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Have Hart: Gauging Free Agent Corey Hart’s Value for 2014 MLB Season

Hart does have a history playing the outfield but concerns with his knees would limit him to first base duties only.

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart
Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart

Aug 21, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart (1) drives in a run with an infield single in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Miller Park Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve mentioned how thin the Major League Baseball free agent market has been on talent this offseason. We have already reviewed free agents at the following positions:

We’ve also reviewed Mike Napoli‘s last three seasons playing for the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. We now focus on another first basemen, Corey Hart.

Hart spent his 2013 season recovering from surgery on both of his knees (Chicago Bulls‘ fans would know all about knee surgeries after seeing a similar scenario unfold with star player, Derrick Rose). Hart does have a history of playing in the outfield as well, but the concerns of his knees would limit him to first base duties only. Figuring out how Hart will perform next year is a mystery because he did not play last year and he is a high injury risk. Nevertheless, the soon-to-be 32 year-old will be bringing a potential, big bat to any team that decides to sign him.

Let’s take a look at Hart’s production in the last three seasons, leading up to the 2013 campaign:

Corey Hart: Production

Year

Age

BB%

K%

OBP

SLG

ISO

UBR

wSB

wOBA

2010

28

7.3%

22.8%

0.340

0.525

0.242

3.8

-1.4

0.373

2011

29

9.3%

20.7%

0.356

0.510

0.226

-0.2

-1.5

0.376

2012

30

7.1%

24.3%

0.334

0.507

0.237

-0.7

0.4

0.358

Despite posting a good OPS in 2012, it’s easy to see that his On-Base and Slugging percentages dipped as well as his Weighted On Base Average (wOBA–at it’s most basic, this is a stat that basically states that not all hits are created equal). Was Hart already struggling with bad knees in his age 30 season? Perhaps, but it’s hard to use that as a reason for his decrease in production as he did play in 149 games and made 622 plate appearances that season. A much bigger concern is the Strikeout Rate (K%) he posted in 2012, the highest of his career. Put it another way, his 0.29 Walk:Strikeout ratio (BB:K) was the lowest it has been since 2008.

Overall, Hart has proven to be a good slugger, but there are plate approach issues with Hart that also affect the way he drives the ball when making contact:

Corey Hart: Batted Ball Rates

Year

Age

BABIP

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2010

28

0.324

17.8%

38.2%

43.9%

8.6%

16.8%

2011

29

0.323

20.6%

44.6%

34.8%

6.8%

19.7%

2012

30

0.318

19.3%

40.1%

40.6%

4.8%

18.1%

If you look at Hart’s last three years and cannot figure out if he’s a ground ball or fly ball hitter, that’s because Hart cannot be categorized as either. His career Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio (GB/FB) is 0.99. Nothing wrong with an even-keeled approach when making contact wit the ball. In 2013, the following players finished with a GB/FB ratio between 0.98 and 1.00:

However, unlike Hart, all of those players finished the season posting a Line Drive Rate above 20 percent. Hart is not a line-drive hitter. The main reason why Hart has posted a +.300 Batting Average on Balls In Play (per fangraphs, “BABIP measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits”) in the last three seasons is due to the randomness of the outcomes of his plate appearances. Simply put, you never know what to expect from Hart. Well, to his credit, at least he doesn’t pop up a lot.

So the high BABIP has helped Hart post some good, raw numbers. But that’s the thing about players that depend on high BABIP. Eventually, the luck runs out and those batted balls soon become outs. Suddenly that player is stuck in a slump. All a hitter has left to depend on is his approach at the plate. Here’s how Hart’s Plate Discipline numbers have looked like in his last three, healthy seasons:

Corey Hart: Plate Discipline

Year

Age

Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

2010

28

49.0%

72.4%

13.2%

2011

29

46.9%

72.1%

12.8%

2012

30

44.7%

71.8%

12.2%

Hart’s three-year Swing Percentage average  of roughly 47 percent would have placed him in the top 10 among first basemen last season. Coupled with a three-year Swinging Strike Percentage average of 12.7 percent (good enough for seventh place among first basemen last year) and it all leads to one thing: Hart is a free-swinger. Doesn’t mean he’s seen chasing pitches outside the strike zone, but he does swing at a lot of pitches as can be seen by his Z-Swing Percentage (per fangraphs, “the percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone”). A three-year average of 68.7 percent would have put him in the top 45 among all qualified hitters in 2013.

Also, we spoke about Hart’s tendency to hit for a high BABIP. Well, his three-year Contact Rate average of 72.1 percent would have placed him in the bottom 15 among qualified hitters in 2013. This further reiterates the fact that Hart is a player that is highly dependent on luck.

His defense is a mixed bag of good and bad. Once again, using advanced defensive metrics, we see that his outfield play between 2010-2012 shows a player with good range, but a weak arm. His best year, in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) was in 2011. In 2012, he finished with the fourth worst UZR among first basemen (minimum 800 innings played at the position).

In conclusion, Hart is a slugging first baseman that depends on luck, has a poor approach at the plate, and brings a questionable glove. He also comes with plenty of injury concerns as well. Despite all of these red flags, Hart does have a few teams that would be interested in his services for the 2014 season (per the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinal).

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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