So Chris Hatcher has been bad and not good. For most of the season, our response has been “but BABIP!” and “yo, sample sizes” and “lol ERA” and “hella FIP” and so on. Quite reasonably, I might add. It’s a lot of what we said about Kenley Jansen last year, when people were freaking out about him early on, and he turned out to be just fine. Even last night, I saw people complaining about him for allowing the winning run, when all he did was come into a situation that was already a disaster and allow a soft fly ball to center field that was caught for an out.
While I still think Hatcher has been somewhat unfairly-maligned by a lot of Dodger fans, I also can’t ignore this truth: He was really, really bad in May, and not just “bad luck bad,” but “bad bad.” This is different from April, when he was really just getting crushed by poor batted-ball luck.
If you just look at ERA, you see a guy who’s been bad all year. But good lord, look at the difference in FIP. Look at the wOBA. Look at the BB/K, which is super not a typo. (And note that this doesn’t include his first game of June, in which he allowed his first home run of the season.) That first kind of bad, you can write off as something that will smooth out over time. That second kind of bad, well, it’s just bad.
Last week, Dustin looked into it and noted Hatcher’s release point as a potential issue, which seems to have merit. It’s certainly not a velocity issue, because he’s throwing as hard as ever. But it might also be a “too damn predictable” issue, too. Remember, this is what stood out to Brim as being so appealing after the trade as made:
So, what happened? How did Hatcher improve? The biggest change was in his pitch usage. The biggest difference was that Hatcher significantly cut usage of his fastball, mostly in favor of a new sinker.
So, about that:
The sinker is basically gone. The splitter is diminished. There’s just a whole lot of fastball now. It’s a good fastball, but a predictable one. How predictable?
Plate appearances with swings in the first two pitches:
Why wait? You know you’re going to get a fastball, so why not attack it? And while the fastball has still been pretty effective, Hatcher’s problem is that his other pitches haven’t. (This is, of course, why he’s become so fastball-heavy.) Last year, hitters had just a .194/.216/.194 line against his slider. This year — and granted, he’s only thrown in 36 times — that’s .625/.625/1.375. (!) (!!) Last year, his splitter allowed only four extra-base hits all season. This year, it’s already three.
That pretty clearly seems to go back to what Dustin said, which is that his mechanics and release point are off enough that his secondary pitches just aren’t working. That forces Hatcher to go to too many fastballs, which makes him too predictable. (Last year, to lefties, he was 28% four-seamer on the first pitch. This year? 67%.) Throw in what is still some amount of awful batted-ball luck, and the end result is just disaster.
So, what’s to be done? I still don’t support getting rid of him. There’s too much obvious talent there, and too much recent success from just a year ago in Miami. If you DFA him, he won’t get through waivers. Someone will claim him. You still have a few weeks before Pedro Baez and/or Paco Rodriguez return, meaning there’s not something imminent coming to push him off the roster. What you do is you push him down into the lowest-leverage situations to let him try to work himself out — as Don Mattingly has tried to do, bringing him into the seventh inning of losing games his previous two times out before last night’s Jansen-mystery-emergency — or you gin up a dummy disabled list stint.
And in a few weeks, if nothing’s improved, and healthy pitchers are coming back? Well, the leash isn’t endless. No one’s saying that his lack of options mean he can be unendingly brutal all season long. You can see the end of the line coming, anyway. But it’s not here now. Not yet. Nor should it be.