Scouting Matt Hague
|By Adam H. Wong||By 04-17-2012|
We often see things in the game of baseball that appear as impossible feats. Hitting four home runs in a single game, batting .400 for the season or playing in 2,632 consecutive games. So Matt Hague hasn't done the impossible quite yet. The Kentwood High School alumnus was the last player to make the Pittsburgh Pirates out of spring training. Hague and two others had hit the most home runs, seven, out of the 30 clubs during spring training.
The other two players: Freddie Freeman and Albert Pujols.
Clint Hurdle, the Pirates manager, used the right-handed Hague in a true platoon situation, in that Garrett Jones will get the at-bats against right-handed pitching, and the inverse held true for Hague. A week or so ago, Hurdle had opted to give more at-bats to Casey McGehee, a corner infielder, so that Pedro Alvarez can get more plate appearances while manning third. Over the weekend, Hague was optioned to AAA Indianapolis to make room for Charlie Morton, who is coming off the DL. Hurdle said that it was purely a numbers game, and it had nothing to do with his performance.
Hague, 26, was never a highly-touted prospect. In 2011, he put up his best numbers in the minors, with a .309/.372/.457 slash line that was similar to Desmond Jennings that year. He's had a career .302/.371/.442 slash in the minors, so he wasn't the worst player, but he didn't stand out, either. Along with the fact that minor league statistics don't always translate to big league performance, Hague is somewhat behind on the age curve compared to prospects. In the end, many thought he was destined to be an organizational player.
In a grand sense of narrative, clubs use organizational guys to fill a need all the time. Players get hurt or under perform all the time. Clubs sometimes look to their farm to fill an immediate need. Mike Wilson comes to mind. Last year, the Mariners were looking for some additional pop, and at the expense of Ryan Langerhans, Wilson got his first taste of The Show. Although his call-up was a short lived eight-game experience, I'm sure it's something Wilson hasn't forgotten. I'm sure the experience drives and motivates him to achieve excellence. So Hague hasn't quite done the impossible.
Maybe improbable is a better word.
With Hague's dominant spring and great 2011, he played his way onto Pittsburgh's roster. Before the September call-ups, there are only 750 active players in the major leagues at any given time. And with the sheer number of players that come through the sport, it's interesting to think that this elite cross-section of athletes is an incredibly small portion of all the players who were drafted. With about 1,500 players drafted every year in June, it's an astonishing thought that only a handful of them ever see time in the bigs.
One of the great things about baseball is that players can surprise you, prospects and non-prospects alike. The most common example, in regards to draft picks, always seems to land on Albert Pujols (drafted in the 13th round of the 1999 draft) and Ken Griffey Jr. (drafted first overall in the 1987 draft). Pujols could've flamed out, just like the majority of 13th round picks, or Junior could've had a career ending injury while fielding for Bellingham. You just don't know. Players can have a higher probability of cracking the big league roster over other players, sure, but it's nearly impossible to know which ones will stick and which ones won't.
Matt Hague was drafted in the 9th round of the 2008 amateur draft.
All this being said, Matt Hague, nicknamed "The Hit Collector" by Clint Hurdle during spring training, has done something quite improbable. So I thought it'd be fun for Washingtonians to look at the few major league at-bats Hague has had since his debut.
Hague versus Cliff Lee, April 7, 2012
1st At-bat -- bottom of the 2nd inning, 1 out
90 mph fastball | 0-1
For Hague's first major league at-bat, he gets to face former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. Lee starts him off by grooving a fastball down the middle for a strike. Carlos Ruiz wanted the pitch low and away. Lee works with a lot of deception from the left side, and one of the most consistent delivery out of any starter, so it'll be quite a battle to try to get a hit off of the 33-year-old pitcher.
85 mph cutter | Groundout: 6-3
I would argue that Lee's cutter is his best pitch, and he gets Hague to hit a weak groundball to short. If you consider the cut fastball a breaking ball, Lee threw that pitch the most out of any of his breaking stuff last year, a 22.7% clip according to Fangraphs. So you bet your bottom dollar Lee will work that pitch in when he can.
2nd At-bat -- bottom of the 5th inning, no outs
83 mph changeup | 0-1
Lee starts Hague off with a changeup in the middle of the plate for strike one. Ruiz wanted the pitch down, but Lee got away with one.
90 mph fastball | 1-1
Hague takes a fastball inside.
91 mph fastball | 2-1
Nearly the same pitch, Hague takes another fastball inside. Ruiz is trying to get Lee to paint the corners with these last two pitches, but Lee just missed his spots.
90 mph fastball | Groundout: 6-3
This time Ruiz sets up low and away, and this time Lee hits his target perfectly. Hague takes a swing on a pitch low and outside, and makes a groundout to shortstop.
Hague versus Antonio Bastardo, April 8, 2012
1st At-bat -- bottom of the 8th inning, runners on 2nd and 1st, two outs
91 mph fastball | 1-0
Here, Hague's second game of his major league career, he has an opportunity to tie the game with a runner in scoring position. After he comes up to the plate, Bastardo looks in and pauses a moment before looking back at second. Andrew McCutchen, the runner on second base, must be really good-looking, because Bastardo stares at him for a good six awkward seconds. Hague calls time and the umpire grants it. Hague takes a fastball up and in and off the plate for ball one.
