Hanson Hooks on with Rangers

Once upon a time, Tommy Hanson‘s career seemed like it would be spun into legend. He was one of the best young pitchers in baseball, in one of the best organizations. Now, heading into his age-27 season, his story seems more like a particularly cruel choose-your-own-adventure story. Shoulder injuries will do that. On Monday, he agreed to a deal with the Rangers. There are conflicting reports as I write this as to whether it is a minor league or major league deal. Either way, this will be Hanson’s third team in three years, and if things don’t work out for him in Texas, this could be his last chance.

That is not to imply that Hanson has some sort of tragic career. Far from it. If you slice and dice enough data, you can find plenty of comparable cases to Hanson. By the end of his age-24 season, which was his third season in the majors, Hanson had crossed the 450-inning threshold in his career. Since the expansion era started in 1961, there have been 105 other pitchers who have accomplished such a feat. To wit:


Pitchers with 450+ IP, First Three Seasons, Age-24 or Younger, 1961-Present
Player IP From To Age Career IP
Don Sutton 666.0 1966 1968 21-23 5282.1
Bert Blyleven 729.2 1970 1972 19-21 4970.0
Roger Clemens 485.2 1984 1986 21-23 4916.2
Tom Seaver 802.1 1967 1969 22-24 4783.0
Fergie Jenkins 486.0 1965 1967 22-24 4500.2
Frank Tanana 552.1 1973 1975 19-21 4188.1
Dennis Martinez 470.2 1976 1978 22-24 3999.2
Mickey Lolich 620.0 1963 1965 22-24 3638.1
Joe Niekro 568.1 1967 1969 22-24 3584.1
Mike Mussina 496.1 1991 1993 22-24 3562.2
John Smoltz 503.1 1988 1990 21-23 3473.0
Catfish Hunter 569.1 1965 1967 19-21 3449.1
Dennis Eckersley 633.1 1975 1977 20-22 3285.2
Fernando Valenzuela 495.0 1980 1982 19-21 2930.0
Dave Stieb 555.2 1979 1981 21-23 2895.1
Mark Buehrle* 511.2 2000 2002 21-23 2882.2
Javier Vazquez 544.2 1998 2000 21-23 2840.0
Frank Viola 593.2 1982 1984 22-24 2836.1
Mike Moore 484.1 1982 1984 22-24 2831.2
Dwight Gooden 744.2 1984 1986 19-21 2800.2
CC Sabathia* 588.0 2001 2003 20-22 2775.1
Kevin Millwood 453.2 1997 1999 22-24 2720.1
Bob Knepper 451.0 1976 1978 22-24 2708.0
Jim Slaton 468.0 1971 1973 21-23 2683.2
Mel Stottlemyre 638.0 1964 1966 22-24 2661.1
Burt Hooton 479.1 1971 1973 21-23 2652.0
Barry Zito* 536.1 2000 2002 22-24 2569.2
Bret Saberhagen 549.0 1984 1986 20-22 2562.2
Stan Bahnsen 511.0 1966 1969 21-24 2529.0
John Candelaria 571.1 1975 1977 21-23 2525.2
Andy Benes 482.0 1989 1991 21-23 2505.1
Bobby Witt 475.0 1986 1988 22-24 2465.0
Brad Radke 652.2 1995 1997 22-24 2451.0
Jon Matlack 523.0 1971 1973 21-23 2363.0
Scott Erickson 529.0 1990 1992 22-24 2360.2
Ron Darling 489.0 1983 1985 22-24 2360.1
Randy Wolf 491.0 1999 2001 22-24 2268.0
Freddy Garcia* 564.1 1999 2001 22-24 2264.0
Andy Messersmith 526.0 1968 1970 22-24 2230.1
Mark Gubicza 547.0 1984 1986 21-23 2223.1
Kyle Lohse* 472.0 2001 2003 22-24 2171.2
Darryl Kile 450.2 1991 1993 22-24 2165.1
Dean Chance 473.0 1961 1963 20-22 2147.1
Mike Witt 462.2 1981 1983 20-22 2108.1
Jaime Navarro 493.0 1989 1991 22-24 2055.1
Ross Grimsley 601.1 1971 1973 21-23 2039.1
Don Robinson 549.1 1978 1980 21-23 1958.1
Jake Peavy* 458.2 2002 2004 21-23 1945.0
Brad Penny* 454.0 2000 2002 22-24 1899.0
Ray Culp 542.2 1963 1965 21-23 1898.1
Jose DeLeon 463.0 1983 1985 22-24 1897.1
Jeff Weaver 593.0 1999 2001 22-24 1838.0
Ismael Valdez 451.0 1994 1996 20-22 1827.1
Felix Hernandez* 465.2 2005 2007 19-21 1824.2
Storm Davis 526.0 1982 1984 20-22 1780.2
Sidney Ponson 567.0 1998 2000 21-23 1760.1
Alex Fernandez 467.0 1990 1992 20-22 1760.1
Mike LaCoss 471.0 1978 1980 22-24 1739.2
Lary Sorensen 658.1 1977 1979 21-23 1736.1
Bob Stanley 509.1 1977 1979 22-24 1707.0
Ervin Santana* 487.2 2005 2007 22-24 1686.2
Gary Nolan 485.1 1967 1969 19-21 1674.2
Jim Abbott 636.0 1989 1991 21-23 1674.0
Steve Hargan 475.1 1965 1967 22-24 1632.0
Ben Sheets 588.2 2001 2003 22-24 1596.2
Cole Hamels* 543.0 2006 2008 22-24 1596.2
Frank Castillo 458.1 1991 1993 22-24 1595.1
Eric Milton 578.2 1998 2000 22-24 1582.1
Steve Avery 543.0 1990 1992 20-22 1554.2
Clay Kirby 697.2 1969 1971 21-23 1548.0
Tom Murphy 542.0 1968 1970 22-24 1444.0
Pete Falcone 526.0 1975 1977 21-23 1435.1
Kerry Wood 478.0 1998 2001 21-24 1380.0
Mark Mulder* 590.2 2000 2002 22-24 1314.0
Bruce Ruffin 495.1 1986 1988 22-24 1268.0
Chuck Dobson 506.2 1966 1968 22-24 1258.1
Jeremy Bonderman* 535.0 2003 2005 20-22 1231.0
Dontrelle Willis 594.0 2003 2005 21-23 1221.2
Clayton Kershaw* 483.0 2008 2010 20-22 1180.0
John Danks* 534.1 2007 2009 22-24 1109.2
Don Aase 456.1 1977 1979 22-24 1109.1
Jim Nash 578.0 1966 1968 21-23 1107.1
Dave Rozema 525.0 1977 1979 20-22 1106.0
Joe Magrane 570.1 1987 1989 22-24 1096.2
Steve Busby 570.2 1972 1974 22-24 1060.2
Art Mahaffey 493.1 1961 1962 23-24 999.0
Johnny Cueto* 531.0 2008 2010 22-24 964.2
Brian Meadows 549.0 1998 2000 22-24 960.2
Trevor Cahill* 583.0 2009 2011 21-23 929.2
Gary Gentry 625.1 1969 1971 22-24 902.2
Bob Hendley 466.1 1961 1963 22-24 879.1
Rick Porcello* 515.1 2009 2011 20-22 868.2
Dave Freisleben 564.2 1974 1976 22-24 865.1
Dennis Bennett 502.0 1962 1964 22-24 863.0
Jay Tibbs 509.0 1984 1986 22-24 862.2
Dave Morehead 534.0 1963 1965 20-22 819.1
Roger Erickson 580.0 1978 1980 21-23 799.1
Steve Kline 559.0 1970 1972 22-24 750.1
Jose Rosado 484.2 1996 1998 21-23 720.1
Tommy Hanson* 460.1 2009 2011 22-24 708.0
Paul Hartzell 512.1 1976 1978 22-24 703.1
Mike Leake* 485.0 2010 2012 22-24 677.1
Frankie Rodriguez 454.2 1995 1997 22-24 654.0
Ray Corbin 450.1 1971 1973 22-24 652.1
Mark Lemongello 454.0 1976 1978 20-22 537.0
Bill Parsons 518.1 1971 1973 22-24 520.1
Juan Nieves 490.2 1986 1988 21-23 490.2
* = Active Pitcher

