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Finding Time for Jerry Hairston

About a month ago, when the non-waiver trade deadline passed, I wasn’t happy with the results. In my eyes, Doug Melvin and Co. had really let a golden opportunity slip by in acquiring fringy second basemen Felipe Lopez and Jerry Hairston Jr. while their biggest need (a shortstop who was at least competent with either the bat or the glove) go unfulfilled.

I’d like to think I’ve matured and become a little wiser since then, and while I still don’t know why the Brewers are so enamored of Yuniesky Betancourt (my personal hunch is that Betancourt’s bosses are watching his face, which is very large and meaty, and not unattractive in a platonic sense, instead of his play on the field) it’s becoming increasingly hard to bash the work done by the Brewers’ front office. The trade for Francisco Rodriguez looks to be a great move, even if the move has (apparently) stretched the team’s budget beyond what was planned. However, Hairston’s ability to not embarrass himself anywhere with both the bat and glove is proving invaluable down the stretch, to the point that there are now whispers that he could steal some of Betancourt’s playing time once Rickie Weeks comes off the DL.

Today, we’re going to look at Hairston’s ability to hit and field enough for the various positions he is asked to play, and see how it compares to the men who occupy these positions full-time.

We’ll start with the easy part. Hairston isn’t a great hitter by any means, but is able to get on base enough to be a modest asset so long as he remains at the right of the defensive spectrum, which is exactly where his employers need him. Combining his stints in Washington and Milwaukee, Hairston has hit .270/.341/.372, in a season where the average centerfielder has hit .265/.335/.412, the average second baseman has hit .259/.319/.383, and the average shortstop has hit .260/.314/.372.  Compare that last figure with the .252/.272/.375 line of Yuniesky Betancourt, and you get an upgrade, but not a significant one.

Theoretically, replacing Betancourt with Hairston would generate an extra run of offense about once every 40 plate appearances. Doing the same thing in centerfield (using stats against left-handers because the position in question is the short side of a centerfield platoon, which was occupied by Carlos Gomez at the time of his injury), Hairston and Gomez are practically neck-and-neck, and that’s giving Gomez credit for a seemingly fluky power spike against southpaws that there’s no evidence he’ll be able to sustain. By now, you should recognize a pattern: By being merely an average hitter, Hairston is better with the bat than two of the Brewers’ (semi-)regulars. That says something about both of them.

Of course, there’s a reason that Gomez can hit like he does and still have a job: defense. Whether or not Hairston can hit at a level to look like he could hold an up-the-middle position is relatively small beer compared to his being able to hold his own defensively there. To answer that last end of the proposition, we’ll look at an average of UZR, DRS, and TotalZone from the last three years, then put the whole thing on a scale of 150 games. (I’m not a big fan of play-by-play defensive metrics, but we have to get a run estimate somehow.)

Looking at shortstop numbers from 2009-11, Hairston ends up at less than one run above average per full season. Betancourt, on the other hand, is listed as costing his pitchers about 13 runs per year. Hairston has only played centerfield sporadically over his career, but defensive metrics aren’t impressed with the innings he did play there, generally rating him a double-digit negative, which is the rough opposite of Carlos Gomez’s work.

Hairston isn’t a threat to Gomez’s job and probably shouldn’t be, but giving him the occasional start at short over the next few weeks wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. The move would likely give the Brewers a few runs on both sides of the ball, but that’s more because of the shortcomings of the incumbent than anything Hairston himself does.