World Baseball Classic: Brad Hawpe? Really?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJanuary 9, 2009

I've got nothing against Brad Hawpe, I promise. He's never killed my dog or stole my parking spot. I'm sure if we met, he'd be a really nice guy. He had the Rockies' third highest VORP last season, and now that Matt Holiday is gone, he's even more important to their long term plans.

But team USA's starting right fielder? I'd rather not, thanks.

Nothing is set in stone, as Hawpe is still contemplating US manager Davy Johnson's offer, but if Hawpe accepts the offer, he will likely be the starter.

Hawpe is a good enough hitter, .283/.381/.879, with a higher average on the road (lest his numbers seem inflated by Coors Field), but two things make him a terrible option for team USA given the players who have already committed.

First, Hawpe is a strike out machine. His 134 Ks was the third highest among right fielders in either league. He does draw a lot of walks to offset that; a .381 OBP is nothing to sniff at after all, but given the fact that he'll be hitting behind guys like Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Brian McCann, all of whom are near the same mark, his high OBP isn't as useful as it would be in a lineup of low OBP, high power hitters.

Hawpe needs to be making productive outs in this type of lineup, sacrifice flies, groundballs to the right side of the infield with a runner on second and less than two out, etc. This isn't to say Hawpe can't be that type of player, but he's certainly closer to Adam Dunn than Joe Mauer. If he was the "true outcomes" player that Dunn is, I might see more sense in the move, but 25 home runs doesn't exactly merit the Masher tag.

Second, and more importantly, Hawpe is a mess in the field. His defense is well below average by any metric and by some of the more reliable ones (UZR and FRAA) he's a substantial risk in right field.

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Grady Sizemore, who will start in center, is a very solid defender, which makes this a bit less of an issue. However, with teams like Japan and Venezuela who like to run and play station-to-station baseball, a right fielder with a cannon arm might make runners at second base think twice before they tried to tag up on a shallow flyball to right. That's a play that is solely the right fielder's to make, and Sizemore's ability is neutralized.

I don't blame Johnson for putting out feelers here, as I've mentioned before, right field is one of the weakest positions for American players. Nick Markakis was far and away their best option, and he was Johnson's first choice. However, Ryan Ludwick and Andre Ethier are both better in the field and likely to be better at the plate.

If Hawpe chooses to go, he'll be a fine player and a good guy to have on the team, but Team USA may well be better off if he declines.


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