This year, the Yale baseball team has found success thanks largely to its offense, which boasts four players hitting above 0.300 and two players crossing the 0.400 threshold, a mark that has not been topped in Major League Baseball since Ted Williams in 1941. But amid all this talent, the Bulldogs’ best hitter — and the fourth-best hitter in the nation entering April — is actually a converted pitcher.
First baseman Eric Hsieh ’15 has started this season scorching hot. The lefty began last spring with an eight-game hitting streak. During his senior campaign, he has already accumulated 25 hits in 57 at-bats entering yesterday’s game against Hartford, good for a 0.439 batting average. He also started this season with a six-game hitting streak, including an impressive performance at the plate in the Bulldogs’ 22–3 victory over Davidson on March 7, during which Hsieh was 4 for 6 with a double, two runs and two runs batted in.
“It’s unbelievable to watch him hit,” pitcher Chasen Ford ’17 said. “He’s a guru of hitting.”
Hsieh’s journey to New Haven, however, started on the mound rather than in the batter’s box. He was originally recruited out of Dana Hills High School in Laguna Niguel, California, as a left-handed pitcher. During his freshmen season, he pitched in 13 games, mainly as a reliever, and finished the year with an 0–2 record and an 8.56 ERA to go along with 16 strikeouts.
Entering the 2013 season, the Bulldogs were in need of additional left-handed hitters, and Hsieh was more than eager to return to the plate. He split time between the outfield and first base along with occasional pitching appearances during his sophomore and junior seasons at Yale. However, last year’s graduation of starting first baseman Jacob Hunter ’14 has allowed Hsieh to return to first base full time.
Though he anticipates seeing some time on the mound this season, he has shifted primarily to a hitter, as he has just 6.2 total innings on the bump in the past two years. But, according to Hsieh, his experience as a pitcher has helped him at the plate.
“Being a pitcher myself, I know that the opposing pitchers really want to get ahead in the count,” Hsieh said. “I look for hittable pitches early, and I really try to capitalize on any mistakes that those guys make.”
Hsieh has been a consistent threat in the Bulldog lineup for the past three years. He started in at least 35 games as both a sophomore and a junior, and his 0.395 on-base percentage a year ago was fifth-best in the Ivy League.
He is currently second on the team behind leadoff hitter Richard Slenker ’17 for the most base hits on the team this season. Yet Hsieh’s most impressive feat may be that he has already walked 15 times, which is more than double the amount of any other Bulldog, and his walks-per-game ratio is 17th-best in the nation.
“He has some of the best pitch selection I have seen of any hitter, and he just finds ways to get on base,” Ford said. “He is a contact hitter. He is going to put the ball in play.”
Hsieh added that he considers his strength to be getting on base and letting other players drive him in, and he does whatever he can to just get on base.
In addition to his role at first base and as the anchor in the middle of the Bulldog lineup, Hsieh has taken a stronger leadership role this season.
“Eric is the most sound player on the team,” center fielder Green Campbell ’15 said. “He leads by example and doing the right things on and off the field. He doesn’t speak up often, but when he does, it’s meaningful and constructive to the team.”
Hsieh echoed the statement that he prefers to lead by example, and with this season’s scorching start at the plate, the example certainly has been set. He leads the Bulldogs in batting average, on-base percentage and walks, among other categories.
Hsieh is focused on maintaining his high-level of hitting throughout the season, and he looks to continue his hot streak on Saturday, April 4 as the Bulldogs host Penn at 12 p.m.