Tigers’ Eric Haase fighting through toxic effects of failure and frustration

Detroit News

Detroit — It wasn’t long ago, maybe in April, that manager AJ Hinch wouldn’t have thought twice about sending up right-handed hitting Eric Haase to pinch-hit in a key situation against a left-handed pitcher. It would have been, frankly, a no-brainer.

Haase has traditionally done a lot of damage against left-handed pitching. Last season, he slashed .281/.331/.447 with a .778 OPS against lefties. These days, Haase isn’t doing much damage against righties or lefties.

Which is why Hinch didn’t start him against two left-handed pitchers in the Texas series (Martin Perez and Cody Bradford). It’s why, in a big moment Thursday night, Hinch — though he twisted himself up in deliberation — opted to let left-handed hitting Kerry Carpenter bat against left-handed reliever John King with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning with the Tigers up, 4-3.

“I was toying with it back and forth and ended up not doing it (using Haase or right-handed hitting Tyler Nevin),” Hinch said. “And it ended up being a miserable three outs and quickly.”

Carpenter struck out and Jonathan Schoop banged into a fast 6-4-3 double-play. It was only a side note to the Tigers’ 8-5 win over the Rangers, thanks in no small part to Spencer Torkelson’s second home run of the game, a three-run shot that blew the game open in the eighth.

But, it illustrates not only the depths of Haase’s offensive struggles, but also the Tigers’ need for him to get cracking.

Asked to explain his decision, Hinch was forthright.

“Right now, our guys aren’t really swinging the bat great,” Hinch said, referring to both Haase and Nevin. “I wanted to get the ball in the air there and I thought Kerry had the best chance to do it. And we do want to sprinkle in at-bats for him against left-handed pitching.”

There was also a developmental component to the decision. The Tigers need to see if Carpenter can be an everyday player and for him to do that, he needs to show he can hit left-handed pitching. And he can’t do that without getting reps against them.

“Not everything is going to work out,” Hinch said. “Not every decision or non-decision that you make is going to work out.”

No, especially ones where the decision is between the lesser of evils — Carpenter vs. a lefty or a struggling right-handed hitter.

“Obviously, we need to get Haasey going,” Hinch said. “He’s been super frustrated.”

Haase was asked before the game Thursday if he was surprised not to be starting against Bradford.

“Not at all,” he said. “Not the way I’ve been playing.”

Haase entered the series in Colorado hitting .221 and slugging .313, which is a career-low mark, not counting his brief stint with Cleveland. He’s hit three home runs. Since May 28, he is hitting .167 (11-for-66) and slugging .200 in 21 games (16 starts).

Also troubling is his uncharacteristic lack of production against lefties — .184 (9 for 49) for the year.

“He’s been super limber with his movements and he looks quick,” Hinch said. “The bat speed is really good. Pitch selection is something I go to and he’s missing some hittable pitches. It’s just been an off-and-on year for him with pitch selection and hitting the pitches he thinks he should hit.

“His timing hasn’t looked right recently and when you are late on fastballs and early on breaking balls, this is a tough league.”

Looking under the hood

Haase’s damage to contact hasn’t been up to his standard, either. While his average exit velocity is roughly the same as it’s been (87.8 mph), his hard-hit rate is 37.6%, down from 42% last season, and a career-low mark.

His barrel percentage (balls struck at a premium launch angle with an exit velocity at 95 mph or better) is also a career-low, 5.7%. His average launch angle has been at 13 degrees, down from 17 degrees last year.

Hinch pointed out pitch selection. That involves more than recognizing spin and swinging at strikes. Haase is seeing more fastballs than ever (54%). But his batting average (.247) and slugging percentage (.323) against them are down.

He’s not chasing or swinging and missing at an inordinate rate. He’s just not impacting the baseball like he has and can.

Part of that could come from trying to cover too many areas of the plate. Just a rudimentary examination of Haase’s heat maps shows that he has a high swing percentage (60% and above) in every zone.

He swings at 65% of pitches down and away and that zone has been poisonous for him (48% whiff rate, 41% strikeout rate). That area of the plate is where right-handers throw their sliders and curveballs and where lefties throw their off-speed pitches.

Hard to make a living on those pitches in that area.

Haase knows this, of course. But when hitters are in full grind mode, they tend to do too much. It’s human nature to try harder when things are going bad. They want to swing their way out of the slump. And that’s like being in quicksand; the harder you fight to get out, the faster you sink.

Suddenly, you find yourself behind in every count. Haase has been in 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2 counts in more than half of his plate appearances (142 of 210).

Again, hard to make a living constantly having to hit pitchers’ pitches. Haase is slashing .196/.195/.241 when he’s behind in the count. When he gains count leverage, like most hitters are, he’s been a beast — .310/.474/.571 with a 1.045 OPS).

Of failure and frustration

Hinch, calling on his psych degree from Stanford, talked about the toxic effect of failure and frustration on players and managers, alike.

“It’s not just Haasey,” he said. “There’s a few of our players who are dealing with this. I feel this way as a manager sometimes. You can’t let the fail drive you so crazy that you shun the success. For me, as a manager, is it do you hate losing more than you like winning?

“Does the losing overly frustrate you to where you don’t enjoy the winning as much? That’s parallel to what a hitter goes through.”

Haase ripped a triple on Monday night in his first at-bat and scored the Tigers’ first run. But the three hit-less at-bats that followed doused the positive vibes from the triple.

He’s gotten five hits in his last 16 at-bats with a double, triple and four RBI. But, he still feels like he’s in the soup.

“They struggle with that, like, swing the bat OK for a few at-bats and then have a bad at-bat,” Hinch said. “Joey Wentz (pitcher who was optioned to Toledo), same thing. He has a really good game then he’d have a bad game and revert back to that frustrating mindset.

“This game is a tough game. It’s a mean game. It’s an unforgiving game when you get in that cycle. A couple of our players, the guys I mentioned, are battling that right now, from my observation.”

Haase, it seems relevant to point out, has a history shattering his slumps around this time of year.

In 2021, he hit .258, slugged .607 and hit 16 home runs with 40 RBIs in June and July. Last year, from June 16 to the end of July, he slashed .304/.353/.565 with six homers, 20 RBI and a .918 OPS.

It’s time.

Tigers at Rockies

First pitch: 9:10 p.m. Saturday, Coors Field, Denver

TV/radio: BSD/97.1


TBA, Tigers: This will be another bullpen game for the Tigers. Depending on the pitching needs Friday, lefty Zach Logue, whose contract was purchased from Toledo Thursday, could be the first man up.

TBA, Rockies: The Rockies have not announced their starter.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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