91 mph fastball | Single to left field
Bastardo throws a fastball up and in, this time it covers too much of the plate and Hague shoots the ball into left field, driving in McCutchen to tie the game. Hague made his swing compact enough to pull his hands in and extend the barrel of the bat onto the ball. Small sample sizes and all, but Hague looks most comfortable attacking the ball in the upper part of the zone. Once Hague gets enough plate appearances at the big league level, he should be able to eliminate some pitches and extend his bat into some pitches and cause damage.
Hague versus Clayton Kershaw, April 10, 2012
1st At-bat -- Top of the 2nd inning, runner on the third, no outs.
93 mph fastball | 0-1
Clayton Kershaw starts Hague out with a 93 mph fastball middle-up and Hague fouls it off. A couple things are happening here. First, Hague gets good hip rotation, so the power could be there. Being that there is a runner on third, one could think that he's trying to get the ball in the air deep to the outfield. Second, Hague has a long swing path, so the inside fastball may be a problem. As mentioned earlier, if he can get his timing right, he'll be able to extend his arms and drive the ball into left field.
93 mph fastball | 0-2
Second pitch of the AB, Kershaw goes middle up and out of the zone, and Hague fouls it off again. Clearly, he's trying to get the runner home. An aggressive approach can be good, but with two pitches that were in the middle of the plate, the pitches were to close to take. Again, same swing path, good hip rotation.
87 mph slider | 0-2
Hague fouls off another pitch, this time a slider and it's up and in.
84 mph slider | 1-2
The next slider Kershaw throws is in the dirt and Hague lays off.
94 mph fastball | 2-2
Hague takes a fastball inside and off the plate. Looking at his load, Hague goes into a slight crouch when Kershaw starts his delivery, and has a toe tap as his trigger.
84 mph slider | K
Hague takes another hack, this time it results in swing and a miss. Hague's timing was right on, but he swung just over it.
2nd At-bat -- top of the 5th inning, no outs
91 mph fastball | 0-1
For some reason, pitch F/X was wonky in this at-bat. But, then again, how do you think people scouted players before Sportvision came around? Anyhow, you can see that I plotted what I believe to be where the first pitch actually went, overlaid atop the pitch F/X graphic from Brooks Baseball. There may be inaccuracies, because human eyes are fallible, but so are machines, apparently.
Kershaw throws a fastball middle in and Hague fouls it off to the left side of the infield.
92 mph fastball | 0-2
With the catcher set up middle in, Kershaw unintentionally climbs the ladder and Hague can't hold up.
83 mph slider | 0-2
Kershaw throws a good belt high and in and Hague fouls it off into the left field stands.
92 mph fastball | K
With a fastball on the outside corner that was too close to take, Kershaw strikes out Hague looking.
Matt Hague had quite the welcome to the big leagues. As the righty in the first base platoon, he had to deal with both Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw. As a player climbs up the minor league ladder, the talent pool increases exponentially. Knowing he was going to face a former Cy Young Award winner and the defending NL Cy Young winner is probably the biggest welcome to the big leagues.
It's hard to predict the course of any major league career. With Anthony Rizzo getting seasoned in the minors, it seems that Bryan LaHair is just waiting for the hook. But the 29-year-old has impressed in Chicago, and if he continues to play well, he'll probably get to stick around. First baseman Chris Davis is finally getting consistent playing time in Baltimore, and who knows. Maybe he'll turn into the corner infielder the Rangers thought he could be.
Organizational players are important, don't get me wrong. Every franchise needs depth, and the quality of that depth depends on how well area scouts and cross checkers communicate, how the front office evaluates talent, how the coaching staff handles the players and so forth. But there's a reason that guys like Cesar Jimenez and Guillermo Quiroz stick around for such a long time. Although they may not see much major league time, they are important to the organization in terms of depth, and in terms of the quality of personal character that prospects can pick up on. Pittsburgh's general manager Neal Huntington said that Hague could be back soon, being that utilitymen Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro have remaining options.
Baseball is a game of numbers, but it's also a game of chance, and a game of heart. But as Chris wrote a few days ago, baseball should be, and is, more about the process rather than the results. Sure, winning the triple crown at the end of the season or winning the World Series is on every ballplayer's checklist. Why wouldn't it be? But to value statistics over the storylines that are written along the way would be dismissive. Every player has a story, and the great thing about baseball is that when those stories are close to home, that city can take hold of it and have an athlete to look up to. An athlete kids can strive to be like.
An athlete who's done the improbable.
Adam H. Wong can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter here.
The following 3 comment(s) for this article are shown below:
|1. By: Alex Carson on 04-17-2012 07:29:01|
This is a killer piece, ADub.
|2. By: maqman on 04-17-2012 11:31:21|
Well written Adam.
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|3. By: Adam P. Boyd on 04-17-2012 16:32:29|
Love this. Lots of work and analysis went into it, good stuff man.
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