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Eric Haase needs a big second half

What’s gone wrong with the hometown slugger this season?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Eric Haase has been bad in 2023.

Like, really bad. A year removed from an above average season at the plate, the 30-year-old backstop and sometime outfielder has seen his production crater offensively, while the return of Jake Rogers has decidedly pushed Haase into the backup role behind the plate.

In 61 games played, Haase is hitting .221/.271/.584 with an OPS+ of 64 and wRC+ of 61. Out of his 43 hits, only 11 have been for extra bases with a measly three home runs. In fact, he’s hit into more double plays (5) than he’s hit homers. Haase has struck out 55 times to 14 walks.

Baseball Reference values him as a negative-0.4 WAR player, while FanGraphs is even lower at negative-0.5. Haase was worth 1.2 and 1.3 wins in 2021 and 2022, respectively. So what’s gone wrong for the Detroit native?

To start, it’s worth looking at his BB% and K%. The former is almost completely dead even with his marks the last two seasons, going 6.8%, 6.8% to 6.7% from 2021 to now. There’s nothing out of the ordinary there.

He’s also striking out less. He went from a 31.2% K rate in 2021 to 27.6% to 26.2% in 2023 through June 29. There’s nothing to see there as far as explaining his performance.

His ISO, however, does back up what we’ve seen. He was in the high-100s to low-200s in his first two years with Detroit, but that number has tanked to .092 in 2023. Let’s look at that.

The Baseball Savant page shows some damning stats. In fact, the only numbers in which he ranks among the top half of the league are max exit velocity (58th percentile) and spring speed (surprisingly 70th percentile). Everything else is at or near the bottom of the MLB.

Haase’s average exit velocity is in just the 23rd percentile, showing that he’s not hitting the ball hard whatsoever. However, it’s almost exactly even with his 2022 number. Not much to see there. His contact rate is up and his chase rate is practically dead on.

There is something that stands out in terms of explaining the power outage, though.

He’s barreling balls better than just 24% of the league; his barrel percentage is 5.7% and he’s getting 3.8 barrels/PA. Those numbers are down significantly — the first was 13.7% in 2021 and still 8.7% in 2022. The latter stat was 8.4 and 5.7, respectively.

Okay, now why isn’t he getting the ball in the sweet spot? For starters, he’s hitting the ball to center field more than ever at the expense of pulls, and he’s getting more weak contact than ever before in his Tiger career. Those are tried-and-true recipes for dwindling success. He’s also getting on top of the ball at his highest rate, and getting under it less. He’s still an all-fields hitter — as he’s always been — with a spray chart dotted from line-to-line. But with the newfound affinity for center field and aversion to pulling, he’s costing himself hits.

All of this suggests that he’s driving it into the dirt and not hitting it to where it can either find a gap or clear the wall. This is backed up by his average launch angle of 13.9%. For context, the average home run is hit at an angle of 29 plus-or-minus five degrees — well off from where Haase currently sits.

As a result, his hard hit rate is down a whopping 4.6% from last year, which had already plummeted 5.5% from the year before. Forty-one percent of his contact has come off the bat as a grounder. This has made his xBA, BA, xwOBA, wOBA, xSLG and SLG percentages all drop from last season. Baseball Savant currently lists his similar batters as 2022 Tyrone Taylor, 2022 Tyler Naquin, 2021 Kyle Garlick and — hey! — 2023 Kody Clemens, who also has contributed to the Tigers’ loss column with a walk-off in Philadelphia earlier this season.

Perhaps part of it comes from his aggression. While Haase has never been a particularly patient hitter — refer back to his yearly BB% — he’s swinging at first pitches at a 34.9% clip, up 4.6% from 2022. He hacked at the first pitch just 26.2% in his breakout 2021 season.

Could that explain part of it? Maybe.

It’s reasonable to assume that getting Haase to lay off on those first pitches and attempt to work at bats longer could help him settle in and get a better read on the pitcher’s release. While it would be difficult to reinvent him completely as a hitter, it would give him more opportunities to find that favorite pitch in the right zone — his best numbers come on fastballs and breaking balls, while off-speed pitches eat him alive. On the other hand, he’s actually getting more fastballs and less curveballs first pitch this season, it’s just that the increase in fastballs comes from more sinkers, which he’s doing nothing against this season (.276 wOBA) after absolutely crushing sinkers (.471 wOBA) in 2022.

In general, Haase’s tendencies run in direct contrast to the Tigers’ new offensive identity of taking pitches and making the pitcher work by drawing more walks. Haase has never been particularly disciplined, with chase rates of 39.2 and 40.2 percent in 2022 and 2023, respectively. So the margin of error here was already pretty slight.

Perhaps the most concerning part of all of this is that Haase’s strength is crushing lefties, and yet he’s done nothing against them this season. In fact, he’s been worse against lefties than right-handers, and that doesn’t fit at all with the role available to him.

Part of this can perhaps be attributed to aging: Haase is 30 years old. He was an older post-prospect as it was when Al Avila acquired him in 2020. Physically, he doesn’t really appear to have lost a step, but it’s quite possible he’s lost just a bit of reaction time, which can be enough with an offensive profile that was already fringy in terms of discipline and pitch recognition. He hasn’t lost any speed, in fact he’s actually grading out even better this season, but his defense at both catcher and outfield have fallen off substantially to go with his struggles at the plate.

He hasn’t been great behind the plate, either. His pop time is in just the ninth percentile and, while his framing is better, it’s still only 44th percentile. He’s caught only three baserunners stealing out of 19, good — or bad? — for a 16% CS rate.

The Tigers aren’t going to cut Haase, at least not yet; their next-best catching option is Donny Sands, who currently has a .652 OPS with one home run in Toledo. They’ll likely have to wait until either Dillon Dingler is ready or they acquire another catcher through either free agency or trade. As a backup catcher, Haase is still playable for now, but heading into his first arbitration year, the pressure will ramp up quickly next spring if he can’t put together a more convincing second half.

His innings in the outfield are already dwindling, and that is only going to continue. Riley Greene and Akil Baddoo should be back with the team in the next few weeks, and with Kerry Carpenter mashing and Matt Vierling proving he belongs in the bigs, innings are going to be scarce. Who knows, maybe even one of Austin or Parker Meadows will be in Detroit this season, too. Haase will have to take advantage of opportunities that are quickly becoming more limited.

Unless he can get back to driving the ball, Eric Haase won’t have a part to play in the Tigers’ future. And at this point, he may only have a few months to show signs that he can get back on course.