CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 28: Third baseman Jack Hannahan #9 of the Cleveland Indians throws to first after fielding a ground ball hit by Alcides Escobar #2 (not shown) of the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Progressive Field on August 28, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
This two-part series is titled "Moneyball Players of Today," and while it would be obvious to pick a player who gets on base or didn't look good in jeans, I've opted to choose a player whose game has been undervalued for a totally different reason.
When the Indians signed Jack Hannahan as a minor-league free agent last winter, the move didn't attract much attention, even for a club who didn't really have a starting third baseman. Remember that in 2010 third base was a revolving door, with Jhonny Peralta (the .698 OPS version) starting the year there, and Luis Valbuena, Jayson Nix, and Andy Marte sharing time at the position after Peralta was traded. None of the four gave the Indians anything resembling a competent third baseman. Peralta actually came the closest, posting a 94 OPS+ along with below-average defense at the position. His three replacements were much worse; Nix was awful at the position, and his offensive production cratered after the move from second, and neither Valbuena nor Marte did anything in their brief playing time at third.
The good news was that the Indians seemed to have a long-term solution in Lonnie Chisenhall, a 22-year-old who had just held his own in Akron. But he wasn't really ready for the majors, so the Indians needed a stopgap for at least a half-season. The stopgap would preferably be a good defender, with any offensive production provided a bonus. The Indians were planning that stopgap to be Jason Donald. Donald had been exclusively a shortstop in the Philadelphia organization before his trade to Cleveland, but the Indians were going to move him to third for the 2011 season. That is, before he broke his finger in a spring training game. Donald's injury opened the competition back up to an unattractive field: Jayson Nix was still around, as was Luis Valbuena. And there was also Jack Hannahan, who had a signed a minor-league deal with the Indians in the offseason.
Hannahan had spent most of his career in the Detroit system, where he posted decent offensive numbers, but kept getting promoted because of his defense. He would play just 3 games with the Tigers, and was traded in August of 2007 to Oakland for Jason Perry in a sort of challenge trade. Hannahan would get his break with Oakland, as Eric Chavez missed a half of the 2007 season and practically all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Jack did well in 41 games with the A's in 2007, but he was awful at the plate in 2008 (.218/.305/.342) and even worse in 2009 (.193/.278/.303). Jack played Gold Glove-level defense at third, and was actually posted a positive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2008, but his offense was so bad in 2009 that the A's had to part with him. He was dealt to Seattle in July of that year, and hit a bit better while filling in for Adrian Beltre. Beltre would leave after the season, but the Mariners would sign Chone Figgins in his place, so Hannahan would have to make the club as a utility player. He didn't, so he spent the year in AAA, first with Tacoma, and then with Pawtucket, Boston's AAA club. A free agent for the first time in his career, he signed with the Indians in the hopes of snagging a starting job at third base.
When Donald went down, Hannahan had his opportunity, and made the most of it. He had hit well that spring, and so he won the starting job, at least until Donald was healthy again. Donald would not return to the majors until July 31st, and by then was mainly a second baseman. Hannahan would instead lose playing time to Lonnie Chisenhall, who also came up in late June.
Hannahan's overall offensive line (.248/.330/.388, 101 OPS+) is a bit misleading. He started the season off hot, but then fell into a three month offensive drought, not topping a .600 OPS in May, June, or July. That was the reason the Indians brought Chisenhall up. He hit like Albert Pujols in August (.420/.491/.660), so that brought his season averages back towards league-average.
But Hannahan's calling card has always been his defense, and he's been fantastic with the glove all season. He's been at the top of the defensive leader boards in both traditional and advanced rate categories. He currently ranks first among AL third basemen in Fielding Percentage and Range Factor/9, and ranks only behind Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez in UZR/150. A sample of some of his better plays:
So what's the future for Jack Hannahan with the Indians? The Indians have him under control through the 2013 season, so they don't necessarily have to make a full commitment to Lonnie Chisenhall just yet. But if Chisenhall makes a normal progression in 2012, Hannahan should not be taking playing time away from him, even given his defensive value. I think Hannahan and Chisenhall are on next year's Opening Day roster, and if everything goes to plan, the Indians will trade Hannahan after Chisenhall breaks out at the major-league level.
|CLE (1 yr)||349||1||0||-1||-0||9||1||12||21||2.2||13||1.3||0.9||$|
|2001||21||DET-min||A,A-||60||261||225||70||15||1||1||31||46||.311||.391||.400||.791||90||WMI,ONE · MIDW,NYPL|
|2002||22||DET-min||A+,AA||131||536||472||121||23||2||9||57||94||.256||.338||.371||.708||175||LAK,ERI · FLOR,EL|
|2003||23||DET-min||AA||135||529||471||121||18||0||9||48||78||.257||.328||.352||.681||166||ERI · EL|
|2004||24||DET-min||AA||108||431||374||102||21||1||8||53||60||.273||.365||.398||.764||149||ERI · EL|
|2005||25||DET-min||AAA,AA||75||295||260||67||15||0||4||29||66||.258||.336||.362||.697||94||TOL,ERI · IL,EL|
|2006||26||DET-min||AAA||119||494||415||117||27||0||9||61||114||.282||.379||.412||.791||171||TOL · IL|
|2007||27||DET-min||AAA||101||417||336||99||20||1||13||76||92||.295||.422||.476||.898||160||TOL · IL|
|2009||29||OAK-min||AAA||21||88||81||18||7||0||2||7||27||.222||.284||.383||.667||31||SAC · PCL|
|162 Game Avg.||162||547||478||110||28||2||10||59||131||.230||.316||.358||.674||84||171|
|OAK (3 yrs)||236||804||699||158||45||2||13||89||206||.226||.314||.352||.666||80||246|
|CLE (1 yr)||104||349||307||76||15||2||8||36||76||.248||.330||.388||.718||101||119|
|SEA (1 yr)||51||167||148||34||8||0||3||17||35||.230||.311||.345||.656||77||51|
|DET (1 yr)||3||10||9||0||0||0||0||1||1||.000||.100||.000||.100||-71||0|