In the movie Anchorman, the sportscaster Champ starts to ramble about his man-love for Ron Burgundy, prompting the line “Why don’t you take a few plays off, Champ?”
At this point in Ryan Hafner’s 2012 campaign, it might be time for him to take a few plays off, too. After Sunday’s 0.2 IP, 2 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 1 K (plus a hit batter) performance, Hafner is now 0-8 with an 8.15 ERA. In 14 starts spanning only 56.1 innings, he has given up 67 hits, 51 earned runs, and walked 63 batters while only striking out 28. Yikes. Jason Neighborgall may have a new roommate soon if Hafner keeps this up.
I’m not saying you set Hafner out with the recycling bin; I’m just saying that a trip to bullpen or back to the fields at Pirate City to re-examine his mechanics may be in order. Last year in 2011, Hafner made the same number of starts (14) for State College as a 19 year old. In those 65 IP, he allowed only 58 hits, struck out 31 and walked only 20 en route to a 3.15 ERA. Some time between then and now, his strikeout rate stayed essentially the same, but his walk rate nearly tripled.
Hafner does not possess the arsenal of his 2011 draft mate Nick Kingham. Hafner mostly works in the mid to high-80’s on his fastball. This could be part of the problem for his 2012 struggles, but the complete loss of control portends some underlying issue. Perhaps that issue is mental and all the struggles have snowballed. Keep in mind that Hafner started off the year on the disabled list, so he could still have some lingering physical and mental hangups too.
Coming into this season, we had Hafner ranked at #30 in the Pirates Prospect Guidebook. He is proof that the attrition rate of pitchers can be harsh — not that it is necessary to give up on him — and that not every pitcher will develop at the same linear rate. Next year, Hafner will assuredly be back at West Virginia and joined by Clay Holmes, Joely Rodriguez, and Luis Heredia. Here’s to hoping that he and the Pirates’ staff figure out what went wrong this season.