Name: Scott Hairston
2013 Expectations: Hairston signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs just prior to the start of Spring Training, adding a right-handed bat to the Cubs outfield mix. Hairston specializes in facing left-handed pitching and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was hoping the 33-year-old could have similar success in 2013 as he did the previous season as a member of the New York Mets, as a power bat off the bench and a platoon outfielder.
2013 Results: Hairston wasn’t what the Cubs expected. Despite connecting for eight home runs in 112 plate appearances, Hairston’s batting average sat at .172 just before the All-Star Break. A lot of this was due to an extremely unlucky BABIP of .132, worst in the majors at that point for players with at least 100 plate appearances. Having fallen out of Chicago’s rotation, Hairston now had to brace himself for the possibility of a trade. Enter the Washington Nationals.
Treading water all season up to this point and already a good chunk of games behind the Atlanta Braves, the Nationals were struggling to combat the high expectations placed upon them in the pre-season by fans, media, and themselves. Injuries and inconsistencies had combined to derail Washington’s “World Series or Bust” charge, with a couple of areas standing out as statistical catalysts for the team’s disappointing averageness.
At that point in the season, on July 8, the Nationals were getting next to nothing from their bench. Washington reserves were hitting just .174 with a .516 OPS collectively. At the same time, the Nationals were struggling mightily against left-handed pitching, posting a .215 BA with a .612 OPS. This perfect storm of need led Washington GM Mike Rizzo to acquire Hairston from the Cubs in exchange for minor league pitcher Ivan Pineyro, with a couple of players to be named later thrown in for good measure.
Hairston did get better after the trade, and for the most part did his job as the primary bench option against left-handers. But the quality of the Nationals outfield and manager Davey Johnson‘s need to make up ground in the standings did not provide Hairston with many opportunities to shine. Hairston managed just 62 plate appearances in Washington colors, posting a marginally better .224 batting average but a disappointing .246 OBP. Against lefties, his average rose to .271, with a pair of homers, including his 2013 season highlight.
Hairston was back in Chicago, facing the team that had traded him less than two months earlier, as the Nats battled the Cubs on August 21st. With the two teams tied at 6-6 in the top of the seventh, Washington got a two-out rally started with a Bryce Harper double and an intentional walk to Jayson Werth, bringing up pitcher Tanner Roark. Against left-hander James Russell, Hairston was Johnson’s obvious choice to pinch-hit, and he delivered, lining a three-run homer into the left-field bleachers to give the Nats a 9-6 lead in a game they would eventually win 11-6.
2014 Outlook: Hairston is under contract for 2014, so his role as primary righty off the bench is safe heading into the offseason. LIke most part-time players, though, Hairston would probably benefit from more plate appearances, to keep him sharp and keep the regulars fresh. New manager Matt Williams will have to learn how to juggle the playing time needs of his club, including how often to sit players such as Denard Span and Bryce Harper against left-handed pitching, which troubled each of them in 2013. Hairston could benefit from more regular time, but if his numbers continue to underwhelm, look for Washington to resort to younger, cheaper options such as Tyler Moore.