In an offseason that has left us plenty of confusion on what the Royals are doing, the one thing that has been fairly clear and noticeable is the addition of pitching depth. After starting the likes of Luke Farrell, Eric Skoglund, Chris Young, Onelki Garica, and Sam Gaviglio last year, it was clear that this was a dire need. And the Royals have done a prompt job of doing so, adding players like Wily Peralta, Trevor Oaks, Scott Barlow, and Brad Keller, along with recently adding Heath Fillmyer and Jesse Hahn from the Oakland Athletics through way of trade. And of these names, I think the latter one, Hahn, is by far the most intriguing.
The story on Hahn has been pretty clear thus far. After having a quick, stellar career as a prospect in the Rays and Padres organizations, he had quite the debut season with San Diego in 2014 (3.07 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 50.3% GB%). Traded to Oakland the following season, he continued to look good in the American League, but issues started to arise. Placed on the DL two separate times that year, both for a right forearm strain, Hahn only pitched half a season worth of starts. He was still productive nonetheless, owning a 3.51 FIP to go along with being worth 1.6 wins.
The last two season for Hahn have been somewhat of a confusion. Due to a combination of multiple injuries and lack of performance, he has only pitched in a combined 23 major league games since the start of 2016, adding in another 21 games in at the AAA level. Overall, the results have been a mixed bag in those games, and for the most part not good (5.59 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 6.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9), though 2017 by itself was slightly better (5.30 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9).
So there has been some good with Hahn the past few seasons, and there has been some bad. This has led to virtually unknown expectations going forward with plenty of question marks. Can he return to the better old form of himself? Can he still be a starter with his injury history, and if so, a how good of one? If he does end up in the bullpen, how would his stuff play out in there? Well, as these questions are currently remained unanswered, we do know one thing... that the Royals got themselves a relatively interesting, intriguing pitcher.
Most of the intrigue with Hahn has to with his fairly unique repertoire. He throws a relatively hard sinking fastball, usually sitting at around 94 MPH, a very high spinning curveball, and a slider.
The signature to Hahn’s fastball that he throws a high 61.9% of the time is the vertical action it gets, ranking in the top fifth of baseball among starters last year. This pitch is where he puts his high GB% into the makings, ranking in the top third of baseball in ground ball to pitch ratio the past three years.
Hitters seem to put the bat on the ball fairly easily though, as Hahn gets hitters to whiff on his fastball at a lowly 4.03% rate, ranking 312th out of 383 pitchers since 2015, minimum 100 results.
The curveball is likely Hahn’s best offspeed offering. Throwing this 17.6% of the time, he has kept hitters honest on it, allowing a .246 xwOBA since 2015. Singling out last year, the pitch was even better, as he allowed a .190 xwOBA on it, ranking in the top fifth of baseball in that category.
It looks as if seems to get a nice amount of movement on the pitch also, compared to rest of the league.
His curveball is a high spinning one too, coming in at 3,005 RPM, which ranked third out of 129 pitchers last year, minimum 200 curveballs thrown.
Hahn uses his changeup as more of a speciality pitch for lefties at the plate, throwing it to them a total of 131 times last year (21.6%), compared to the six times he threw it to righties (1.0%). Overall, this is probably the least desirable pitch in his arsenal. It works on a straight plane and doesn’t generate a whole lot of swing-and-miss.
With the changeup being his speciality pitch to left-handers, his slider is the speciality pitch to the right-handers, almost exclusively throwing it to just them. The pitch works with extreme simultaneous horizontal and vertical movement and generates it’s fair share of ground balls.
Looking over this collection of pitches from Hahn, I see that he’s going to be the kind of pitcher that gives a pitching coach a lot to work with. I’m really interested to see what Cal Eldred and Jesse Hahn might have in store working together. Hopefully something similar to something like Dave Eiland and Nate Karns curveball last year.
There really isn’t a whole lot of questioning if Hahn can put it all together at the major league level. He’s put up three well above-average seasons in his career, but there has been some downside, with all three of those seasons coming in limited time. So all in all, I don’t have a lot of confidence things will work out with Hahn, mostly due to the fact it takes him two seasons to pitch a full season’s worth of time. But with that being said, I do believe there is some upside in this. The Royals will due their due diligence and give him a look in the rotation sometime sooner or later, but his future could be in the bullpen, where his repertoire could make him a fairly intriguing reliever.
Considering the other side, if things do end up working out with Hahn, starter or reliever, the Royals have themselves a cheap, controlled pitcher that they could maybe deal for profit down the road.