As you can see, most of these guys went on to have long careers, and many of them are still having them. A full 85 of the pitchers here tossed at least 1,000 innings, and Art Mahaffey was close enough to call him 86. And then there are three active pitchers who can be reasonably expected to clear that bar this season — Johnny Cueto, Trevor Cahill and Rick Porcello. That brings us to 89. Still, that’s 18 pitchers (I know, I’m awesome at math) that didn’t clear that bar, or won’t this year. And to be frank, no one is closing the door on Hanson being one of them. The chart is simply to illustrate that Hanson isn’t exactly special in seeing his career arc plummet back to earth so quickly. Even after parsing the data much more than I would normally, you’re still left with more than a dozen guys in the same boat as him. If you want to talk tragic, let’s talk about Juan Nieves, who tossed a no-hitter at age-22 and then was out of the game two years later following shoulder troubles of his own. Whether Hanson’s troubles are less severe, or today’s medical technology has advanced far enough to give him additional opportunities, Hanson is still standing, and that’s pretty good.

Still, his chances of succeeding in the Rangers rotation are not what you would call promising. Whether he’s slotted in to be the team’s fifth, sixth or seventh starting pitcher, he faces an uphill climb on the road back to respectability. As we’ve discussed, the first and most important consideration is whether or not he can take the ball every fifth day. After tossing 202.2 innings in 2010, he has made just 66 starts across the past three seasons, and totaled just 377.2 innings pitched. That’s roughly two-thirds the starts you would hope to see, and about half the innings pitched you would hope to see. And the lowest total for each came last season, when he missed time with a forearm strain, and then was later demoted to Triple-A.

