You’d think veterans are easy to project.
Not so for Padres utilityman Jerry Hairston.
Hairston was a moderately useful player from 1998-2005, but was worth a combined -0.9 WAR between 2006 and 2007, hitting below the Mendoza Line in nearly 400 plate appearances in hitter-friendly parks (Texas and Wrigley).
Going into 2008, the then-31-year-old looked like he was on his way out of the league.
Hairston then shockingly broke out in 2008, posting 2.6 WAR in just half a season, hitting .326/.384/.487 with the Reds.
In 2009, he reverted back to his pre-2006 form, hitting .251/.315/.394 between Cincinnati and the Yankees.
So what do the Padres have in Hairston?
Is he around a .259/.328/.373 hitter (his career averages)? Was 2008 an aberration? Were 2006 and 2007 aberrations? Will the 2008-2009 drop continue, rendering him back to 2006-07 levels?
The one thing we do know is that Hairston is two months shy of 34, so whatever his true talent level is, it’s unlikely to get better, particularly since his new park is far less friendly than his last few.
As he ages, Hairston has walked at lower rates than he did when he was younger, but he’s also hitting for a bit more pop, so he’s more likely to hit .259/.310/.400 than at his career .259/.328/.373 averages. However, he’s in the wrong park for the power increase to surface a whole lot.
Hairston is going to need to hit for a high average to be a valuable offensive player. He’s going to walk between 6 and 8 percent of the time, and he’s likely to have a .100-.125 ISO playing half his games in San Diego, so he’s going to need to hit around .270-.275 to be a contributor with the bat.
He is a reliable defender, with a spectacular outfield glove and an average one at all four infield spots. Hairston may or may not be better than David Eckstein at second (he probably is, but that’s not saying much), but his versatility makes him a better fit for a utility role. He could give just about anyone a day off, serve as a pinch-hitter, and be a late-game defensive replacement for below-average left fielder Kyle Blanks (at least until the Padres trade Adrian Gonzalez).
I think Hairston will hit around .260/.305/.380 this year and be a nice defender. In short, he should be a serviceable utilityman, but given all the statistical noise in his 2006-2009 profile, I’m far from sure as to what his true value is.