. .298), but Hannahan is twice the defensive threat that DeRosa is at 3rd (-8.7 career UZR/150 vs. 16.5). I mean, over 150 games Hannahan is 2.5 WINS better than DeRosa defensively! That is crazy.

    Just to try and guess what kind of UZR Hannahan might put up at SS, here are a few other players to think about:
    Bill Hall: 4.8 career UZR/150 at 3B, 1.6 career UZR/150 at SS
    Jhonny Peralta: -2.9 at 3B (small sample), -5.7 at SS.
    Geoff Blum: 7.1 at 3B, 5.7 at SS
    Maicer Izturis: 1.8 at 3B, 7.0 at SS
    Abraham Nunez: 0.0 at 3B, -14.2 at SS
    Alex Gonzalez (out of baseball one): 6.l at 3B (small sample), -0.8 at SS
    Craig Counsell: 18.8 at 3B, 7.6 at SS

    Anectdotal? Sure.
    Convincing enough (to me) that the M’s definitely, definitely, definitely need to give this a try? Yes.

  3. Adam B. on August 4th, 2009 1:37 pm

    It seems to me that most 3B men are at the position due to the lack of range/foot speed/hands that would allow them to play the more difficult position at SS.

    So by this (very gross I admit) logic, if you had an elite defensive 3B like Beltre or Hannahan who show all the basic physical ability to play short, then it just comes down to a question of familiarity with the position.

    In other words, I have no doubt that if Hannahan has the tools to play short, that given enough opportunity, he’d play it almost as well as third.

  4. Dave on August 4th, 2009 1:45 pm

    But, of course, his relative defensive numbers would take a nosedive, because the pool of players he’d be compared against would be significantly better.

    This is what people always miss when we talk about shifting players around between defensive positions and their respective ratings. Hannahan has a certain level of ability at third that might make him a +10 run defender there, but those exact same skills might only make him a +0 or -5 defender at short, not because of any change in his ability to play a new position, but simply because the guys playing shortstop are way better defensively than the guys playing third.

    Think of it in terms of height. If Hannahan is the defensive equivalent of a 6’0 guy, then the average third baseman is something like 5’11, and the average shortstop is 6’1. He’d go from above average to below average by just moving from one group to another.

    No one thinks Hannahan is going to be a +10 to +15 shortstop. He’s obviously not Jack Wilson. But if he can be a -5 to +5 shortstop, while offering a decent bat as well, then he’s a pretty nifty 10th man.

  5. jro on August 4th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Baker reporting that Hannahan stays, Woodward DFAd.

    Dave’s idea was great, then this happens.

  6. arbeck on August 4th, 2009 2:04 pm

    Maybe their just going to do what Dave suggested at the big league level?

  7. Dave on August 4th, 2009 2:05 pm

    Yep, sounds like it. Hannahan will start taking ground balls at 2B/SS with the M’s.

  8. robbbbbb on August 4th, 2009 2:06 pm

    Re: The update. Given that this season is lost, there’s really no significant penalty to letting Hannahan work on his defensive skills at the big league level. Right?

    The downside? He doesn’t get as much actual playing time at SS/2B. The upside? He gets to stay on a major league roster, which makes any player happy.

  9. Jack on August 4th, 2009 2:10 pm

    900 plate appearances. He also posted a .403 wOBA in Triple-A in 2007. There’s more offensive ability there than you think.

    Sure, but does that mean that the 417 plate appearances he accumulated in ’07– when he was a 27 year old playing in AAA– mean more than the 900 or so he’s struggled in the majors?

    I’m not saying there’s absolutely no chance he’s a little better of a hitter than what we’ve seen from him, but at the same time I feel like if that were the case, me might have already seen some of that. And even if he is a little better than a .298 wOBA hitter, is he that so much better that you could call him “significantly” better than your average utility player? Especially while he’s playing in the AL, in a tough hitting environment?

    No one can take away from his defensive abilities, and I agree that he could make a good 10th guy if he proves himself in the middle infield. But 417 PA two years ago in AAA isn’t enough to convince me the past 900 in the majors are less indicative of his abilities.

  10. jld on August 4th, 2009 2:16 pm


  11. Dave on August 4th, 2009 2:17 pm

    It’s not like he’s been consistently bad in the majors. He was an average bat for the A’s in ’07, and he’s been an average bat for us since the trade. He just had a miserable 2008 season, but you can’t pretend that he hasn’t had solid stretches of good hitting at the major league level.

  12. Jack on August 4th, 2009 2:26 pm

    but you can’t pretend that he hasn’t had solid stretches of good hitting at the major league level.

    I’m not. And again, I’m not saying it’s totally impossible he’s a little better than what he’s shown so far. I also never said he’s been consistently bad. He just hasn’t been– and won’t be in my humble opinion– significantly better than your average utility player offensively.

    It’s also worth noting that the “miserable” season he had in ’08 was the only time he’s gotten even semi-regular playing time. Coincidence, or were his weaknesses as a hitter just being exposed?

    I’m not disagreeing with your overall sentiment Dave. I think Hannahan is a useful player.

  13. wescottr on August 4th, 2009 2:33 pm

    Mariner’s activate Beltre and DFA Chris Woodward. Looks like they agree with the value of Jack as a Backup Middle infielder. Impressed that they made this move.

  14. eponymous coward on August 4th, 2009 2:48 pm

    Sometimes it just takes a while for a guy to hit.

    Raul Ibanez through age 28: .241/.295/.383
    Jose Guillen through age 27 (2000 PAs): .260/.305 /.398
    Mark McLemore through age 26 (about 1000 PAs): .225/.295/.289

    Rich Amaral would be another example- he didn’t start hitting until he was pushing 30 in AAA, and then turned into an OK bench player.

    I tend to think these are best case scenarios for Hannahan’s offensive development, but it’s worth a shot, and his defense is good enough that if he turns into a .250/.320/.400 hitter (well under Mark DeRosa’s career numbers), he’d be useful.

  15. tmac9311 on August 4th, 2009 3:04 pm

    How soon before we can put him in there? When does Lopez or Wilson need a day off? I got to watch when he plays, along with not missing any more Ian Snell starts.

  16. Jeff Sullivan on August 4th, 2009 3:32 pm

    Not that I disagree with the overall premise, because I think Hannahan has most of what he needs to be a decent hitter, but you can’t just pick and choose his hot stretches and use them as evidence that he’s better than his numbers. Hannahan has 900 PAs of poor hitting in the bigs, and 1300 PAs of okay in AAA. Pointing to his solid partial season with the A’s in 2007 (supported by a .363 BABIP) is like saying Raul Ibanez is a decent ML fielder because he has a good 2009 UZR.

    I like his approach, and I like most of his skillset, but Ronny Cedeno had the same argument in his favor as well, and, uh

  17. Matt the Dragon on August 4th, 2009 5:34 pm

    assuming that Hannahan was a shortstop when he came out of the University of Minnesota (which I don’t know if he was).

    Hannahan played third at college with Scott Welch – briefly of Spokane – playing beside him at short.

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