The worst part about this, no, it's not the insane amount of money the Marlins would be taking on (Crawford's contract has approximately $118 million remaining through 2017) it's that Marlins fans are lining up to run Hanley out of town. Hanley's the guy that it seems the fans everywhere around the country but here have embraced (remember, he was the starting SS in 3 consecutive All-Star games from 2008-10). I'm still not entirely sure why he's so disliked down here. He's taken home a lot of individual hardware (2006 Rookie of the Year, a closet full of Silver Sluggers, a runner up MVP finish, a Batting Title). Baseball, though it is often identified as an individual sport really is a team sport unlike any of the others; you can't "feature" your best player, like you can in basketball. You can't tailor your game plan around your team's strengths like you can in football. As much as I'm sure people want to "blame" Hanley for how mediocre this team has been since 2008, blame Larry Beinfest for the shit-sandwich he got back from Detroit.
But the point isn't about how little blame Hanley deserves for the past, it's about how close he is to being the "old" Hanley. The one it seems most of the Marlins fans begrudgingly accepted because, you know, he was maybe the best player on the planet.
Fangraphs.com keeps track of a lot of advanced baseball stats. If you've never checked that site out and you love baseball, do yourself a favor and take a look, it'll really enhance your understanding of what's going on in the game. Baseball is really the only sport where you can say with complete certainty when a play begins and ends for the designated player. There isn't the complexity of possession/position like basketball, or the unusual schemes like football. The pitcher throws the ball, the batter either reaches base or makes an out. It's brilliant in its simplicity, and therefore lends itself rather well to statistical analysis. Put another way, there are very few things that occur on a baseball field that are not quantifiable, especially when it comes to offense.
Two of my favorite stats are LD%, which is simply the percentage of balls put in play that are line drives, and BABIP, which is the batting average of balls put in play. Depending on the year, the average BABIP is going to be somewhere around .290. A line drive percentage (LD%) around 20 is considered very good.
The reason these kind of stats are helpful beyond the stats many have come to know (as I like to call them, 'baseball card stats' - HR, BA, RBI) is that sometimes the process is more important than the result. If you've taken a test without studying, but somehow managed to get an A-, that's probably not a repeatable result. It's kind of the same thing here. You'd like to know, at least as much as possible, what's being put into a player's year and whether his success is sustainable, or if his struggles are a trend or a flukey outlier.
That brings us to Hanley. Using the baseball card stats, he's on pace for a good, not great, final stat line: .249 average, 25 HR, 85 RBI (and 23 SB, so he'd be 20/20 for all you fantasy nuts out there). That's certainly not the kind of year you'd expect from him, but given the noise around him, you'd think he was Mike Lowell circa 2005.
By anyone's admission, Hanley was very good from 2007-2009, and merely very good in 2010. In that time frame his BABIP was .353, .329, .379 (hello batting title), and .327. His LD% in those years was 18%, 17.5%, 19.8%, 16.3%. Aside from his 2009, when he had a .379 BABIP and a 19.8% LD%, nothing stands out as absolutely positively unrepeatable, and, given the relative consistency in those years, seems to be what you'd come to expect from Hanley in a "good" Hanley-type year.
Let's focus on 2012. 18.4% LD% (yes, higher than any "very very good" Hanley year other than 2009). What's the takeaway from that? He's making good contact at a very high rate. Given that his season is now 350 AB's old, that LD% isn't flukey either, so no "small sample size" alarms should be going off, either. So what's the problem? It's his BABIP: .273. You can have a low BABIP with a high LD%, but it's not that common (for comparison's sake, in 2011 Hanley had a .275 BABIP with a 15.9% LD%). Usually, good contact (a line drive) is going to get hits. Consistently good contact is going to translate to a pretty stat line.
Henley's holding up the end of the bargain he can control: contact. His LD% of 18.4% compares favorably to any "good" Hanley year. His other advanced stats do as well (it's all there on fangraphs.com, but at this point I assume you're already comatose so we'll skip that discussion). It's all coming down to his very low BABIP. To me, that simply screams horribly bad luck. If his BABIP were around .275 with a low LD% it makes sense. Having a BABIP that low with such a high LD% makes no sense at all, and at least the home-run totals (on pace for his 3rd highest season total) back that up; good contact gets good results.
This is why trading Hanley is a terrible idea. His peripherals say he's close to breaking out, and, at the very least, is putting in the process that made Hanley elite for a four year stretch. Maybe this season is too far gone for his baseball card stats to reflect the kind of year he's "secretly" having, but the kind of contact he's making doesn't result in bad years all that often, and when it does, it's just awful luck.
Given the kind of numbers Hanley's posting everywhere but his BABIP, it's only a matter of time before the "old" Hanley returns.