Lets Talk About Chris Hatcher
Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
So on Wednesday, Dee Gordon was traded for a bunch of dudes many of us have never heard of. I was familiar with Andrew Heaney, who is a consensus top 30 prospect in all of baseball but the rest was a mystery that was being sorted out. Kiki Hernandez I know he can play a ton of positions? Austin Barnes, seems kinda fringy I guess? (but damn he’s awesome)? Chris Hatcher sounds like some fringy reliever that could get some use? There was only one player in this trade who has seen significant major league action, and that’s the lattermost player, Chris Hatcher.
Lets start with some background on him, Hatcher is a 29 year old reliever who was drafted in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB draft, sweet, the Dodgers need those! His twitter handle is @handlebars41, so imagining the Dodgers with 3 formidable mustache growers with Chris Withrow, Chris Hatcher, and Scott Van Slyke will be magnificent, and will make for Mark Saxon’s worst nightmare. The main thing that makes Hatcher so fascinating was the fact that he wasn’t drafted as a pitcher, he was drafted as a catcher, and this is starting to sound awfully familiar. The first Pedro Baez-Chris Hatcher-Kenley Jansen 7-8-9 inning will be a spectacle, it will also give us a reminder that anything is possible for Alex Santana. Anything.
So that’s all great, but can he pitch?
The short answer: absolutely.
Running through the stats, he put up a 3.38 ERA last season, as a reliever that doesn’t mean as much as a player’s FIP which sat at 2.56 (comprised of 9.64 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9). Ground balls are also an essential part to a pitchers success because they’re turned into outs way more often than now, he generated 3% more than league average last season. If you weren’t paying attention (you were), the Dodgers bullpen was a dumpster placed into a giant melting pot with flames reaching 800,000 degree temperatures. It was bad.
So Hatcher would have ranked 3rd in the Dodgers bullpen in terms of run prevention just behind Brandon League, would have ranked 2nd behind Kenley Jansen in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching (best Dodger reliever since Eric Gagne for what it’s worth), he would have also ranked second in the K/BB department only 0.33 points behind Kenley Jansen. And going into the playoffs, he would have been the clear setupman in a bullpen filled with overworked arms (J.P. Howell) and arms that just weren’t very good (League, Wright, Elbert, pick one).
It wouldn’t be analysis without looking at the cons of a potential deal, and at this point the downside of having Hatcher on the roster is just that, the roster spot he takes up. This means that he must perform in order to Despite his amazing rate numbers this past season, he has a spotty track record in the major leagues. In his first 3 seasons, he appeared in only 33.2 innings pitched, giving up 6 dingers along with a pretty underwhelming 25-14 strikeout to walk ratio and 27 earned runs . So this comes out to a pitcher who appeared in only ~ 11 innings per season for the first 3 years of his career, and was poor in each cup of coffee he received.
But there a reason he was able to pitch so well last season, and that has something to do with his 93-97 MPH heater, along with his changeup that he throws in the 87 MPH range. He also throws a slider that sits in the 86 MPH range. These last two offerings grade out as plus pitches according to fangraph’s pitch fx tool, that judges swinging strikes, which obviously is a positive going forward. Put this together with the superb command /control combination he exhibited last season, and it bodes well going forward, especially considering he’s only 29 years old.
Of course, there’s the contract situation, and this is one of the best parts of this deal. The Dodgers have Hatcher at the major league minimum until 2017, and he isn’t able to hit free agency until 2020 (!). So there is potential for a long term fixture in the bullpen in this arm.
So let’s go through everything :
relief pitcher (good!)
doesn’t hit arbitration until 2017 (good!)
struggled in his first 3 cups of coffee in the majors (bad)
has 2 plus secondary offerings that induce good swinging strike rates (good!)
throws his fastball in the mid to upper 90’s (good!)
struck out an above average number of batters, walked a minuscule amount of hitters, kept the home runs in check, induced an above average number of ground balls (good, good, good, good!!!!)
has thrown significantly less pitches than an average pitcher his age because of the conversion, which means we could reasonably expect improvement as he learns how to pitch (good!)
relief pitchers are volatile commodities (bad)
He was pretty much a throw in in the deal that got them Howie Kendrick, basically (good!)
there’s a lot of good things about this acquisition, and considering the Dodgers got a young, cheap, good, controllable reliever as a throw in in the Dee Gordon trade was extraordinary, and more important when you realize Hatcher is making a fraction of what a David Robertson type reliever is making.
They got a potential future setup man for almost nothing, and that’s an awesome step forward from what the Dodgers had in the bullpen before.