The Braves dealt Tommy Hanson to the Angels in exchange for reliever Jordan Walden. Yes, the Walden that opened the year as the closer for the Angels last season. With the Angels adding Ryan Madson they felt they could deal the hard throwing right-hander (Walden didn’t have a great season last year, but don’t forget that he saved 32 games in 2011 and that he owns a 10.83 K/9 mark over 123 big league games). The Braves now possess, arguably, the top-foursome of any pen in baseball: Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Walden. With the way the game is played these days, have an elite bullpen seems to be as important as having an elite starting rotation. But this piece is about the tall righty who at one point was looked at as a potential top-20 starting pitcher in the fantasy game. What should we make of the flailing Tommy Hanson?
As a rookie Hanson went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. In his second season he passed 200 innings while posting a 3.33 ERA. In his first three seasons his WHIP was 1.18, 1.17 and 1.17. So happy times ahead, right? Well, not so much. What that data leaves out is that Hanson tossed only 130 innings in 2011 as healthy woes started to mount. Last season his ERA skyrocketed to 4.48, his WHIP went into the stratosphere at 1.45, and he posted a four year low in BB/9 (3.66) and K/BB (2.27). What went wrong with Hanson? His shoulder wasn’t 100 percent. The result was a loss of three mph off his fastball from 2010 to 2012 (92.7 to 89.7 mph). The loss of velocity caused him to nibble more driving his pitch counts up. As a result he made 31 starts but was only able to last 174.2 innings. To compare, in 2010 he made three more starts but hurled 28 more innings.
If you can’t tell, let me just spell it out. Hanson, previously one of my favorite young hurlers in the game, makes me nervous. When a guy who is this young (26 years old) has these kind of issues, the red flag goes up. I’ve written previously about Hanson and his somewhat odd mechanics (I wrote about that issue back in February of 2012 in The Old, The Young and The Pretty). I always felt that a potential land mine in his development was that wonky mechanical issues he has where he seems to be fighting his body a bit as he comes over the top in a rather disjointed movement. Was the mechanical issue a reason for his struggles with health in 2012? That certainly seems possible. Whatever the issue, unless he is able to reclaim those lost three mph his outlook isn’t getting any better any time soon.
Numbers wise, here are some of the concerns.
Last season his ERA was 4.48. His first three seasons that mark was 3.28.
Last season his WHIP was 1.45. His first three seasons that mark was 1.17.
Last season his K/BB ratio was 2.27. His first three seasons that mark was 2.89.
You could argue that even with those struggles that he still posted a 1.01 GB/FB (career 0.99), a 74.1 left on base percentage (career 74.9) and that his ’12 numbers in line drive rate (20.7) and HR/F (13.5) were virtual matches for his ’11 numbers (20.5 and 12.5). I would counter with this. Since July 15th of 2011 Hanson has made 36 starts that have led to the following numbers: 14-13, 4.96 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 2.37 K/BB ratio over 201.1 innings. Since the middle of the 2011 season Hanson hasn’t even been a league average hurler.
A young pitcher struggling with health, coming off his worst season, moving to an unfavorable league and one who is likely to see a massive increase in salary as he heads to arbitration makes Hanson a certain risk to take on for the Angels. There should also be plenty of concern the the fantasy game with Hanson. All of the negative points I made in this piece are valid concerns. Given the overall down turn in his work last season, and the fact that he’s averaged just 152 innings pitched the last two years, you had better think long and hard about making him anything other than your 4th starting pitcher in mixed leagues, and that might even be a bit optimistic. I’m off the Hanson train for now. He’ll have to prove to me that he can be successful before I elevate him back onto my target list.
By Ray Flowers