Who’s Your Pronkie?

“Who’s Your Pronkie?” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it that “Who’s Your Papi?” does. But is that why seemingly everyone has overlooked Cleveland slugger Travis Hafner as one of the best big hitters in the game today? Is that why the man nicknamed by his teammates as “Pronk” has gone without any attention after finishing 5th in the MVP voting last season?

The answer in my opinion is more of a question: “he’s gone unnoticed?”

Today alone I’ve read two separate articles mentioning how Hafner has gone under the radar as a superstar. But is that true? To the casual fan or to someone who keeps watch on only their team, then I can see this being possible since Cleveland isn’t one of the league’s premier markets and Hafner isn’t a flashy personality unlike many of the game’s big time players. But to true baseball fans and reporters across the nation, the news of Hafner being one of the games best sluggers shouldn’t be a news flash at all. In fact his name should immediately pop up in the discussion of feared hitters who can carry his team when needed (as he showed last September as the rest of his team collapsed in the playoff hunt). But why doesn’t it?

As I mentioned earlier, Cleveland isn’t exactly the epicenter of baseball – or much else for that matter – so he often goes unnoticed in mainstream press. If Hafner played in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago, you better believe he’d have is name mentioned a whole lot more often. Not only is he not in a large market, but he’s also not a flashy player that demands attention from fans and the press. He’s the type of player who hits a home run, puts his head down, and rounds the bases. No celebration. No show boating. No long gazes at his 475 foot home runs that seem to never land. He just goes about his business like a professional. So does this bother Hafner that he isn’t plastered all over the press the morning after another 2 homer game? Not at all, in fact, he had this to say:

“Actually, I kind of enjoy being off the radar,” Hafner says. “I don’t really crave a whole lot of attention. My main thing is that the team does well. It just seems like it’s easier to concentrate on that.”

And that’s the kind of player “Pronk” is.

As for the name “Pronk”, it is a nickname given to him by his teammates which just happens to be two insults. The word derives from the words “project” and “donkey” together. This doesn’t bother Hafner at all, in fact, he doesn’t even respond to the name “Travis” anymore.

“I don’t see him as a ‘Travis,'” Indians reliever Danny Graves says.

But what Danny and the rest of the young Cleveland team do see him as is a cornerstone to a very strong team.

So why wouldn’t you see him as a cornerstone? After an explosive 2004 season, Hafner still didn’t gain much media attention outside those close to the game. Only after the Indians made a playoff push late last season that he started drawing comparisons to baseball’s best DH and fellow left handed hitter, David Ortiz. While some comparisons can be drawn, is it really fair to make a comparison? While Ortiz is a year and a half his elder, the two had a very similar past two seasons. Take a look:

David Ortiz
Year / HR / RBI / AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
2004 / 41 / 139 / .301 / .380 / .603 / 983
2005 / 47 / 148 / .300 / .397 / .604 / 1001

Travis Hafner
Year / HR / RBI / AVG / OBP / SLG / OPS
2004 / 28 / 109 / .311 / .410 / .583 / 993
2005 / 33 / 108 / .305 / .408 / .595 / 1003

Both men have had incredible seasons the past two years. “Big Papi” does have the edge in home runs and RBI’s, but consideration does have to be made on Hafner’s behalf as he does hit in a less hitter friendly ballpark and has less opportunities to drive in runs than Ortiz does in the super charged Boston lineup the past couple of seasons. But take out those two categories and batting average and look closely at the really deep down telling numbers, and you can see Hafner has edged out Ortiz in OPS the past two seasons. Now that is an incredible feat.

But really, what can be gained from comparing these two superstars? There’s only one common denominator that makes these two players so special and that simply is what they mean to their respective teams. Want to know why they should be MVP candidates every year? Take either player out of their team’s lineup and replace them with an “average” DH and you don’t see Boston able to challenge the Yankees for the division and there’s no way Cleveland finishes anywhere near the playoffs.

So Travis Hafner shouldn’t be compared to David Ortiz, but rather, he should be mentioned right alongside last year’s MVP runner up.

Who knows, maybe someday instead of asking “Who’s Your Papi?” we’ll be asking ourselves “Who’s Big Papi?”

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