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2010 Rockies Player Review: Brad Hawpe

Any review of Brad Hawpe's 2010 season is going to include a lot of questions.  Several immediately jump to mind, but the most important is: What happened? 

I don't intend for this to sound like a eulogy, but Hawpe was a very good hitter.  In a Rockpile comment somewhere, I once suggested that he was as good a hitter as Justin Morneau (doesn't mean it's true).  Coming into 2010, Hawpe had a career .875 OPS.  From 2007 to 2009, he had a .903 OPS.  In 2009, he came out to a .903 OPS.  That's where the offensive picture starts to crack.  As Jeff noted after the 2009 season, Hawpe's season line is greatly inflated by an all-star first half (.973 OPS); the second half performance did not match up (.813 OPS). 

Specifically, he was dragged down by a poor July (.763 OPS), but he didn't recover the first half form for the rest of the summer.  The July crash was at least partially BABIP driven, as he fell from ~.375 BABIP in the first three months to .311 in July.  However, even as his BABIP recovered in August (.389), his bat didn't entirely come back to life (.814 OPS). 

Digging deeper, there are a lot of troubling signs from the latter half of 2009.*  Despite monthly highs in HR/FB rate during August and September, Hawpe started hitting a ton of ground balls.  A ton.  A guy who has a career 1.12 GB/FB ratio was suddenly doing twofers on ground balls in July, and was still giving pitchers a break with a buy two GB, get one FB policy in August.  It came closer to normal in September, 1.36, but was still high (it dropped back to 1.00 while with the Rox in 2010).  

*This is also a good example of where granular statistics sometimes fail.  In May '09, Hawpe put up a 26.4% LD rate.  After dipping in succeeding months, it rose back to ~23.5% in August and September.  At first glance, I'd be led to believe that Hawpe was recovering something.  However, reconsider the August '09 BABIP: .389 BABIP + 26% LD shouldn't come out to just an .814 OPS.  The 41% K rate in Aug-Sep didn't help, but it's also possible that not all line drives are created equal, and that Hawpe's Aug-Sep line drives were not of the scorching, to the wall variety.

Worse yet, over 2009, Hawpe put up a GB/FB ratio to the pull side, where he's generally gone to more than center or opposite, 5.62, that was more than twice the ratio in 2007 and 2008, 2.02 and 2.48.  In 2010, the ratio increased to 7.00  That's either a slower bat, or a lot of failed attempts at the Baltimore Chop.  It follows that, again to the pull side, his ISO dropped from .415 in 2008 to .218 in 2009 to .173 in 2010.  Not good.  There was a corresponding drop in BABIP, which is unsurprising because of all the grounders.  It's clear Hawpe lost a lot when attempting to pull the ball.

So, enough with the bad signs.   Eulogies Reviews should be at least a little positive.  It's not really worth talking about his defense at length, but for what it's worth, in 2010, Total Zone says Hawpe was +3 in 522 RF innings.  UZR/150 says he was much improved in 2010, though still -10.   Now that we're on the positive track, let's find more things that went right in 2010...

Hawpe had an awesome April.  He walked 16% of the time, and only struck out in 19% of his at bats.  He actually posted a better OPS (1.174) than NL Player of the Month Kelly Johnson, (1.154).  However, Hawpe lost time to injuries during the month and didn't put up the same glamour line as Johnson, who surprisingly hit nine homers. 

It was downhill from there.  The quad injury led to a DL stint in late April, and was followed by a nagging rib cage injury.  All the while, his batting took a dive.  In the time spanning his return from the DL on May 10 until his release on August 18, he had a Barmes-esque .698 OPS.  The rib injury probably had a lot to do with the .398 SLG, but it's important to keep in mind that he posted SLG numbers below his career average in the last three months of 2009.  Hawpe showed a little improvement in July, putting up a .315/.447/.762 line.  Not bad, though with the defense and for a corner OF/1B, it's only good relative to his June and August numbers. 

August brought, as Taylor Swift might say, a month of tears: .357/.261/.618, and a release.  September, her real month of tears, was nearly as bad: .638 OPS (but in only 38 ABs with the Rays).

After walking through the rest of the 2010 numbers, it's tempting to go back to the defensive improvement (maybe resting more plus playing some first really did help), but instead let's look at his L/R splits.  In 2010, Hawpe posted a career best 113 wRC+ vs. LHP.  Unfortunately, it was in only 86 ABs.  Put another way, he had an .821 OPS vs. LHP and a .730 OPS vs. RHP.  He didn't experience a similar drop vs. RHP in 2009 (though I'm not looking at first/second half performance vs. RHP), and his 2010 BABIP vs. RHP was 39 points lower than his career average.  That's one place to start looking for reasons.

Underneath it all, Hawpe did show some encouraging things during his final season with the Rockies.  His K rate (26%) and BB rate (12%) were close to career norms, and not bad numbers for that type of hitter.  Following up on the stellar April (and ignoring May and June), he posted a .234 ISO in July (with a .276 BABIP).  From 2009 to 2010, his overall groundball percentage dropped three points, with a corresponding rise in his flyball percentage.  Unfortunately, his HR/FB% dropped seven points.  With health and luck, he might have had a closer to average 2010.

On the flip side, where he was once a phenomenal fastball hitter (+18 wFB value in 2009), Fangraphs says he experienced a big drop in 2010, compiling only +1.7.  Again, the rib injury, but that's a substantial drop.  And, looking back to the GB/FB pull splits referenced earlier, I wonder if he really lost something against a good fastball.

It's easy to see that for most instances of something positive from 2010, there's something else that's bad.  I can't dismiss the rib and quad injuries, but I can't explain everything away with them either.  Something started going wrong in the second half of 2009, and, exacerbated by injuries, it continued to deteriorate in 2010.  The concern is that Hawpe's power is going to deteriorate rapidly, and moving to Petco isn't going to help that.

2010 Grade: C-.  Not as bad as I would have given him before I started writing this.  It's pretty clear that the injuries hurt him for most of the year.  Yet, the downward trend in his ability to pull the ball in the air with power is troubling.  That will be made worse with the switch to Petco, where it's 382-402 feet to center-right. 

Going forward: In all, I think Hawpe will put up some decent numbers in 2011.  Bill James has him at .362/.445/.807, with 14 HR.  Fangraphs' Fan Projections are about the same.  I think, like 2009 and 2010, he'll start fast and fade.  The NL West pitchers know how to pitch him, and should know how to pitch to their advantage in Petco.  If they don't know how to put those together on their own, their pitching coach or someone else will figure it out and tell them.  Still, I root for him to do well.  Especially if it's against the Giants and not the Rockies.