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The 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates still have many questions regarding their lineup, but the signing of utility man Eric Hinske on January 30th helped in so many ways. The Pirates organization, which is currently in the rebuilding stage, signed the 31-year old journeyman to a one-year deal, but I believe he will be much more valuable to them then they originally thought.
Yes I know, rebuilding in baseball usually means loading up their Double-A and Triple-A ball clubs so they will be ready in a couple of years, but signing Hinske may have been the move of the offseason for Pittsburgh (other than signing Nate McLouth through the 2012 season). Eric is a very elusive athlete, even at 6-2, 225 pounds, but he can play the corner infield and outfield positions very well (1B, 3B, LF, RF).
Hinske's numbers haven't been quite up to par with his rookie season numbers in '02 with Toronto (24 HR's, 84 RBI's, .279 BA), but just last season with the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, Hinske hit 20 HR's with 60 RBI's in just 133 games. Of course he will need to get his average up quite a bit to be a regular in even the Pirates lineup (.247 BA last season; .254 career BA), but Hinske's numbers are great for a guy who will most likely be coming off the bench in the games he plays in, and he is probably the Pirates' designated pinch hitter.
I have already shown you the guy can hit (even though he is a hit or miss most of the time, nothing in between), now how about some proof of the rest of the aspects of fundamentals of baseball. In each of his first four seasons on the major league level Hinske has struck out 100+ times, but since then (2005; his last full season with the Blue Jays) he has struck out a total of 221 times (average of 73.6 a season). You could argue that it's a result of him seeing less playing time, but in 2,062 at bats from '02-'05 Hinske struck out once every 4.36 at bats, but since then he has struck out once every 3.8 at bats ('06-'08).
Hinske brings a good glove to the table as well, and for a team like Pittsburgh, that's vital. Hinske is most experienced at third base, and that just happens to be the position the Pirates need him most. He is likely to be the starter a lot of days, especially if Pittsburgh catches the injury bug early on--which is likely in today's game, unfortunately. Hinske currently has a lifetime .953 fielding percentage at the hot corner and a .992 fielding percentage at first base, where he could also see significant playing time.
What the Pirates will need him to do the most of is get on base, which just happens to be one of his biggest weaknesses. Hinske has the ability to move on the basepaths, once he gets on--he has stolen 10+ bases in four of his seven seasons. But he doesn't quite draw the amount of walks most teams have expected from him, and his career on-base percentage currently stands at .335 (career-high being .365 in his rookie season with Toronto).
Altogether, I believe Hinske has a good chance at repeating his rookie season numbers this season, coming off the bench for the Pirates. Again, Hinske may have been the biggest move of the offseason for this franchise. I will be coming out with a 2009 Pittsburgh Pirates Preview sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I am certainly looking forward to this baseball season.