What Detroit Tigers see from Eric Haase as power numbers drop to career lows

Detroit Free Press

DENVER — There was a telling moment in the seventh inning of the Detroit Tigers‘ 8-5 victory over the Texas Rangers.

The bases were loaded when the Rangers replaced a right-handed reliever with left-handed reliever John King.

The Tigers allowed left-handed hitter Kerry Carpenter to bat, rather than bringing in right-handed hitter Eric Haase. The result, a swinging strikeout, didn’t matter as much as the thought process behind the decision.

“Right now, our guys aren’t really swinging the bat great,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said afterward. “We wanted to get the ball in the air. I thought Kerry had the best chance to do it.”

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The bigger issue is this: Haase — despite his status as a right-handed power hitter — wasn’t used by the Tigers in Thursday’s matchup with a left-handed reliever. He also didn’t start Friday against Colorado Rockies left-hander Austin Gomber.

“We only have two left-handed hitters, so some righties are going to sit on the bench,” Hinch said before Thursday’s game, when asked about leaving Haase out of the starting lineup. “There’s a number of things that go into it. Obviously, we need to get Haasey going. He’s been super-frustrated lately, but somebody has to sit.”

Haase is hitting .176 against lefty pitchers in 2023, after hitting .282 against them over 234 at-bats in 2021 and 2022. His power and fly ball numbers have plummeted over the past three years.

This season, the 30-year-old catcher has a .219 batting average with three home runs, 14 walks (6.5% walk rate) and 56 strikeouts (25.9% strikeout rate) in 63 games. He started 37 of his 44 games in March, April and May.

In June, Haase started just 13 games with five appearances as an in-game substitute.

“He’s been super-limber with his movements,” Hinch said. “He looks quick. The bat speed is really good. The pitch selection is always something I go to, and he’s missed some hittable pitches. … His timing hasn’t looked right recently. When you’re late on fastball and a little early on breaking balls, it’s a tough league.”

Haase agreed.

“It’s even more hard to accrue that timing when you’re not in there every day,” Haase said before Saturday’s game, “so you feel like you’re building on something, and then you don’t play for a couple days, the timing is going to be flip flopping a little bit. I’m trying to hammer that down, get back on time for the fastball and work off that.”

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Haase was arguably the Tigers’ most consistent player on offense in the 2021-22 seasons, posting a 106 wRC+ in 172 games — the best mark among 12 Tigers with at least 400 plate appearances over the two seasons.

He hit .242 with 36 home runs during that stretch.

But Haase’s isolated power (slugging percentage-batting average) has dropped each season, from .228 in 2021 to .189 in 2022 to .089 in 2023. Fellow catcher Jake Rogers, known more for his glove than his bat, owns a .255 isolated power, thanks to 10 home runs in 53 games this season.

Rogers, as a result, has taken the bulk of the playing time.

“I’m fouling off a lot of fastballs now,” Haase said, “and I’m hitting a lot of balls on the barrel that are straight up or straight into the ground.”

There’s no doubt Haase is capable of hitting, and hitting for power, in the big leagues. He proved himself as a mainstay in the past two seasons. It wasn’t too long ago that he was red-hot over a 21-game span; he hit .364 with four doubles, two home runs, seven walks and 17 strikeouts from April 12-May 8.

He had three multi-hit games in June, too.

“I don’t know if it’s different as much as it’s more often,” Hinch said of Haase’s frustration level. “This isn’t just to Haasey, but I think some of our players, and I feel this way sometimes as a manager, you can’t let the failures drive you so crazy and then shun the success.

“It’s a tough game, it’s a mean game, and it’s an unforgiving game when you get in that cycle. A couple of our players are battling that right now from my observation. It’s not something I’ve talked to them about, but it’s something I’m monitoring.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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