STAT LINE 110 games, 310 PA, .252/.274/.425, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 7/10 SB
We’re two years removed from the middle infielder glut of 2016, when Ruben Tejada, Ramiro Pena, Ehire Adrianza, Grant Green, Kelby Tomlinson, and Gordon Beckham all competed for utility time. That group combined for 4 home runs and 33 RBI in 339 at bats while slashing .265 / .322 / .357 (.679 OPS). It took six players to do all that but Alen Hanson did basically all that and a bit more all by himself in 2018.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and say that I think you should think that Alen Hanson had a great year, but he was certainly an exciting player for half a season — certainly, more exciting than we had any reason to expect. The Giants had somehow backed their way into an interesting role player who had been cast aside by another organization. That luck has usually only come on the pitching side of things and it felt like a minor miracle when both Hanson and Derek Holland both had solid years in the same season.
But again, Hanson’s season wasn’t great and it was only solid relatively speaking. His 90 OPS+ was eighth-best on the team (minimum 200 plate appearances), better than Longoria, Gorkys, Austin Slater, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence, and Gregor Blanco but, you know, still 10% worse than league average.
His pre-All Star Break line was a shiny .283 / .314 / .503 (.817 OPS) in 170 plate appearances. The entire sport used the break, apparently, to figure him out, because for the rest of July through the end of the season, he put up a stiflingly bad .215 / .225 /.333 (.558 OPS) in 140 PA... although... it should be noted that the entire team slashed .219 / .272 / .326 (.598) after the break.
His switch hitting and positional versatility (he played 2B, 3B, SS, LF, and RF) were certainly qualities he possessed on paper, but in the field they didn’t necessarily prove to be standout qualities. He hit a lot better as a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching (.782 OPS) than as a right-handed batter against left-handed pitching (.439 OPS) and his -9.1 UZR/150 (a measure which attempts to equalize recorded defensive play to 150 games played) was 259th out of 369 defenders (who played in a minimum of 300 innings). So, he was both below league average as a hitter and cost the Giants nearly a win over the course of the season with just his glove.
Still, he was 25 this past season (turned 26 on October 22nd) and really seemed to realize some of the potential that had made him a top prospect with the Pirates. Athletic-ish with some pop and a lot of energy. On paper, he was exactly what a moribund team needed and in spurts he delivered on that promise.
Role on the 2018 team
For a good chunk of the year he was a human highlight reel. It all started with his very first game on April 28th with an exciting home run late in the blowout game in which Pablo Sandoval pitched his scoreless inning. He wasn’t a pinch-hitter in that particular moment, but a late-game substitution, a role in which he really shined (1.029 OPS in 55 plate appearances as a sub).
He had a big June series against the Diamondbacks that saw him become a sort-of pinch-hitter extraordinaire:
The Giants are already much improved in the pinch-hitting department, thanks in part to Alen Hanson. Last year, the Giants had a grand total of 5 pinch hit home runs. They had 4 in 2016. Through 62 games this season, the Giants already have 3.
His 11 pinch hits were tied for fourth in MLB and contributed to the Giants’ 58 total pinch hits that were fifth-most in MLB. They wound up with 7 pinch hit home runs, tied for fifth.
His power created big hits and his legs created this memorable moment, unquestionably Hanson’s biggest of the season:
... which led to the coolest image of the season:
Role on the 2019 team
An athletic switch hitter with some pop who’s coming off a year with some success would seemingly conform to Farhan Zaidi’s vision of “adding a little youth to the roster, a little athleticism” and so, unless he totally bombs out in Spring Training, he seems like a good bet to make it onto the Opening Day roster as a bench player... or else be included in a trade.
Final grade: C+
When you’re the eighth-best hitter on the team, you’re the eighth-best hitter on the team.