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Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Tommy Hanson exploded onto the scene in 2009, posting some incredible numbers, including a 2.89 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 116 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. It was quite the year for the young pitcher, as he was able to move from top prospect to bona fide stud in four short months. Not a bad showing for a 23-year-old.
Drafted in the 22nd round out of Riverside Community College, 19-year-old Hanson began his professional career at Danville in the Appalachian League. In a 51.2 innings stretch spanning 13 games and eight starts, Hanson dominated the competition, striking out 56 batters while allowing just nine walks. With a great debut in professional ball, the Braves promoted their budding star to Single-A for the following season.
Hanson picked up right where he left off in 2007 at Rome in the Sally League. Through 73 innings, the hurler struck out 90 batters while walking 26—good enough for a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach. In his final 60 innings of the season, Hanson continued to dominate hitters, with 64 strikeouts and 32 walks. With 154 strikeouts in 133 innings (10.42 K/9), Hanson made his first appearance on the prospect landscape, ranking as the ninth-best prospect in the Braves organization.
Despite the dominating stuff, however, Hanson’s form needed a little more refinement, as his good walk rates from Rookie Ball and Single-A were replaced by a poor one at High-A. The Braves thought it prudent to let him work out his issues with a repeat performance at Myrtle Beach to begin 2008.
Hanson’s second tour of High-A was short-lived, as his outstanding line of 49 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 40 innings allowed him to punch a ticket to Double-A Mississippi. The subsequent showing at Double-A was impressive as well, as Hanson struck out 114 batters in 98 innings. However, his command issues resurfaced to an extent, as he walked 41 batters (3.76 BB/9), bringing a slight dark cloud over his performance.
However, when ranking young pitchers, stuff trumps all—and Hanson had this in spades. As a result, he rocketed up the prospect charts, placing first among Atlanta prospects and fourth in MLB. Challenging for a rotation spot in spring training of 2009, Hanson was on the outside looking in due to his available options and in an effort by the Braves to delay Hanson’s arbitration eligibility. As a result, he began the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he absolutely stifled the competition.
Triple-A was to be a big test for Hanson, as his performance there would determine his timetable for reaching and staying in the majors. Hanson did not disappoint. In 66.1 innings, he was able to post 90 strikeouts while walking just 17 batters. Battling for a roster opening with Gwinnett rotation mate Kris Medlen, Hanson debuted just two weeks after his teammate on June 7.
Hanson fought through growing pains in June despite posting a 2.48 ERA, as he could not find the zone nor strike out batters—leading to a 17:18 walk to strikeout ratio in his first 29 innings. Hanson quickly worked out of this early summer lull, however, with elite performances the rest of the way, including 98 strikeouts against 29 walks in 98.2 innings.
Any way you slice it, Hanson had quite the performance his rookie season. Aside from his struggles in June, Hanson was quite the dominant pitcher. His dazzling 8.18 K/9 rate, including an 8.9 K/9 rate after June, was excellent for a rookie, especially considering his 3.24 BB/9 rate on the season, which included a 2.64 BB/9 line after June.
Just as good as his overall line were his secondary indicators. Hanson posted a very good contact rate at 77.2 percent, which bodes well for his strikeout totals next season. Though his Zone percentage is low at 48.7 percent, this is mitigated by a great first strike percentage (63.4 percent)—meaning that Hanson works from ahead in the count in plenty of his matchups, allowing him to induce plenty of swings and misses outside the zone when the hitters expand the zone late in the at-bat.
This approach works to Hanson’s favor as his stuff worked best last year when he forced hitters to swing outside the zone. Hanson’s O-Contact percentage is well above average at 54.3 percent, which places him in the top 20 percent in the league for the 2009 season among pitchers who pitched at least 120 innings. On the other hand, his Zone Contact percentage was 87.2 percent—right around the league average.
Despite the great success, Hanson still has a coupled points to work on for the 2010 season. With his success on pitches outside the zone, it would help his K-rate greatly if he could induce more swings outside the zone. His O-Swing percentage was right about average at 25.5 percent. While not a bad number, it doesn’t help his strength which is inducing swings and misses on pitches outside the zone.
In addition, Hanson could stand to make some improvements on his change up for the upcoming year. He used it sparingly for a reason, as hitters mashed it when he did throw it, leading to a -1.85 wCH/C.
Hanson may also see a bit of regression in his home run rate. A low 6.9 HR/FB rate aided Hanson’s 3.50 FIP last season and this can be expected to equalize in the upcoming season. If Hanson could improve his 0.97 GB:FB rate, it will help mitigate some of this regression. Still, expect his home run rate to rise a bit next year. Also, his 1.18 WHIP will likely rise in 2010, as his very low .280 BABIP should also regress to the league average.
With an excellent arsenal, great pedigree, and stellar rookie season in his back pocket, Hanson seems primed for a great 2010. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat his sparkling 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. However, a 3.60-3.80 ERA is a good target, with a 1.25 WHIP. A K/9 rate in the 8-9 range seems likely, as does a walk rate right around 3.0 BB/9. Overall, Hanson represents an above-average starting pitcher in 12-team mixed leagues with a chance to outperform these projections and post some excellent strikeout rates. Draft Hanson with confidence. He will make his fantasy owners very happy this year.
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Posted by Mike Silver at 4:43am
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