Earlier this week, Twitter follower floridamarlis1 asked if there were any intriguing names out there in the market for center fielders. In response, the name I came up with after scrounging through the bargain bins for potential buy-low candidates was just this one: Scott Hairston of the San Diego Padres. This was not met with great fervor.
Well, upon the news that Hairston, along with Tony Gwynn, Jr, would be among the outfielders that San Diego will non-tender this offseason, I started digging deeper into what Hairston could provide. Now that the Marlins would not have to trade anything to get him or offer an unfavorable arbitration award to acquire him, would Hairston be an interesting name to assist with the Marlins outfield situation?
Who is he?
First off, who is Scott Hairston? He is a 30-year old right handed hitter who will be 31 for the 2011 season. He has been traded from the Padres to the Oakland Athletics and back at least once, which makes for a funny situation. He happens to be part of a family of Hairstons who also play baseball, none of whom were particularly impressive. Of course, Scott Hairston isn’t all that impressive either; he seems to be just your average, run-of-the-mill major leaguer. Of course, your average major leaguer isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Hairston owns a career slash line of .245/.303/.435, spanning 1856 PA across three different teams. You know how that compares to the average major league hitter? His line translates to a .320 wOBA and a wRC+ of 98 (100 is average), meaning he is just about a league average hitter for his career. And yes, while last season’s mark of .210/.295/.346 (.290 wOBA) looks quite ugly, he is just a season removed from hitting .265/.307/.456 line (.331 wOBA) that sounds even better when it comes with the context of playing most of his games in the cavernous Petco Park and Oakland Coliseum.
Hairston’s game is pretty simple: he has decent power which helps to overshadow his lack of average and limited plate patience (career BB% of 7.1%). Over the course of his career, he has hit 22 HR per 600 PA, though he has rarely achieved either mark within one season due to injury issues. Since he brings power to the table, his numbers may look a little better aesthetically, but the truth is that he has been a perfectly average major league hitter throughout his career.
One cannot complain about an average hitter, presuming he plays center field. But how well would Hairston man center? I talked to Baseball Prospectus Fantasy colleague Marc Normandin via Twitter and received this response.
He’s not good in center but he’s better than you think someone his size would be. I wouldn’t want to start him there though.
The Padres played Hairston in center sometimes and they had better defensive options. He won’t kill a team there if he hits.
They aren’t glowing reviews, but they are acceptable for a guy who can hit decently. In addition, the fans of the Padres and A’s have rated Hairston a 43 out 100 in terms of defense, where 50 is the average league defender (position-neutral). Considering a 43 as somewhat below average, you would expect that Hairston couldn’t cost the Marlins more than two to five runs on defense out in center, especially given limited playing time.
Overall, Hairston has been worth around 2 WAR in his best seasons, even in limited playing time (less than 400 PA). Combine that with his likely low cost (I can’t imagine a team giving him more than $1 – 1.5M given his poor season), and you can’t feel terrible about a one-year pickup. Still, how would we expect him to project in 2011?
Dan Szymborski, the madman behind the ZiPS projection system, had Hairston projected at a .240/.306/.395 slash line while playing in San Diego, translating to an OPS+ of 92 (average again 100). That means that, after park adjustment, we are expecting Hairston to be just a bit below league average as a hitter. Give me a .315 wOBA guess and -5 runs in 400 PA.
Given the Fans guesses at Hairston’s skills in center and Szymborski’s own grade of “Fair” in his defensive projections, I’d put Hairston at -2 runs in 100 games in center as well, meaning that in a full 162-game season, he would be worth about 1.3 WAR. In 400 PA, give him 0.7 WAR, an unimpressive total indeed. However, given the team’s need for an outfielder and desire to fill a bench slot with a left-handed hitter, the Marlins could do worse than a Hairston/Scott Cousins platoon to fill in that final roster spot. The team’s depth is admittedly weak, so any warm bodies will do, and there is always the opportunity of receiving a bounceback, Jorge Cantu-style season from a guy like Hairston who isn’t far removed from having his best seasons.
Remember my clamoring for Eric Hinske last season? Signing a solid guy like Hairston is a similar type of move. It shouldn’t cost the team a whole lot, and you never what you might get. At worse, he fills in a backup outfield spot. At best, he turns into a decent plug as a starter while the team finds a legitimate option for center field in the not-too-distant future. I’d like to see this happen with the few dollars the Marlins have remaining.