Despite down 2013, Hairston still holds value

When discussing the Nationals’ bench options for this upcoming season, I’ve heard a few people take casual shots at Scott Hairston, saying that they don’t see much of a place for Hairston in 2014.

That’s only natural, I guess; not only do we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type of world, but fans in this area have yet to see Hairston have much success in a Nationals jersey. They have seen Tyler Moore slug 10 homers in limited playing time in 2012, and some might feel that Moore would be a better option as a right-handed bat off the bench this upcoming season.

After all, Hairston hit a lowly .224/.246/.379 with the Nationals last season, following a July trade that sent him from the Cubs to D.C. He had just five extra-base hits in 58 at-bats, and struck out 19 times with the Nats compared to just two walks.

It’s probably important, however, to look at what Hairston has done in the last handful of years before writing him off just because of a sub-par 2013.

Back in 2012, Hairston got a good bit of playing time with the Mets, largely because of the power numbers he was putting up. Hairston crushed 20 homers in 2012, and had an impressive .504 slugging percentage in 134 games.

A whopping 48 percent of his hits were for extra bases, which is a pretty nutty statistic.

In 2011, Hairston hit just .235 in 132 at-bats, but he posted a solid .470 slugging percentage, helping him record a 113 OPS+. For those who are unaware, an OPS+ of 100 is considered league-average, so an OPS+ of 113 (followed by an OPS+ of 118 in 2012) shows that Hairston held a good bit of value those seasons.

In fact, from 2008-2012, Hairston posted an OPS+ above 100 in four of five seasons.

He’s not going to hit for a high average (.265 is his career high in that category) and his on-base percentage hovers around .300 most years. But Hairston’s power numbers traditionally are pretty high, especially for a guy who has spent a good bit of time in a reserve role, coming off the bench.

We’ve talked about Hairston’s career splits in the past; he has just a .226/.284/.410 slash line against right-handed pitching, but his .268/.317/.498 line against lefties makes him a strong platoon guy off the bench.

I’m not saying that Hairston is bound to have a big 2014 season or that everyone should run out and pick up No. 7 Nationals jerseys at the Nats team store. (Although I’m sure Hairston wouldn’t mind the support.)

What I am saying is that I don’t think people should be so eager to toss Hairston aside or claim that he doesn’t have a role on this team. If Hairston can get back to being a power threat off the bench and start raking again against left-handed pitching, the Nats will be much better off.

They lacked quality bench weapons in 2013, and should Hairston return to his career norms in the power department, him coupled with Nate McLouth could make for a nice reserve-outfield duo.

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