Handicapping Corey Hart

Corey Hart had the kind of year that will drive you nuts.  After a down 2009, Hart became a lightning rod for fans after winning a $4.8 million payday in arbitration.  He lost his right field starting gig to Jim Edmonds in spring training last year, only to win it back in epic fashion with career highs in both HR (31) and RBI (102).  He earned his second all-star berth and a 3-year, $26.5 million contract extension that bought out two free agency years.  So what can we reasonably expect this year?

We know Hart brings average to slightly below-average defense to right field.  Having the speedy Gomez in center might take a little pressure off of him in that respect.  But most of the questions seem to revolve around his offensive numbers.

Now, I’m not a fortune teller.  But I can say with relative certainty that a healthy* Corey Hart is going to hit at least 20 home runs.  Hart has been fairly consistent when it comes to the long ball, hitting a round-tripper in about 4% of his plate attempts.  25 seems ambitious, but it’s not a stretch.

In fact, Hart could very well be a member of the 25/25 club in 2011.  Now, I realize he’s never hit that 25-steal plateau before, but bear with me.  He had 23 in each of his first two full seasons with the club (2007 and 2008).  His stolen bases dipped precipitously in 2009 and 2010, but Ken Macha was notoriously afraid of making outs on the bases and didn’t test defenses like Ron Roenicke is expected to.  Admittedly, the 25 steal projection might be overly optimistic if Hart bats second in the order.  Roenicke may not want to green light him with Braun and Fielder coming up.

What about batting average and on-base percentage?  Hart’s best year for BA and OBP came in 2007 (.295 and .353, respectively).  I’m guessing he’s not going to reproduce those numbers, nor his .283 average from 2011.  But he should hit pretty close to his career average at .275, and if his improved plate patience sticks, I expect his OPB will fall somewhere close to 2011’s .340.   

If Hart can put up those kind of numbers, I think he’s best suited to follow Prince in the number five spot (assuming Gomez can get on base more and bat first or second).  Although Hart’s SB and RBI opportunities will largely be determined by his place in the batting order, you know you’re going to get a .275 hitter with decent power and league-average defense.

*Hart was diagnosed with an oblique strain early in spring training.  Although he’s expected to be out only two weeks, those things have a way of hanging around and the Brewers will have to be careful in the early going.  Hart has shown he is not nearly as effective in injury-shortened seasons.

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