Ryan Hanigan

Roster Recap: Ryan Hanigan Came as Advertised

Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! We continue to break down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of the top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.

The acquisition of Ryan Hanigan last offseason, in exchange for oft-heralded post-prospect Will Middlebrooks, went largely unhyped. And rightfully so. Among players like Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, Hanigan is not really the player who stands out. But it was a strong addition to the roster by then Red Sox GM Ben Cherington. Christian Vazquez was slated to be the everyday catcher while Hanigan would serve as a solid backup and veteran presence for the young starter. Then, in April, it was announced that Vazquez needed Tommy John Surgery and the 35-year old Hanigan was thrust into the starting role.

Like Vazquez, Hanigan is considered a first-rate defensive catcher (5.2 and 5.9 FRAA in 2013 and 2014, respectively) who does not provide a lot with the bat (career .257 TAv) but does get on-base (career OBP .352). After getting the starting nod throughout April, his season was altered when a foul-tip, hit-by-pitch oddball play sent a ball into his exposed throwing hand, fracturing it and sending him to the disabled list for the next month. That injury, coupled with the abysmal Red Sox performance, afforded Blake Swihart the opportunity to start in the big leagues. His general success, and the Red Sox place in the standings, kept him in the lineup, pushing Hanigan back to a backup role. Hanigan ended up playing in 54 games, getting 201 plate appearances, in which he was essentially replacement level (0.4 WARP). The forced advancement and success of Swihart – in Hanigan’s absence – and expected return of Christian Vazquez at some point midseason leave Hanigan’s place with the team in 2016 somewhat unclear. He will be on the roster to start the season given the uncertainties about Vazquez’s condition upon return, but, depending on the progress of the young catchers, Hanigan could find himself playing for somebody else before the end of the year.

What Went Right in 2015

Even though his playing time was limited by injury and the presence of a top prospect, Hanigan did the things he usually does well, well. Defensively, according to the suite of BP advanced catching statistics, Hanigan was an above average pitch framer, average blocker, and average run-game controller. Even after accounting for the reduced playing time his numbers were down relative to previous seasons – he has three 20+ run framing seasons on the books – but he was still productive relative to his backstop colleagues across the league. While there were suggestions that he had a positive effect on the starting pitching staff relative to his catcher teammates (Swihart, Sandy Leon), the basic numbers don’t really bear that out:












Not Hanigan






Those numbers are sad regardless of who was behind the plate. Hanigan defended his position well in 2015, but things are slipping as he ages.

On offense, Hanigan did Hanigan things. He worked plate appearances: among the players who stepped into the batter’s box at least 200 times for the Red Sox last season he had the second highest average of pitches seen per appearance, trailing some guy named Mike Napoli. Hanigan’s mark, 4.21, was actually 19th best in baseball. This sort of patience allowed him to work walks at an above average rate (10.00 BB%) and wait for good pitches to hit. Despite having 304 fewer plate appearances, Hanigan had only five fewer walks than Pablo Sandoval last year. Granted Pablo is an extreme free swinger, but that difference is remarkable. Getting on base is Hanigan’s game and we saw it in 2015. His OBP was higher than average, coming primarily via the walk with the occasional punch of a single mixed in for good measure.

What Went Wrong in 2015

It is difficult to isolate what went wrong for Hanigan last season. The fractured hand was a rough deal, but in the end he was close to playing in as many games as was expected and performed remarkably close to expectations. For example, PECOTA’s pre-season projection for him was as a backup catcher (157 PA) with a .247/.340/.321 slashline (.255 TAv) and average defense, all packaged together for 0.4 WARP. That is almost exactly what he did: 201 PA, .247/.337/.328 (.242 TAv), 0.7 FRAA, 0.4 WARP. Nice job PECOTA! The injury (and related Swihart-ian circumstances) may have cost him an eventual starting role, but perhaps it ensured that he avoided wearing down under the increased workload related with being the primary catcher, ultimately leading to him performing worse than he did. Some good may have come with the bad.

I suppose we should talk about the .328 slugging percentage. While Hanigan’s SLG was in line with his projection, among fellas with at least 200 PA it was the lowest mark on the Red Sox, 36th worst in the game, and just over half of the Bryce Harper show in 2015 (.649). Hanigan was one of only 11 players in baseball with at least 200 PA to post a slugging percentage lower than their on-base percentage; Hanigan’s difference of .009 was the ninth largest. This is something that he has done in four other major league seasons. As noted, Hanigan’s offensive game is OBP, not slugging. He is a patient, high-contact guy, but the contact is often lacking. It is possible that the hand injury exacerbated things in 2015, but his slugging percentage last year was not all that different from his 2012-2014 seasons. In the end he cranked out 10 extra base hits – eight doubles and two home runs – which included this beauty over the monster seats off reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber:

I suppose, realistically, the thing that went most wrong for Hanigan in 2015 was that his injury allowed Swihart an opportunity to play everyday in Boston, which served to hasten Swihart’s timetable for being a permanent major league contributor and potentially push Hanigan out of town.

Outlook for 2016

Hanigan is a veteran player from whom we more or less know what we are going to get: above average defense and good on-base skills. He will likely begin the season in a backup role to Swihart. As alluded to throughout this recap of his season, Hanigan’s role with the Red Sox going forward is most likely out of his hands. It depends on the development of Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, or a trade involving one of the three of them. Hanigan is a serviceable contributor and experienced presence on the roster serving as necessary insurance while Vazquez works his way back to Boston. Unfortunately, Hanigan’s age and contract status ($3.7M for 2016, $3.75M club option for 2017) make him the likely odd man out of the bunch, unless Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski is overwhelmed by an offer for one of the kids.

Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username