Possibly the hardest starting pitcher to project, Tommy Hanson showed a mix of good and bad signs in 2011. His strikeout rate was a career high, without losing groundballs or gaining many walks. However, his shoulder injury sucked some zip from his arm and caused him to miss ten or so starts. He also gave up more home runs, leading to his highest ERA of his short career. With recent news of his mechanical flaw being ironed out, one can hope that the 25-year-old will return to ace status in 2012.
Starting with the good, Hanson’s K% was 26.3%, 5% higher than his first two seasons. The curveball had the largest whiff increase, from 12% to 18%. He also saw a 1.5% increase in whiffs with his slider. Both pitches decreased in velocity, with the slider dropping 2.5 MPH. While the removal of the hitch in his delivery will improve his health, it could affect his breaking balls early on. His velocity should improve, offsetting any time he needs to make adjustments with his curve and slider. I expect him to sit around 24-25% strikeouts for the season, a great number.
Hanson’s walk rate did increase to 8.5%, which is about average. However, he kept his K/BB ratio above 3.0 and his K-BB% was his highest at the major league level. He also only hit three batters, down from 14 the prior year. While HBP are the result of pitching inside, they are still runners on base who can score. His new delivery could also have a direct effect on his control, but I would guess he would stay in the 8-9% range this season.
The most consistent measure of Hanson’s career has been his batted ball profile, with his GB% not deviating far from the 40% mark, about 4% below average. His flyball tendencies are the biggest reason for his below-average BABIP allowed. Last year, however, twice as many of those flyballs were leaving the park. In ’09 and ’10, about 6.3% of flyballs were home runs, while that rate jumped to 12.5% last year. League average was just shy of 10%, and since Turner Field is a bit of a pitcher’s park, I’d guess Hanson should sit around 9% over the season.
Hanson’s decrease in velocity also played a part in the increased HR rate. His fastball was about 1.5 MPH slower, tailing two inches less and with two more inches of life. As I stated before, his offspeed stuff also dropped in velocity; his curve 1.5 MPH and his slider and change 2.5 MPH. His curveball lost a couple inches of lateral break and dropped an inch more, becoming more 12-to-6. His slider only gained an inch of depth, which is expected with less velocity. His changeup has the same (lack of) movement as his fastball, which is why it’s only thrown 3-4% of the time.
There is a lot of unknown when looking into Hanson. Shoulder injuries are scarier than elbows, but it looks as if Hanson is healthy heading into Spring Training. His new delivery could change his repertoire, possibly changing all aspects of his game. If his stuff does not change, I project 190-200 innings with a 3.30 ERA, which is a 4 WAR pitcher, the ace the Braves need.