Of all the foreseeable problems from the multiple free agent deals the San Francisco Giants signed this offseason, Mitch Haniger not playing much was the most obvious.
Wouldn’t you know it, he’s barely played this year. .214/.271/.378 in 57 games (218 PA), the same number of games he played last season for the Mariners (.246/.308/.429 in 247 PA). In 2021, he played in 157 games (.253/.318/.485), missed 2020, and played in just 63 in 2019. Now, he will definitely exceed last year’s total at some point over these final 9 games, but what seemed like a simple path to playing more games than 2019 has been foreclosed thanks to these comments from Gabe Kapler.
Before last night’s loss to the Dodgers, Susan Slusser asked him why Mitch Haniger would be out of the lineup for the second game in a row.
I just asked Kapler about Haniger not being in the lineup for the second day in a row and he said he is fine physically “and at some point I’ll have the conversation with Hanny about what we think gives us the best chance to win every baseball game. (Cont)
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 22, 2023
Sorry, I have to stop and laugh at this. What makes the Giants so confident that they know what it takes to win a baseball game? I’ve seen no evidence of that in the last two seasons.
Anyway, Slusser continues:
“Sometimes that means him coming off the bench and taking down a bigger bat. Sometimes it’s going to be starting.”
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 22, 2023
My knee jerk reaction was that this is disciplinary for the perceived lack of hustle on this play:
The Diamondbacks scored 4 runs after this 2-out double. Had a 9% hit probability off the bat. Haniger had a 20% catch probability, per Statcast (not sure how that figure’s calculated).
Then 2 errors on the Corbin Caroll steal that gave AZ 2 more runs. Lapses in crunch time here. pic.twitter.com/7XP3lbndIG
— Danny Emerman (@DannyEmerman) September 20, 2023
Kapler’s post-game comment invoking the new, though seldom-used, “20% catch probability” defense felt unnecessarily mealy-mouthed, more likely to evoke a “come on!” than a “makes sense.” I look at that play, though, and I see a weird swing that clearly created a slicing, knuckling ball that Haniger might’ve read as bound for foul territory. A hustle dive makes sense from a fanbase desperate for something exciting to happen with this terrible team, but there was also a chance that the dive could deflect the ball or go by him and allow Corbin Carroll and Luis Perdomo to run wild.
So, thinking it through, Haniger’s defense or hustle has nothing to do with the the Giants’ decision to effectively bench their second-biggest free agent addition of the offseason, the guy who, allegedly, was on their radar from the outset of free agency as the dude they planned to pair with either Judge or Correa.
“At some point I’ll have the conversation with Hanny about what we think…”
Wonder what Haniger thought when he read or heard this. I can’t believe Gabe Kapler would imply that he hasn’t yet spoken to a veteran player the team spent big money on in the offseason for the express purpose of saving their bacon about how they intend to pick their spots with him and see him as more of a part-timer.
It’s hard to read that quote in Slusser’s tweet as anything less than a failure of communication. For a team that’s been dying before our eyes, I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the clubhouse is fracturing. But what the hell is going on here?
Mitch Haniger has faced right handed pitching 1900 times in his major league career and hit .250/.322/.458 (.780 OPS). That had to have been part of the calculation when the Giants formulated their 3-year, $43.5 million deal. They gave him everyday player money and now because of a sample size of .194/.255/.361 over 157 PA spread out across 5 months they’re rethinking their projection?
That can’t be it. It’s almost too absurd to believe. It’s true that September is basically Haniger’s first month of this season where he’s been an everyday player, and the results have been terrible — .178/.245/.400 17-4 K-BB (15 games, 49 PA) — but does all of their internal measurements show really show that he’s an immediate bust? I don’t think the Giants overpaying for a platoon bat is something that scares them. They just did it with Joc Pederson, after all, but there was zero indication up until the Kapler answer that it was trending this way.
Does Pete Putila have something to do with all this? We saw some movement behind the scenes with personnel (Brian Bannister moving on, most notably), but has he instituted some internal reviews that have turned up new results that conflict with the team’s prior scouting of the player that led to the deal he got? Hmm. Haniger will be 33 next season…
Or maybe this is all temporary while the Giants try to infuse a little vim and vigor into a moribund lineup. Maybe they’re thinking Haniger makes sense as the primary DH in 2024. No matter the reason, it’s pretty wild to think that the Giants, supposedly run by a superior, rational, data-driven management group have wound up doing a lot of what “normal” teams do: aggressively promote players to distract people with something shiny and new when things aren’t going to plan, poorly communicate with their players, and realize even before the ink has dried that they signed a bad long-term deal.
That’s just how it seems. The reality could be far less dire. At the same time, I don’t get what Gabe Kapler’s intention was with his response to Susan Slusser’s question. Okay, that’s not true. I’m sure his intention was “to answer her question as clearly and sufficiently as possible,” but the outcome of his press communication process was that it compelled me to write this article wondering why the hell the Giants are changing their plans with a guy who has barely played this season. Did they really not foresee him missing a lot of time?
It really puts things in perspective if, despite the Moneyball revolution and technological advancements in training and scouting, the Giants already know after 218 plate appearances that they can’t coach up this player to be the guy they thought he was. I guess the next logical follow-up question for the Giants is, “How do you see Mitch Haniger contributing to next year’s team?”