Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Eric Hinske Saga

Well, one thing we can say for certainy about Eric Hinske - the current polar conditions in Pittsburgh shouldn't scare him off, even if he did come from Tampa Bay.

The 31-year old was born and raised in Wisconsin, and so is no stranger to snow and sub-freezing winters, even admitting to be being a die-hard Green Bay Packer fan. (He did eventually follow the sun, though, and he and his family, wife Kathryn and daughter Ava, now make their offseason home in Scottsdale, Arizona.)

Hinske starred at his hometown Menasha High before moving on to the University of Arkansas, and he was the 17th round pick of the Cubs in 1998 as a junior. He was shipped him to the A's in 2001, and they flipped him a few months later, when the Blue Jays traded Billy Koch for Hinske as part of a youth movement.

He became an everyday player in 2002 at the hot corner, and batted second for Toronto. The rook hit .279 with 24 home runs, knocked in 84 runs, and scored 99 runs. He also led all AL third basemen in errors with 22. Well, no one's perfect. The big infielder won both the MLB and The Sporting News Rookie of the Year awards.

GM J.P. Ricciardi rewarded him with a 5-year, $14,750,000 contract in 2003. You can guess what happened next. He broke a bone in his right hand, and for the next two years didn't hit over .250 or more than 15 HR (though his fielding improved dramatically. Go figure.)

In 2005, the Blue Jays brought in Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand, both third basemen, and Hinske was moved to first base. He finished the season with a .262 average, 15 home runs, 68 RBI, and a .430 slugging percentage in a mild comeback.

The next year saw Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus join Toronto, and the corners were getting pretty crowded. Hinske moved to right field, but lost the job to Alex Rios and became for the first time in his career a spot starter and pinch hitter. But his versatility would pay off when Rios was injured and later, when Hillenbrand would implode in a tirade against the organization.

But he was too expensive to be a bench piece for the Jays, and in August he was sold to Boston. Hinske could now be considered an official journeyman. From that year on, he's played four positions in the field - the corner infield and outfield spots - and DH'ed every season. After a decent couple of months with the Red Sox in 2006, he hit .204 in 2007 and was cut loose.

Tampa Bay signed him for $800K, and he put togther a line of .247/20/60 off the bench for the AL champs. Now he's in Pittsburgh, a versatile veteran that's supposed to a good head around the clubhouse and with a bat that looks like a good match for PNC's Clemente Corner.

Over his seven-year career, Hinske has batted .254 with 105 homers and 399 RBIs. The only caveat is to keep him away from lefties if at all possible; he hit .143 against them last year and .219 lifetime.

But his bat isn't his only calling card. Hinske isn't a bad outfielder, comparable to Xavier Nady in range, though without the accurate arm. Most reports say he still plays a pretty decent third, too. He's supposedly a little shaky at first, but that may have more to do with unfamiliarity than ability.

His wheels are OK for a big guy - he's 6'-2" and 235 pounds - and he even swiped ten sacks last year for the Rays. So there are a lot of ways for John Russell to use him, and we're sure that went into the Pirate thinking when they targeted him.

The big guy also carries around a rep as someone who plays the game the right way, hard and with some energy, and is vocal when he needs to be and zips it up otherwise. That was no doubt part of the equation, too.

Hinske's major vice (to GW, anyway) is that he's a fan of heavy metal rock, calling Pantera and Metallica two of his favorite bands. So if he wants to be a clubhouse voice, he better bring earphones, hehe. Otherwise his music will drown out his message.

However, it does give the scoreboard operators the perfect excuse to blast out Metallica's "Hit the Lights" when he comes to the plate.

We think Pittsburghers will take a liking to Eric Hinske, especially if he can hit the lights above the short porch by the Allegheny.


WilliamJPellas said...

Hmmm, I had forgotten about his early career broken hand. It looks like he has been more or less permanently debilitated by that injury. Shades of Neil Walker. I wonder if there's anything on the 'net anywhere about his hand, and whether he admits to it still bothering him?

I'll tell you this much: if he can post the kind of numbers for us that he did for Tampa last season and for Boston in '06, we'll have a very useful guy. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Ron Ieraci said...

Well, Will, for all the hubbub, he's an upgrade over Dirt Dog. And when I read about that hand thing, hmmmm...isn't that what Pedro had?

And ya know what - he may be worth the contract; I based a lot of it on that disastrous 2007performance and before I checked out his fielding, which seems to be OK.