Even more telling are the so-called “clutch” statistics. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Hafner had 15 hits in 70 at bats for a .214 average. Though he had 15 walks, they were confined mostly to the first half of the season when pitchers were more careful out of respect for his history. As the season wore on, careful wasn’t even part of the equation. Hafner had 65 walks in the first half of the season, 37 in the second half.
Hafner was only marginally better last season when the game was late and close (defined as a plate appearance in the 7th inning or later with the Indians either tied, ahead by one run or with the tying run on deck). But only marginally, hitting .253. Pick a statistic that matters and across the board Hafner was 30 to 40 points below his career averages in each of those categories.
In a way, I feel like Owen Wilson’s character in “The Wedding Crashers” when he was guessing the contents of wedding presents. I can go on all day like this. Hafner with the count 0-1 hit .238. With the count 0-2, he hit .176. In fact, the best Hafner hit with the count in the pitcher’s favor was .244 when the count was 1-2. That may not be any great surprise for any hitter, but again in each case it was still lower than Hafner’s career averages. In fact, it’s hard to find a measure by which Hafner didn’t significantly regress last season.
While this may seem like so much piling on, it’s really meant to emphasize that what Hafner experienced wasn’t any mere slump, the apologists notwithstanding. The fact that it has continued unabated during this spring only makes it more troubling. But beyond the impact on Hafner, it also deeply affected the rest of the lineup. There were lengthy stretches last season in which the Indians looked like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the plate. As Hafner so often went, so did the rest of the order.
The question then is what’s really being done to fix what to this point is being written off as an anomaly. Again, to hear it from the Indians front office, not much. The party line is that there is nothing physically wrong with Hafner, but that same party does acknowledge that Hafner has a gimpy right elbow, enough so that the Indians do not even consider him to be in the mix at first base, except during some inter-league games. You don’t need to play a doctor or detective on TV to suggest that checking whether Hafner has changed his mechanics, even just a hair, to compensate for the lingering pain might be a good spot to start looking for some answers.