First Pitch: Some Perspective on Matt Hague

If there’s one topic I’m guaranteed to always get criticism on, it’s my future projection of Matt Hague. The mere suggestion that Hague isn’t a long-term solution at first base usually draws the following comments:

“Stop calling Hague an average first baseman. Give him a chance.”

“Let’s see if he can develop in to something more before we write him off.”

“No one can be certain about prospects.”

“Free Matt Hague.”

The thing about these comments is that they’re kind of right, but they don’t really counter my opinion. I can give an opinion on any player, and you could use the above comments. The comments really come down to the difference between making a prediction, and waiting and seeing what actually happens.

It’s a kind of ironic position I’m in. I started the Free Matt Hague talk on Twitter last June. I’ve followed Matt since his first full season in Lynchburg and have always said he’s got the chance to be a major league player. But I’ve always said that he profiles as more of an average first baseman, in the James Loney mold.

That last part is what gets people. There’s so much hyperbole in sports writing today that if you don’t say a guy will be amazing, you’re viewed as saying the guy totally sucks. There’s no room for saying someone will be good, but not great.

Ask yourself this: how would you feel about James Loney being the starting first baseman for the Pirates? You might think that it would be a good fit now. But what about in the future? Is James Loney a guy you’d want to be your first baseman for the next six years? Or would you be fine with him now until someone better came along? Ideally someone who could OPS over .800 and hit more than 10-15 homers in a year.

Hague had a good season with Indianapolis last year, hitting for a .309/.372/.457 line. But that’s AAA, and those numbers aren’t great. Sure, Hague had an .829 OPS. But that doesn’t translate to an .829 OPS in the majors. Hague was also inconsistent. He had a monster month of June, hitting for an OPS that was just under 1.100. But he followed that up with an .812 OPS in July, and a .747 OPS in August. In May he had a .782 OPS. Take out that monster month, and Hague’s numbers don’t look so great. It’s not like Alex Presley, who had almost identical numbers every month of the season in AAA.

Nothing would please me more than Hague proving me wrong. I like Matt. He’s a good guy, and I’d like to see him go on to have a long major league career. Perhaps working in his favor is the fact that he’s managed to keep his numbers steady while climbing up through the organization, and he’s actually improved his numbers each step of the way. But it’s a big assumption to think that will continue in his jump to the majors.

I don’t think my prediction for Hague is unreasonable. Last year, out of 24 qualified first basemen in the majors, nine had a better OPS than Hague’s .829 mark in AAA. Once again, those are AAA numbers. If Hague put up an .800 OPS, he would have been tied for 14th with Casey Kotchman. Not only is that average, but that puts him in the company of another guy who I’ve always used as a Major League comp.

There’s nothing wrong with average. If Hague becomes an average first baseman, he would be an asset to the team. I think he’s a guy who can hit for average, draw a good amount of walks, but ultimately his value will be limited due to his power, which profiles more in the 10-15 homer range. He profiles more as a sub-.800 OPS guy. That’s not bad. Then again, that’s not a situation where you cross first base off the list of long-term needs.

I’ve never said that Hague is a bad major league option. All I’ve said is that Hague can’t be the end game for the Pirates. Yeah, we can wait and see what happens, and no one can predict the future, and all of that other stuff that people only say when they disagree with an evaluation. But the odds are against Hague being more than an average first baseman, and joining the company of guys like Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, and the other guys at the top of the list.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates played a B-game against the Minnesota Twins this morning at Pirate City. Here is my recap from the game. Includes quotes from Hague, and a description of his home run off Scott Baker.

**Later in the day the Pirates lost 4-2 to the Twins in the regularly scheduled game. Here is Kristy’s recap.

**Bryan Morris finds a home in the bullpen. If I had to make a pick for a guy who could replace Joel Hanrahan as the closer, it would be Morris. He looked great out of the bullpen last year, and he’s got the stuff you want from a closer. He sits around 96 MPH with his fastball, and has a great curveball which can be used as an out-pitch.

**Clint Hurdle talks about the team’s base running.

**The Nationals inquired on Starling Marte, but were told he’s not available. In that link I noted that the Pirates have two question marks in the outfield. To those who responded with the list of names (Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, Starling Marte, Josh Bell, and Robbie Grossman), let me ask you two questions. First, do the Pirates currently have more than one established outfielder in the majors? Second, which two players on that list will definitely be the long term answers? It’s good to have a lot of options, but that doesn’t mean a hole has been filled. The outfield is definitely better off than third base, but the Pirates still lack established players in two-thirds of their outfield. Until they get one or two established players, they can’t really afford to deal their options away. Especially not their top hitting prospect.

Analysis

  • didn’t Bonilla miss a lot of one season due to injury too?  In hindsight it was a definite mistake to let him go in Rule 5 draft but a good move to get him back for Jose DeLeon.

    I don’t really know what happened to DeLeon with Bucs, he could have been the Pirates Fernando Valenzuela and he just totally lost ability to win games (wilt under pressure).

  •  But the odds are against Hague being more than an average first baseman,
    and joining the company of guys like Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez,
    Prince Fielder, and the other guys at the top of the list.
    ___________________________________________________________________________

    No one expects him to be one of these guys and there is no player on the Pirates roster that is long term, every player at every position can be upgraded, I say this because the players that you mentioned above are franchise players and the Pirates have no franchise players on the major league roster yet, I have said this before the Pirates will be a good team this year because they have a starting roster with good players, and good bench players, one franchise player and one franchise pitcher probably would put them in playoff contention.
    Once in a while we have to get away from the stats and just look at the guy play.
    Bobby Bonilla’s AA  line, .264/.331/.393/.724/11hrs, he only had a couple of bats in AAA, but a guy named Sid Thrift had to have him as a Pirate no matter what. In 1988 Bonilla hit for .274 average, 24 Hrs. and an .842 OPS in the majors.

    I think as long as a maturation process is going on with these players it is very difficult to measure just how good they will get, McCutchen is IMO just starting to reach maturity and I think he will be much better than he was when he came up to the major league roster, he is now.

    • If no one expects him to be one of those guys, then why do people get mad when I call him an average first baseman? Above average is the group that includes those guys.

      Also, Bonilla’s AA numbers came at the age of 21. His 1988 season was at the age of 25, and his third year in the majors. Hague will be 26 in 2012 and will be 27 before the end of the season. The odds are slim of Hague seeing a major improvement to his game at this point.

      • well when I normally think “average” I think school grades like a C. And “above average” is a B, so I’d call Votto, Fielder, Gonzalez something other than “above average.”

        What do you think of him being a player similar to Sean Casey?

        • When I think of average in baseball terms, I think of all of the starters, and average usually falls around the middle of the pack, as in players ranked around 15th.

  • Tim……….FREE MATT HAGUE!!! 🙂

    I wouldn’t mind seeing him at 1b (I like(d) Loney, Grace, Buckner, et al) and McGeeheeheehee at 3b, with Petey getting more ABs in the minors.

    Also, this would free up G Jones to be a 5th OFer, occasional 1bman and power PH off of the bench.

    Btw, Hague has two HRs this spring. 🙂

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