Game 74, Mariner at Angels
King Felix vs. Tommy Hanson, 7:05pm
Ah, Tommy Hanson. Going into 2009, he was the 4th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. He put up a 4+ WAR season for Atlanta at 23, and would’ve been one of the most valuable commodities in baseball heading into 2011. This off-season, he was sent to Anaheim in exchange for a so-so relief pitcher. He’s still only 26, and is in his first year of arbitration, but essentially every single number is trending in the wrong direction.
From 2010-2013, his FIP has gone from 3.31 to 5.02. His K% went from 20.5 all the way up to 26.3% before cratering this year at 15.4%. His fastball velocity’s gone from 94mph to 89mph. O-swing? 28.3% to 24.8%. You get the picture – he’s a pitcher in decline. In Hanson’s case, it’s probably health related. The Braves were willing to cut him loose because he’s suffered from shoulder problems that first appeared late in 2011. Many, including some in the Braves, pointed to his odd pitching motion, in which he starts slowly before whipping his arm over the top. In fact, he altered those mechanics last season with the Braves, removing a ‘pause’ in his delivery to maintain momentum and hopefully ease the strain on his shoulder as it accelerates his arm. Obviously, the Braves weren’t thrilled with the results.
This season, Hanson’s made a couple of adjustments – or at least, his pitches seem to indicate a conscious effort to tweak his declining results. First, he’s now a slider/curve dominant pitcher who mixes in a fastball. He’s gone from about 55-60%+ fastballs to around 45% and declining. Those fastballs have become sliders, and he’ll throw the pitch to righties and lefties alike. The second change is more interesting: while he was always an over-the-top pitcher whose fastball had a lot of vertical movement, he’s currently throwing the fastball with the most ‘rise’ in all of MLB. His Angels teammate Jered Weaver is always near the top of that particular table, and he illustrates what can happen when a fastball has freakishly large amounts of vertical movement: lots of pop-ups, harmless fly balls and weak contact. Theoretically, it can help set up a change-up, but Hanson’s is just a show-me pitch he throws about 1% of the time. In general, all of those fly balls can be risky. In Anaheim, that may be a risk worth taking. It’s clearly worked for Weaver, but it seems to be clearly counterproductive for Hanson. His HR/9 has risen each year (it’s basically what’s driving his FIP upwards), and is currently nearly 1.6. Moving to Anaheim may have helped, but moving to the American League…hasn’t.
The other thing a lot of vertical movement can help with is platoon splits – it’s like the opposite of sinkers and their large splits. Weaver’s platoon splits are essentially even, despite his whippy delivery that starts off well to the 3B side. Hanson’s splits are indeed lower so far than his career numbers, and perhaps a bit lower than you’d expect for a guy with Brandon Maurer’s pitch mix. But that’s not all great news – in this case, it’s just an indication that righties and lefties are both hitting well off him. He’s still got splits, and they should be regressed heavily, but this isn’t a match-up where trotting out a right-handed hitter is an unconscionable mistake. Ah, who are we kidding? The M’s are beat up right now and don’t really have the ability to trot out different line-ups even if they wanted to. Morse isn’t starting, but there are non-Hanson related reasons for that.
By FIP, he’s essentially been replacement level this season. But by ERA, he’s adjusting just fine, and having a comeback season. His ERA is over a full run lower than his FIP, thanks to a great strand rate, the highest of his career. With no one on base, he’s been absolutely atrocious, but with RISP, he’s…well, I don’t know if HE’S been great, but his BABIP has been extremely low. That looks like luck, but I do find it kind of odd that Joe Blanton shows the same pattern, as does Jason Vargas. I can almost hear an old-timey pitching coach yelling at his hurlers to “challenge” batters and “make the hitter beat you” with no one on, but poor CJ Wilson’s been brilliant with no one on and worse with runners on base (thankfully, he faced the Mariners last night).
1: Chavez, RF
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Saunders, CF
8: Blanco, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: El Cartelua
DJ Peterson debuted in last night’s Everett win, but he went 0-3 with a walk.
The Rainiers play in Colorado Springs tonight with, uh, Hector Noesi getting the ball. Good luck, Rainiers, and good luck pedestrians of Colorado Springs.
Taijuan Walker starts for AA Jackson against Mobile, Anthony Vasquez continues his comeback with Clinton, and Lars Huijer starts for Everett.
The rookie-level Pulaski Mariners begin their season this evening against Burlington of the Royals org. 2012 3rd-round pick Edwin Diaz gets the opening night start.