Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. And it appears to be a happy holiday for Brad Hawpe, who not only caught on with a team but landed in a situation with the Padres that can propel him back into a starter's role. While playing first base for the Padres is a problem because in the Padre fans' minds, Adrian Gonzalez should still be over there, it's still an opportunity to recapture his professional career after a 2010 that is best forgotten and lost.
The Fan actually thinks this is a terrific gamble for the Padres. When first looking at Hawpe's major league stats, the fact that he played the first six and a half years of his career for the Rockies seemed like another player who benefited from playing half his games in Coors Field. But Hawpe is a happy departure from most Rockies players in that his home/road splits don't deviate that much. He's hit 60 career homers at home and 60 on the road. He has an .886 career OPS at home and .839 away. That's not that bad a split and closer to the major league norm than just about any long-time Rockies player.
But the big question for Hawpe is what the heck happened in 2010? How did he go from being an All Star to being released by the Rockies in August? How did he go from a guy who averaged an offensive WAR of 2.75 for the four years before 2010 to a 0.4 offensive WAR in 2010?
The answer seems to be in two telling statistics. His wOBA was good. His BABIP was over .300 (but not as high as the .337 for his career). His walk rates and strikeout rates were right in line with the rest of his career. His pitch selection at the plate seemed similar to the past. In other words, he swung at the same number of pitches in the strike zone and out of the strike zone as always. The big difference seems to be in his line drive percentage and the percentage of his fly balls that went out of the park.
Hawpe has a career line drive percentage of 22%. In other words, for his entire career, when he put the ball in play 100 times, 22 of them were line drives. Since he has a career BABIP of .771 on line drives, that is important. In 2010, his line drive percentage went down to 19.8 percent. The other stat that jumped out at the Fan is that for Hawpe's career, 16% of his fly balls landed in the cheap seats. In 2010, that figure dropped all the way to 10.5%. That's a significant decline in homer rates on fly balls. The one scary thing is that such a figure doesn't figure to improve much playing half your games in San Diego.
The other thing the Fan noticed about 2010 compared to the rest of his career was his BABIP on ground balls. For his career, Hawpe had a BABIP of .191 on ground balls. That figure plummeted to .138 in 2010. Whether the fly ball thing and his BABIP on ground balls is a luck thing or an indication of a lack of good contact is beyond this observer to tell.
There are two good things about this deal for the Padres. First, after such a lousy season, Hawpe comes cheaply and since he is trying to resurrect his career, it's a one year commitment, so there is not too much pain if Hawpe doesn't come back to his career numbers. If Hawpe can return to where he once was, then the Padres get a steal. Secondly, the Padres are going to play him at first base. The Rockies put him in the outfield and he's a lousy outfielder. Though the sample size is small, he appears to be a good first baseman with good range.
This is a good gamble for both the Padres and for Brad Hawpe. Hawpe gets to land into a starting situation at a position that suits him. There isn't much more you can ask for after getting released from your home team and not doing anything for the Bay Rays once he got there in September. The Padres get a hitter who produced in the past in a way that did not seem to be Coors induced. Will he be Adrian Gonzalez? No. But if he can get back to his career path, then he will at least pick up some of the WAR lost by Gonzalez.