Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pronk has a beef

Usually, I try to stay away from all-star snub posts this time of year. Every baseball team, with the possible exception of the Royals, has one or two players who could make a case for getting the shaft.
But in the case of Travis Hafner, I can't keep quiet any longer. The man deserves to be playing in the All-Star Game this year, and thanks to his position as a designated hitter on a sub-.500 team, he won't be.
I'd go so far as to say Hafner is one of the biggest all-star snubs in recent history.
The basics: he's hitting .318 with 25 home runs and 74 RBI. Project that over the course of the season, he'll hit nearly .320 with 50 homers and about 150 RBI. Those are triple crown numbers in some years. They are MVP-caliber numbers in any year.
Even if those were the only numbers with which to make a case for Hafner, it would still be a strong argument. But his average, homers and RBI only scratch the surface.
Looking for weaknesses in his hitting game? You won't find it against left-handed pitching. The lefty hitter is batting .319 versus lefties and .318 versus righties.
Not only that, he leads the American League in home runs against left-handed pitching with 10. You read that right. As a lefty, he outpaces righty hitting terrors like Manny Ramirez, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye and Vladimir Guerrero when it comes to hitting southpaws.
Hafner leads the AL in on-base percentage (.460), slugging percentage (.657), so it follows that he leads the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.117).
And he's done it all with spotty protection behind him in the lineup. Opposing pitchers have repeatedly pitched around Hafner to take their chances with Victor Martinez, who only recently has started to pick up his pace at the plate.
The proof is in the pudding. Hafner also leads the league in walks with 70.
And the piece de resistance: his five grand slams, the most recent coming in Friday's 9-0 win over Baltimore. It is the most slams by a single player prior to the all-star break, and one shy of the single-season record of six, set by Don Mattingly. Hafner has 77 games to break the record.
Hafner appears to be the victim of a confluence of circumstances. He is a tremendously productive hitter, but he doesn't come with a lot of imagination-capturing frills like Jim Thome's moonshot homers or Alex Rodriguez's GQ glamour. He's from North Dakota and likes hunting and professional wrestling, two decidedly uncool things to the East Coast jet set.
An arthritic elbow prevents him from playing a position, though he is a first baseman by trade. The All-Star Game will be played in National League Pittsburgh this year, meaning anyone who wants to stay in the game will have to play a position.
Last but not least, his team is in the midst of a sub-par season that has quelled fan interest. If Hafner's following can't rise above cult status in his own town, how can he expect to become a household name around the country?
Just about everything that is preventing Hafner from playing in the All-Star Game on Tuesday is beyond his control, which makes his snub all the more unjust. But if there's any consolation, Hafner probably won't take it especially hard.
Pronk strikes me as the kind of guy who will say, "Three days off? Cool! Time for some pizza and Wrestlemania!"
And he's not popular enough to appear in Pittsburgh?

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