For the most part, the Cleveland media seems to be buying the company line regarding Hafner, probably because Hafner is that aforementioned “good guy” that you really want to see succeed. But pitcher Cliff Lee is a good guy and that didn’t stop the media from burying him early last season after taking their cue from Indians management even though Lee was essentially the pitching equivalent of Hafner last season. Maybe the answer really does lie in a little extra time in the batting cage for Hafner, but so far that doesn’t seem to be working all that well either.
Just a cursory look at the spring training stats tells you that not much has changed in Pronkville. His preseason has been pretty much a microcosm of his 2007 season. Hafner started off well enough in February only to trail so much that by the end of spring training he was back to swinging wildly at pitches in the dirt. In his last 10 spring games, Hafner hit .156 with one home run and three RBI. If you believe in trends, as Shapiro and his cadre of statistical wonks tend to, there aren’t enough Rolaids in the world to ease the queasy stomachs that Hafner currently is foisting upon them.
One of the more popular excuses that have been made for Hafner for his dismal 2007 is that it was just a slump. That’s possible, but it was far longer and 10 times deeper than what most would otherwise consider a slump. Last April, Hafner hit .338 with 16 RBI, five home runs, and two doubles. His on-base percentage was .471, his slugging percentage was .550 and his On Base plus Slugging Percentage was a more than respectable 1.021. Those numbers compared favorably and, in most cases were better than his career numbers.
For the next four months, Hafner turned into Gorman Thomas, but with less power. In May, he hit .228, which actually was better by 10 points than his June. In July and August he averaged right around .251. But beyond just simple hitting, Hafner wasn’t producing runs. His power numbers were down, way down, but that only tells part of the story. With runners in scoring position, where someone like Hafner really is supposed to earn his keep, he was an embarrassing .226. That’s a full 50 points under his career average.