I really don’t think the Pirates know what to do with Matt Hague – sometimes I think they wish he would just go away. Hague attended the University of Washington for three years, where he hit, and then transferred to Oklahoma State for his senior season, where he hit some more. The Pirates selected him in the 9th round of the 2008 amateur draft as a third baseman, but moved him to first by the end of the year after he put up an ugly .881 fielding percentage in low A ball. But he continued to hit:
|2008 – A-/A||6||8.1||12.1||.145||.322||.386||.467||143|
|2009 – A+||8||7.9||13.2||.120||.292||.356||.412||116|
|2010 – AA||15||10.5||10.7||.147||.295||.375||.442||123|
|2011 – AAA||12||7.9||11.4||.148||.309||.372||.457||128|
Hague began the 2011 season in Indianapolis, while the Pirates were tipsy at the prospect of having Lyle Overbay at first base every day. Overbay is a nice man who was previously a decent first baseman, albeit one who was always on the low end of the power spectrum for the position, and whose skills primarily consisted of hitting doubles and drawing walks. By June 1, it had become apparent to everyone, except Clint Hurdle and the Pirates’ front office, that Overbay was done, washed-up, kaput. But he was trotted out there throughout the month of June, as the Pirates fought to stay in contention despite an anemic offense that made each run a precious commodity. Faced with Overbay’s disintegration, the Pirates could have cut him loose and called up Hague. After all, in June Hague was busy putting up a batting line of .402/.469/.675 at Indianapolis. It would have been statistically impossible for Hague to have performed at a lower level than Overbay, but the Pirates stood pat.
In addition to ignoring Hague in June, when he was probably the hottest hitter in professional baseball, the Pirates failed to reward him with a promotion when rosters expanded in September, and then – just when everybody was absolutely sure they had written him off for dead – they protected him on the 40-man roster.
Hague is the type of player who doesn’t fit into any predefined scouting mold. He is a first baseman who doesn’t hit for a lot of power. He doesn’t hit lefties well enough to be an obvious platoon option. He’s a right-handed defender. In other words, he is the type of player who will always be defined by what he can’t do, instead of what he can do. As for the latter, Hague consistently makes excellent contact, doesn’t strike out much, draws a fair share of walks, puts up a fine OBP, and plays adequate defense. To give you an idea of where his talent level fits, here is a list of the top first basemen in AAA last year, ranked by wRC+:
When you remove lifers like Lahair, Pascucci, and Johnson, Hague’s ranking doesn’t look bad at all. I guarantee that there would have been a parade in Pittsburgh if the Pirates had acquired Yonder Alonso in the offseason, and there may even have been a small pizza party if they brought in Clint Robinson. But there is Hague, right behind them, and ahead of the guy that Milwaukee plans to play at the position this year.
Now, I am not saying that I believe Matt Hague is the long term answer at first base. His lack of power really is a significant deterrent, and he is probably close to reaching his ceiling already. My point, really, is that every player in an organization should be treated as an asset, and assets are there to be used one way or another, whenever you have the opportunity to do so. Hague could have contributed last year, and we all would be in a better position to assess his skill level at this point. But the way he was handled by the Pirates was totally inexplicable; now, with Casey McGehee, Nick Evans and Jake Fox in the fold, there are more obstacles in his path. At some point, the Pirates either have to give Hague some playing time, or find a team that has some need for him. The return may not be much, but it would be more than we are getting out of him now.