When he was on the mound, things weren’t much prettier. His BB% rose up to a level that was well worse than league average in 2012, and it remained at that level in 2013. In 2012 though, had an above-average strikeout rate, which helped mitigate some of the problem. Last season though, that strikeout rate dipped four percent down to 17.1%. On top of that, he became a fly ball pitcher. Perhaps that was him trying to adjust to an environment where Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos had his back in the outfield, or perhaps that was because he generated far fewer swings, and swings and misses than he had in the past. Not exactly known for pounding the strike zone — his 49.3% Zone% ranked right in the middle, 107th out of 206 pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched last year — Hanson needs hitters to swing the bat, and they stopped doing that last season. Looking again at the 206-pitcher sample, we see that only eight pitchers generated a lower Swing% than did Hanson.

This isn’t to suggest that Hanson is finished. He still possesses a fantastic curveball. Even last season, his 1.82 wCU/C ranked 16th-best out of 206 — better than Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey and James Shields, to name just a few. And again, he’s still going to be just 27, so there aren’t a ton of miles on his arm. This deal is a bet that the Rangers can turn him around, and in a vacuum, it’s not a bad bet, especially for the low-low price of $2 million or less.

I say in a vacuum, because it seems like the last thing the Rangers need is a pitcher with injury concerns. Derek Holland is going to be out for at least half the season, and Colby Lewis didn’t pitch at all in the majors last season. Matt Harrison missed just about all of 2013 with back problems, and while he is supposed to be healthy, once you begin having back problems you never really are pain-free, no matter what your job is. And Alexi Ogando twice battled shoulder problems of his own last season. That leaves the Rangers with just Yu Darvish and Martin Perez around as guys you would consider totally healthy, and even Perez missed time last year with a left forearm fracture (though that hopefully shouldn’t linger). So, it would seem like perhaps the Rangers would have been better off signing a player that they could count on to deliver innings. And perhaps they still will. But Hanson certainly seems like an odd fit, unless the Rangers have figured out something about his health that we don’t know (and I’m not ruling that out).

Tommy Hanson was once a very promising pitcher, but his career has been derailed by injuries, much like several of the other members of his new team. If the Rangers can help either fix him or help him adjust to life with diminished velocity, they could end up with one of the steals of the winter. It’s more likely however, that this adventure won’t have a happy ending, and Hanson will be in much greater danger of falling under that 1,000 career innings pitched threshold. Pitchers need to either get strikeouts or ground balls to perform well in good hitting environments like Arlington, and Hanson hasn’t been getting much of either as of late.



Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
divakar
Guest
divakar
2 years 5 months ago

I feel bad for everyone of these early flameouts. It just underscores the fleeting nature of elite baseball talent.

But I don’t feel bad for Mark Lemongello. That is a winning name.

Ivan_Grushenko
Member
Ivan_Grushenko
2 years 5 months ago

Signing Hanson doesn’t seem an “odd fit” to me. It’s a minor league deal so the risk is minimal and if he has upside all the better. If he pitches half the season and gets hurt, then Holland can take over in the second half….sort of like the Shelby Miller/Michael Wacha tag team. They could go and get Joe Blanton or somebody like that if they want a cheap, durable, albeit below average pitcher. This move doesn’t prevent them from doing that.

MLB Rainmaker
Member
Member
MLB Rainmaker
2 years 5 months ago

Minor league deal was just the initial report; final details showed it to be a major league deal w/incentives. Still believe he gets $2M by walking in the door at training camp…

larry bowa
Guest
larry bowa
2 years 5 months ago

Actually it is a split contract, meaning he gets 2mill while in the majors and something less if in the minors.

RY
Guest
RY
2 years 5 months ago

I’m really surprised that no team has tried to change his mechanics. He’s been simply brutal to watch pitch since he came up, with all of the pressure he seems to put in that short-armed delivery. He was spun straight from the book of Wade Miller. Who not coincidentally, also had shoulder issues. Hopefully he can pitch much longer than that.

Snowman
Guest
Snowman
2 years 5 months ago

They did change it to remove the pause he used to have halfway through his forward motion to lessen the stress on his shoulder, but that was post-surgery and the damage was already done.

sneaky_flute
Guest
sneaky_flute
2 years 5 months ago

Tommy Hanson has never had surgery.

sneaky_flute
Guest
sneaky_flute
2 years 5 months ago

It’s no secret that his velocity began declining after he changed his pitching motions. He needs to either go back to using the delivery that made him an effective starter or find a new delivery that spares his shoulder without sacrificing velocity. Hopefully Maddux can help him with that.

Jose
Guest
Jose
2 years 5 months ago

Dontrelle Willis with 594 innings. And he’s still trying to make it back.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett
2 years 5 months ago

Is there any evidence that “miles on your arm” actually have an effect on injury rate/effectiveness?

It just seems like anachronism from when sports medicine was in its infancy.

BenRevereDoesSteroids
Guest
BenRevereDoesSteroids
2 years 5 months ago

I wouldn’t be surprised to find “evidence”. As in, pitchers with more miles on their arms become less effective because they are older. Or get injured more often because they are pitching more often.

wpDiscuz