2012 Player Profile: Bryan LaHair

Comparing pitch charts from the first half to the second, pitchers made some big changes when facing Bryan LaHair. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Positions Played: 1B (65%), RF (34%), LF (1%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .257/.333/.442 in 375 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 0.6
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Pre-Arbitration)
Recent Time to First: 4.7s on Aug. 19 (20 on 20-80 scale)

Bryan LaHair has beat the odds a few times over.

He made the majors despite being a 39th-round draft pick (in 2002). He turned the prevailing scouting opinion of him from “Quad-A Player” to potential regular as he approached 4,000 minor league plate appearances. He even was named a 2012 All-Star despite barely clearing rookie eligibility by his 29th birthday.

The 2012 season was a tale of two halves for LaHair, for reasons both in and out of his control. He was one of the NL’s best first basemen in the first half and showed a model approach at the plate that manager Dale Sveum would like to see spread throughout the lineup. Then pitchers adjusted to him, and his playing time was squeezed by the call-up of Anthony Rizzo. But he showed a positive, determined attitude throughout the year and has said he won’t let his big league opportunity go to waste.

Let’s once again leverage PITCHf/x data, as presented by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus, in order to compare how pitchers approached LaHair as the season went along. Baseball Prospectus gives you hundreds of ways to slice up the numbers. Our own figure below shows the change in pitch location versus LaHair, from first half to second. (For example, pitchers threw 13 percent fewer pitches in the low-and-away square of the strike zone in the second half than they did in the first. With pitches up and in, LaHair saw 124 percent more pitches—or more than twice as many. Note: This is based on the rates.)

In the first half, pitchers primarily worked away from LaHair, hoping to prevent him from being able to pull the ball. LaHair was happy to oblige—he went with those pitches and showed an impressive ability to drive them the other way. In fact, four of his first seven home runs (hit by May 3) were hit left of center field. He finished the first half with a .286/.364/.519 slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 261 plate appearances and was selected to the All-Star Game.

But as big league pitchers saw more of LaHair, they adjusted. They started pounding fastballs inside on LaHair before going back to the low-outside corner with breaking balls when the pitcher was ahead in the count. This approach turned out to be successful, and LaHair’s struggles were compounded by reduced playing time when the organization’s top prospect Rizzo was called up in late June. He had a .192/.263/.269 slash line in 114 second-half plate appearances.

The question, of course, is figuring out LaHair’s best role on the Cubs going forward. First base clearly has been claimed by Rizzo for years to come. If Brett Jackson takes a hold on center field next year, then Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus will get the majority of starts in the corners. So that may relegate LaHair to coming off the bench, where he would be one of the top bats to bring in against right-handed relievers. Cost—at least in dollars—isn’t the issue since he only has one and a half years of MLB service time, meaning the team can tender him a contract at or near the league minimum. Instead, a key offseason priority for GM Jed Hoyer will be determining LaHair’s roster value for 2013.

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