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Alen Hanson’s batted-ball luck is running out

Alen Hanson got off to a great start, but he’s becoming less effective as the season wears on.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When Alen Hanson burst onto to the Giants, he was all doubles and dingers. It feels redundant at this point to say this, but the Giants didn’t get any breakout performances from their bench players last year. To have a previously bad player come over and go Chris Taylor all over the joint was a welcome surprise.

Back in May, when I wrote about the luckiest and unluckiest Giants hitters, I said this about Hanson:

On my bedroom wall there hangs a X-Files poster reading, “I want to believe,” but instead of a UFO, it’s Alen Hanson ripping doubles and swatting dingers.

His sudden excellence, as rad as it was, seemed unsustainable. He doesn’t walk a lot, and his average exit velocity currently sits at 83.2. Somehow, he’s turned nearly half his hits into extra-base hits. Part of that is speed—only Steven Duggar and Andrew McCutchen are faster on the Giants—so you can expect him to turn some singles into doubles or doubles into triples, but probably not at this clip.

He has since fallen into an expected slump. This was never going to last. Hanson wasn’t going to hit for an OPS of 1.000, but the way his batted ball profile catching up with his is alarming. His overall numbers on the season still look good-- but that’s because he was so, so hot to begin the season.

Even with his production tapering off, he still has the greatest positive difference between wOBA and xwOBA among batters with at least 150 plate appearances. His wOBA of .331 is a bit above average, but expected stats say he should be at .257.

One of the things holding him back his obvious. He can’t hit lefties. This season, he’s hitting .222/.245/.267 against lefties and .233/.269/.326 for his career. Platooning Hanson isn’t really a problem with a healthy lineup because his defense is—let’s put it this way, the Giants would much rather have Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, or Kelby Tomlinson playing middle infield. His defense is one of the reasons the Giants were seeing if Austin Slater could play second. With such drastic platoon splits and limited defensive capabilities, Hanson is going to have a hard time making it as a starter.

With Panik on the disabled list, Hanson has had to take more at-bats from the right side. Of course, his overall numbers have been hurt.

The issue is that Hanson’s production from the left side has also fallen off. After two months keeping his OPS over 1.000 as a left-hander, Hanson’s OPS is just .636 as a lefty in July. It’s a small sample sure, but his prior performance was buoyed by a .349 BABIP.

It’s hard to tell who the real Alen Hanson is. If Hanson had put together an above average season of hitting, I wouldn’t be paying much attention to this. His July performance hasn’t been much worse than Brandon Belt’s or Buster Posey’s, but they get the benefit of being good before. Hanson hasn’t proven that he can continue this level of production, so he gets an article written about him exploring all his faults.

He is only 25. This could just be a normal slump. He could make adjustments or he’ll age like wine. Or Hanson is doomed, and he’ll never be above replacement again. There’s no middle ground here.

Pitchers aren’t throwing him a different selection of pitches. They’re still mostly attacking him away. Overall, his chase rates and whiff rates haven’t altered drastically. He’s swinging at more pitches compared the beginning of the season, but that might just be small-sample noise. If anything has changed about his approach, it’s that he’s swinging at fewer breaking balls—pitches he hasn’t hit well at all—and swinging more at fastballs and offspeed pitches.

The only group of pitches Hanson does well against is fastballs, so the over aggression with offspeed stuff could explain part of the drop in productivity. Mostly, it seems like his BABIP and wOBA are catching up with him.

Currently, Hanson is only good against right-handers that throw him fastballs. That’s a valuable thing to have, but an easy thing to exploit. The production the Giants got from Hanson earlier in the year was a welcome gift, but it won’t continue if Hanson doesn’t become a more complete hitter at the plate.