Chris Hatcher is not a popular player around these parts. He’s off to a pretty terrible start to the 2018 season, he’s not exactly young, and he’s never been much more than an average reliever. Nothing against the guy: he’s made good money in a long and fruitful MLB career, and he seems like a fantastic guy. He’s better at baseball than I am at literally anything. That said, the general consensus here is that the A’s made a mistake in keeping him on the team, that he doesn’t have any upside or value.
The A’s aren’t asleep at the wheel. The moves they make don’t always pay off, same with every other baseball team, but there is always reason behind them. We can think the moves are stupid, but we should still see them as instructive. With that in mind, why is Chris Hatcher on the A’s?
The A’s are asleep at the wheel
The A’s are not asleep at the wheel. You don’t accidentally tender a contract, you don’t have a whole department forget about a roster spot. It was intentional.
Theory rating: 0/10. Let’s get that out of the way.
Follow the results
Chris Hatcher was pretty good from a results perspective in 2017. His FIP and underlying stats weren’t amazing, but he got outs in front of an abysmal defense on a team that struggled to find decent relief.
Sabermetricians are adept at figuring out what stats matter and are predictive and which stats aren’t. Yet there’s still a lot of unknown, there are still guys who beat their FIPs, and certain guys are effective in spite of not looking like they should belong. Maybe the A’s were taking a chance on a guy who did succeed even if he didn’t fit the traditional mold.
Theory rating: 6/10. If you could get a full season like Hatcher’s 2017 on the A’s, you’ve got an asset at low price.
The veteran presence
There’s little doubt that there’s value to having an established vet in the clubhouse. We’ll never be able to fully say what that value is with any sort of exactness and from where we sit it’s a big black hole. But it matters.
The A’s brought Hatcher back to stabilize a mostly young pen, to teach his ways of surviving the rigors of a 162 game season supporting a wholly underwhelming rotation.
Makes sense, though the pen isn’t a bunch of rookies. Casilla, Treinen, Henriks, Petit. Lot of years of experience there.
Theory rating: 5/10. Little doubt the A’s like the fact he’s a vet, but he’s not the only one
In 2015, Chris Hatcher threw a perfect inning and a third against the A’s in an afternoon interleague game. The game was on in the A’s office as the team’s employees went about their day and as Hatcher walked off the mount, an A’s intern dropped a pun that would forever change A’s GM David Forst: “Wow, he hatched a goose egg, ha ha”.
No one laughed at the over eager intern of course. No one but Forst, who chuckled under his breath on his way back to his office. As the day wore on, he found himself giggling with increasing intensity when he recalled the joke, and when Chris Hatcher popped up on the waiver wire two years later, it was fate.
Hatch time, as Forst now calls it, is now his favorite time. It went from simply declaring Hatcher hatched a goose egg anytime he threw a scoreless inning, to Forst romping around the office on a broom pretending it’s a goose, to dropping off “goose eggs” that are actually shots of tequila on everyone’s desk when Hatcher enters. Hatch time kept Chris on the A’s roster.
Theory rating: 0/10. I just made it up
Relievers have been a premium commodity for a few years now and for the first time in the Beane era, the A’s are giving up legit assets in order to strengthen their pen. Has it worked? Not always. The A’s have taken some gambles on players who have been great for a year and as we’ve seen with Liam Hendriks, it’s doesn’t always work. Relievers are ridiculously fickle and success one season doesn’t always correlate with success the next. Things get random.
The A’s are trying the flip side of that coin, hoping a guy who has decent stuff backed by solid velocity can squeeze out a surprising, low ERA kind of year.
Theory rating: 7/10. No doubt the A’s know Hatcher isn’t a sure thing but could be a sneaky success. Doesn’t mean it’s a smart play, but a reasonable explanation.
There are players that are better suited for stadiums for a variety of reasons. One we rarely talk about is the Coliseum’s extensive foul territory. Wouldn’t it make sense for the A’s to target pitchers who might luck into extra outs thanks to the Coliseum’s wide dimensions?
Based on the little data we have, there’s reason to think that is of interest. The reliever with the most foul balls last year? Sean Doolittle, one of the A’s great relievers of all time. Also high on that list: Pat Neshek (#4), Dan Otero (#7), Ryan Buchter (#13), Liam Henriks (#19), and Emilio Pagan (#21). Certainly looks like the A’s do like high foul ball guys! Hatcher only sat at #88 on the list of over 300 qualified relievers though, so it’s not super convincing but something of note.
Foul ball data is pretty limited, it’s possible the A’s have more data that makes them believe he’ll induce a lot of foul balls that will be caught at home.
Theory rating: 5/10. Interesting theory if I do say so myself, but wholly unsubstantiated
The A’s have leaned into the flyball revolution on the pitching side, looking at guys who capitalize on upward swings resulting in high flyballs that are frequently caught. Hatcher ranks 111th out of 193 pitchers in terms of flyball exit velocity which should in theory lead to balls staying in the yard and turning into easy outs.
Again, not the most interesting data but it’s possible someone with more information, ability, or time could make a convincing argument Hatcher’s profile lends well to a low BABIP and a successful reliever.
Theory rating: 5/10. Same as the last.
Chris Hatcher gets them. Not a ton, but a good amount.
Theory rating: 6/10. Sure.
Some combination of the above plus the things I’ve forgotten and or don’t know
I still don’t know exactly why Chris Hatcher is on the A’s, but I’m sure the A’s see something. It’s fun and frustrating to figure out why that is.