CHICAGO, IL: Bryan LaHair #6 of the Chicago Cubs rounds the bases after hitting a home run to tie the game in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Bryan LaHair is hitting the crap out of the ball for the Chicago Cubs. This quad-A hitter might not be a quad-A hitter after all.
This past offseason, the Chicago Cubs swung a trade for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who looked like he'd be the Cubs' first baseman of both the present and the future. But the Cubs were like, no, hold on, he's going to the minors, and we have this Bryan LaHair guy. From the outset, the Cubs committed to Bryan LaHair. They even committed to batting LaHair in the middle of the order.
That seemed to say more about the Chicago Cubs than it said about Bryan LaHair. What it seemed to say about the Chicago Cubs was that the Chicago Cubs were awful light on hitters. The Chicago Cubs are awful light on hitters, but right now, Bryan LaHair's got nothing to do with that.
Wednesday afternoon, the Cubs lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. That wasn't a surprise, because the Cubs are bad, and the Cardinals are good. Wednesday afternoon, Bryan LaHair hit a home run - his fourth - and lifted his OPS to 1.190. In the bottom of the fourth inning, LaHair got this 0-and-1 fastball from Lance Lynn:
Down, inside. This is where LaHair hit the fastball:
That's a home run to left-center field. I'll grant that LaHair might've gotten a boost from the wind. Still, that's a display of real opposite-field power.
Of LaHair's four homers this season, three have been hit to left-center field. One was pulled, and this is the one that was pulled:
In a brief trial late last season with the Cubs, LaHair hit two home runs. He pulled one, and hit another to dead center. Even by combining LaHair's 2011 with his 2012, we're dealing with a very small sample of data. But what LaHair has demonstrated over that sample is that he has broad power.
It's something you can check off the list of reasons to believe he's just a quad-A hitter. Some quad-A hitters might have just pull power, which major-league pitchers can easily exploit. LaHair doesn't have just pull power. Some quad-A hitters might not be able to hit a breaking ball. Here's LaHair blasting a slider, and from a lefty to boot.
Since joining the Cubs last season, LaHair has batted just 123 times. That's practically nothing. That's a little more than a month. But over those 123 plate appearances, he's slugged .602. About half of his hits have gone for extra bases. He's struck out a lot, but he's also drawn a number of walks.
I don't think there are red flags in LaHair's plate-discipline numbers. Since 2011, he's swung at the same rate of balls out of the zone as Matt Wieters and Ryan Ludwick. He's swung at the same rate of balls in the zone as David Wright and Torii Hunter. He's made contact as often as Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo. LaHair's plate-discipline numbers aren't good. He misses the ball more often than the average hitter. He chases more often than the average hitter. But there's nothing dreadful in here, and it's amazing how much you can make up for when you hit for real power.
What Bryan LaHair's doing - well, he's not really doing it against lefties. Highlight above aside, LaHair has mostly been platooned. But by killing the ball, LaHair is supporting the organization's belief that he's a real big-league hitter. Look at his numbers without worrying about his background and you'd see numbers that look like they belong to a guy who fits.
Once upon a time, it didn't look like LaHair would amount to much. I'm a Mariners fan who remembers having LaHair in the system, and I and others wrote him off because he was a first baseman who didn't hit the ball hard enough. Here's the progression of LaHair's triple-A home runs per balls hit in the air:
LaHair's power has been coming on, and perhaps most remarkably, triple-A Iowa plays in a homer-reducing ballpark. LaHair was doing tremendous damage in the minors, and he wasn't doing it in Las Vegas or Albuquerque.
Now LaHair's doing that damage in the major leagues. He's not as good as his current 1.190 OPS, obviously. He's not as good as his composite 2011-2012 1.017 OPS, obviously. Bryan LaHair isn't Albert Pujols, even though he's out-hitting Albert Pujols by a hell of a margin, which is a sentence fragment I just spent five minutes reading and re-reading and re-re-reading. What Bryan LaHair is, is good enough. Probably. Good enough to hit in the majors. Good enough to start in the majors, even if in a platoon. People wondered whether Bryan LaHair was a quad-A hitter. He looks more like a big-league hitter on a quad-A team.