Brewers don’t trade Corey Hart… but extend him!


We’ll touch on the work that the Milwaukee Brewers did over the trade deadline later today, specifically their decision to hold onto Prince Fielder for the remainder of the season with so many teams looking for DH-type help (the White Sox, the Yankees, possibly the Tigers, among others). Anyway, for the moment, we’ll look into this unexpected and lasting decision that Doug Melvin and Co. have decided to make.
This article on FanGraphscovers a lot of the ground for Hart’s statistical value, so I encourage you to look at it, especially since the ultimate conclusion by Matt Klaassen is one I share. In fact, he sounds a little more optimistic and forgiving than even I would be.
It all comes down to how you view Corey Hart‘s career through the lens of his 2010 season. Many, including my lady’s sister’s fiancee and apparently the Brewers brass, see that he is having his best offensive season ever, largely based on the 23 home runs he’s launched this season, and see that he has turned the corner and is a corner OF to be feared from here on out. Maybe like a new Ryan Ludwick, who had a similar breakout season, albeit being more valuable overall than Hart in almost all respects. The point is that the power (37 longballs for Ludwick in his first full-season with the Cards, something like what Hart is on pace for) was comparable.
While  Ludwick is a fine corner OF, his power hasn’t stuck around to the tune of mid-30s homers annually, to this point.
And that is the problem with Hart. While he is having an outstanding season, the only thing making it outstanding is his homers. At risk of repeating Klaassen, I’ll remind you that his K-rate is pretty much the same, his walk-rate has actually regressed, his BABIP is a little high (suggesting a smidgen of luck with his .294 average) and his line-drive rate is pretty much identical to his past few seasons, meaning that Hart isn’t just squaring up the ball tons more.
The only real differences are an increased amount of flyballs vs. groundballs, which could represent a shift in approach or some other unknown factor (Hart’s GB/FB ratio for his career is .92, but this season is .74), and most importantly, a HUGE boost in his home run to fly ball rate, which is one of the values most affected by luck. I’m in the camp that plants Hart’s current 17.7 HR/FB ratio as the wholly unsustainable category. His past four seasons saw rates of 13 percent, 12.2 percent, 9.9 percent and 8.8 percent. He’s essentially doubled his rate from last year.
To put this in other words, and this can’t be emphasized enough, Corey Hart is pretty much the same player he was last season, the guy with a wOBA of .331, a batting average of .260 and just 12 homers, and one of the most frustrating players on the team. He is that player (who was probably a little misfortunate with his HR/FB rate) with a VERYfortunate HR/FB rate. One that he is extremely unlikley to ever repeat again in his career.
If you were to give Hart a 12 percent HR/FB (he career rate, roughly) rate this year, he’d have about 15, with his numbers increasing because of his increased number of flyballs. At that rate he’d finish with about 20-24.
In Hart’s 2007 and 2008 he hit 24 and 20 home runs.
Add in that Hart is a poor fielder and seems to be trending negatively in that respect and the Brewers just have a big raise to a guy who seems a safe bet to regress back to a .340-ish wOBA hitting, poor fielding corner outfielder, who has managed three sub-1.2 WAR seasons with the team already.
For a team with plenty of better options to spend money on, like Rickie Weeks, or just about every free agent pitcher coming up this offseason, I find it puzzling that the Crew would allocate resources on Hart. Sure, if he turns out to be a 30-homer hitting guy annually and his defense levels out at about -9 UZR/150 (not good at all, but at least not worsening) it could be a bargain. However, I think they’ll regret this deal come 2012 when he’s making $9 million and 2013 when he’s a $10 million player.