Key Stats: Despite missing 22 games with an oblique strain to start off 2011, and then not getting a HR in his first 21 games back (that was a span of 76 AB’s) Hart still finished the year with impressive power numbers, belting 26 HR’s and posting a 19.7% HR/FB ratio. Perhaps more importantly was that he had his best month last season in August going .321/.385/.594 with 8 HR. It was nice to see him hold up over a whole season after starting off with an injury that is so detrimental to a swing.
Skeptics Say: Hart isn’t getting any younger. He’ll be 30 this season, and his 20/20 days are clearly behind him, which is concerning because the outfield is generally a place where one looks to pile up steals. He is a player that you will only expect some power and some RBI’s from who won’t kill your average. Hart is a career .277 hitter but he has typically been better than that with averages of .285, .283, .260, .268, .295, .283 dating back to 2007. Hart’s career shows us that he generally has above average BABIP’s, so we shouldn’t use that as a negative when trying to project higher than career averages for him. He also saw a remarkably high number of first pitch strikes. If that normalizes he should post better numbers this season as well since he’ll have more favorable counts.
Peer Comparison: His speed is in decline, but his power is increasing. As I mentioned earlier, his HR/FB ratio was 19.7%, but I didn’t mention he did that while hitting a career low in fly ball percentage at 34.8. If that number goes back up to his career mark (41%) he can still have an expected regression in his HR/FB ratio and still have the chance to put up 30 HR. While turning 30 generally hurts things like defense or speed, it’s not a death sentance to power. Believe it or not, but hart is shaping up to look similar to Vernon Wells at this point in his career. At his peak Wells was a player that would deliver 25-30ish HR’s and give you 15-20 steals. Wells is going to be 33 this season, and while he still has power (25 HR’s last year) his speed has been in decline with 9 and 6 stolen bases the last two years. Hart didn’t get started as early as Wells, but I don’t see Hart batting .218 anytime soon either. All the other stats I talk about (fly ball rate, HR/FB ratio yada yada yada) are in the ballpark of each other too.
Team Outlook: Losing Prince would hurt any team, but the Brewers are probably going to be playing the first 50 games of the year without reigning MVP Ryan Braun as well, meaning Hart and newcomer Aramis Ramirez will be shouldering the offensive load the first 2 months of the year. Ramierz isn’t someone to write off, but he doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers either. At times last year Hart batted leadoff, but with Braun missing so much time, expect to see him 3rd or 4th in the lineup.
What They’re Saying: CBS Sportsline – #27 in the Top 80 Outfielders; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com – #23 in the Top 70 Outfielders & #76 in the Top 250 Players; RotoChamp – #80 in the Top 300 Players; Mock Draft Central – #24 Outfielder and #90 Overall
Projection: His HR/FB rate is going to drop some, but after hiting a career low in flyballs, that should work to even itself out. Look to Hart to maintain an acceptable batting average, deliver power and a healthy amount of RBI’s.
.285 AVG, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 7 steals, .340 OBP and .850 OPS in 540 AB’s.