Forgotten Pittsburgh Pirates: Eric Hinske


In the late 2000’s to early 2010’s the Pittsburgh Pirates had a handful of miscellaneous utility men. Former American League Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske was one of them.

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a rotating door of bench utility men from the mid-to-late 2000’s. Brandon Moss, Steve Pearce, Ronny Cedeno were all those kinds of players. But one of the more forgotten ones was corner infielder/outfielder Eric Hinske.

Hinske looked to be on the path of a successful career back at the turn of the millennium. During his 2002 rookie campaign, the Blue Jays’ slugger hit .279/.363/.481 with a 119 OPS+ and 121 wRC+ in 650 plate appearances. He showed he could hit for power with a .201 isolated slugging, 21 home runs and 38 doubles, and even though he didn’t look like the most athletic third baseman in the league, he still showed some good base running prowess with 13 steals in 14 attempts, and being worth 5.2 base running runs above average. He also put up pretty good defensive numbers at the hot corner with a 2.4 UZR and 5.4 range runs above average. This all led to Hinske receiving American League Rookie of the Year honors.

But through the next three seasons of the slugger’s career, Hinske’s offense took a sharp downturn. From 2003 to 2005, the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year hit just .250/.324/.411 with a 90 OPS+/wRC+. He still reached double digits in home runs and stolen bases twice, and racked up plenty of doubles, falling just one short of 100. But while that might have been passable production at the time, his defense also slipped.

Hinske accumulated a -2.1 dWAR. After awful showings at the third base in both 2003 and 2004 where he had -14.8 UZR,-15.3 range runs, and -21 DRS, he was moved across the diamond to first base where he did better (+1 UZR, 2.5 UZR, 2.7 range runs), but a 10% below average batter at first base was not going to cut it.

Hinske got off to a hot start in 2006 as a bench bat, and saw some time in the outfield. He batted for a strong line of .264/.353/.513 with a dozen home runs and a 121 OPS+ through his first 224 plate appearances. But with his spotty history with the bat, the Jays decided to let him go, and the Red Sox ended up purchasing Hinske’s contract. Hinske performed pretty similarly to his 2003-2005 levels after the trade, but had an awful 2007. Again mainly serving as a bench bat, Hinske had a .714 OPS and 83 OPS+ through 218 plate appearances.

Hinske was then signed by the Tampa Bay Rays and actually did pretty well for himself. Through 432 plate appearances, the slugger hit .247/.333/.465 with 20 home runs and 21 doubles with a 109 OPS+ and 112 wRC+. He even showed some defensive skill in the outfield with -1 DRS, but +2.4 range runs and a 4.8 UZR/150.

So this is where we get to his short tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hinske was signed by the Pirates during the 2008-2009 off season. Although, even at his worst, Hinske was good for a handful of extra base hits, he just didn’t do that with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Overall, he had a .253/.373/.368 line and 99 OPS+ through 126 plate appearances in Pittsburgh. He mainly saw time in right field where he had +3 DRS, but also saw a handful of innings at the infield corners. Despite his lackluster numbers, Hinske walked at a strong rate of 13.5% of the time. Eventually, Hinske was sent to the New York Yankees for Casey Erickerson and catcher Eric Fryer. Hinske saw his extra base hit power increase as his slugging rose above .500, but only had a .316 OBP.

Then in 2010, Hinske as a RF/1B bench player with the Atlanta Braves, and did his job well. He hit .256/.338/.456 with 11 home runs and 21 doubles in 320 plate appearances. He also had a 114 OPS+ and 110 wRC+. But 2010 would be his last productive season. Through the next 3 and final seasons of Hinske’s career, the lefty batter hit for an OPS of just .652 and for a 77 OPS+ with the Braves and the Diamondbacks in 2013.

Next. How the Loss of Chris Archer Impacts the Pirates. dark

Hinske’s short tenure with the Pittsburgh Pirates may have just been one of the multiple stepping stones in his surprisingly long career. Hinske may have reached his peak in his outstanding 2002 rookie season, but I wouldn’t call his career a failure, far from it. Hinske won a AL Rookie of the Year Award, served a handful of seasons as a decent bench bat for good teams, and won two World Series rings in 2007 and 2009. But his career in baseball isn’t over yet. Hinske won his third World Series ring in 2016 as one of the Cubs hitting coaches, and is currently one of the Diamondbacks’ hitting coaches.