Tuesday, February 21, 2006

New Reds player was 'Moneyball' star

Scott Hatteberg has never batted better than .300 in his major league career but one chapter in a best-selling book made the Reds’ newest first baseman a household name among baseball purists.

Michael Lewis’ bombshell Moneyball devoted more than 20 pages to Hatteberg’s attributes as a ballplayer.

The premise was to prove Paul DePodesta, who was the Oakland A’s assistant GM at the time, correct in his assertion that a club could win with nine Hatteberg’s in the lineup. In fact, DePodesta went as far as to determine that Hatteberg would have out-produced the New York Yankees by as many as 950 runs to 897 if he had taken every at-bat for the A’s over a full season.

We’ll soon find out what impact Hatteberg will have in Great American Ball Park.

The Reds signed the 36-year old to a one-year contract last week. The deal was reported to be worth $750,000 plus incentives. Wayne Krivsky signed Hatteberg less than four days after being named the new Reds general manager.

“He's certainly a professional hitter that takes good at-bats,” said Krivsky. “We have good reports on him.”

Hatteberg batted .256 with seven home runs and 59 RBI in 134 games for Oakland last season. He’ll likely back-up Adam Dunn at first base this season.
Talk about contrasting styles.

Dunn’s stat-line is consistent with that of most prolific power hitters. He hit 40 home runs with 101 RBI but struck out 168 times. He also had 114 walks and an on-base percentage of .387 in 543 at-bats.

Hatteberg, meanwhile, had on on-base percentage of .334 but only fanned 54 times in 464 at-bats. He walked 51 times breaking a streak of five consecutive seasons in which Hatteberg walked more times than he struck out.

Dunn avoided arbitration by signing a two-year deal worth in excess of $18 million. The acquisition of Hatteberg is certainly no threat to Dunn’s status on the team but it might be an indication of the attributes most valued by Krivsky and CEO Bob Castellini.

During his introductory news conference, Castellini referenced Sabermetrics as a valuable statistical tool in player evaluation.

“There's definitely room for Sabermetrics,” he said. “We won’t let it take over our baseball operations, but there is a need for it.”

Moneyball sent shockwaves through the baseball community with its suggestion that statistics could one day replace scouts and render many age-old player evaluation concepts obsolete.
Krivsky and Castellini aren’t likely to take things to that extreme but the dynamics of the Reds’ day-to-day lineup need to be re-tooled.

Too many strikeouts. Not enough situational execution at the plate.

Hatteberg, who owns a career .356 on-base percentage, has walked 432 times in his career. In 2004 with the A’s, he walked 72 times and struck out only 48 in 550 at-bats.

Former Reds GM Dan O’Brien got pounded for instituting a program in the minor leagues which required batters to refrain from swinging at the first pitch.

Hatteberg, who began his career with the Red Sox before they unceremoniously dumped him following an injury-plagued 2001 season, doesn’t swing at nearly 65-percent of the pitches thrown his way.

“There was nothing I hated more,” he said once. “than swinging at the first pitch and ground out. It struck me as a worthless experience.”

Might as well cue the Kiss-cam at Great American Ball Park when he’s at the plate. We’re going to be here awhile.

Hatteberg, who was signed solely as an insurance policy for Dunn at first base, will likely play a limited role with the club.

His signing was just one of several player personnel and front office moves made by Krivsky in his first week as GM. The Reds also acquired pinch-hitting specialist Quinton McCracken and local product Tuffy Rhodes.

DePodesta and the A’s waited exactly one minute to make Hatteberg an offer after the Rockies relinquished his rights at midnight on December 20, 2001. Krivsky waited four days to snare the Moneyball star.

The Reds don’t need nine Hatteberg’s on their roster to prove DePodesta’s point.

They should be pleased with having just one.

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