Through the whole course of baseball history, several thousand players have managed to bat at least 200 times. An enterprising position player might reach that mark in less than two months. Given that minimum, nobody’s been a better hitter, relative to the rest of the league, than Babe Ruth, who had a career wRC+ of 197. All right, not learning a whole lot so far. Given that minimum, nobody’s been a worse hitter than one Don Carman. The long-time Phillie batted 239 times and recorded a dozen hits, racking up a wRC+ of -79. After Carman, there’s Ron Herbel, at -73. And after Herbel, there’s Tommy Hanson, at -70. Keep in mind that these are large negative numbers and wRC+ has a plus sign built right into the name. By this measure, current Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson has been the third-worst hitter in baseball history.
Thursday night, facing Barry Zito in San Francisco, was another normal game at the plate for Hanson. He batted twice. The first time, he grounded back to the mound with two runners in scoring position. The second time, he struck out swinging at a curveball. There wasn’t a third time, because Hanson also pitched poorly, and while the Braves surely would’ve preferred that Hanson pitch better, at least he spared them a third time watching him hit.
Hanson has now batted 47 times this season. That’s roughly a quarter of his career total. There are no signs that his offense is getting better. To his name this season, Hanson has a -78 wRC+ and one hit. What follows is the story of that one hit.
Two things to know before we advance:
- Hanson’s one hit — a single — came way back on April 10
- Naturally, it happened against the Astros
Usually, you can tell when a pitcher is batting without knowing for sure that a pitcher is batting. Some of them are good at batting, or at least good at looking like they’re good at batting, but most of them stick out like unusually long and colorful thumbs. They don’t look comfortable in their batting helmets. They have awkward-looking stances and awkward-looking swings. They look like they’ve never spent a day in their life building upper-body muscle. They try to bunt a lot. Pitchers just bunt all the time, often poorly, and then they can’t even run like normal people. Even activities a pitcher might consider familiar feel unfamiliar when they’re a part of the batting experience.
Tommy Hanson looks like the sort of guy who’d have a -70 wRC+. He bats as if he’s new to the country and has watched baseball for a day, and he generates corresponding results. Interestingly, Hanson doesn’t make a habit of chasing pitches out of the zone. He actually has a higher career contact rate than a handful of productive regulars or semi-regulars, including Ryan Howard, Mark Reynolds, and Jack Cust. Roughly seven out of every ten times, Hanson has swung and at least touched the baseball. Unfortunately for Hanson, touching the baseball isn’t a hitter’s only job. What the baseball has done after being touched is basically just fall to the ground, dead. Hanson’s career spray chart shares a lot in common with that bird that Randy Johnson hit in spring training.
On April 10, in Houston, Hanson was to pitch against Kyle Weiland. This meant that Weiland was to bat against Hanson, and that Hanson was to bat against Weiland. Weiland finished 0-for-2 with a strikeout before being removed. Hanson finished 1-for-2 with a strikeout before being removed. Hanson had more hits that day than Kyle Weiland. He had more hits that day than Freddie Freeman and Chris Snyder.
The first time Hanson batted was in the second inning, with a pair of runners in scoring position, and Hanson didn’t advance them, because he struck out, because he frequently strikes out. He did manage to take the first pitch for a ball, which is something that a good hitter would have also done. That’s where the parallels between Hanson and a good hitter stop.
The second time Hanson batted was in the fourth inning, immediately following a Tyler Pastornicky home run. Pastornicky led off and homered on the tenth pitch of his at-bat, and everybody was still kind of exhausted from that when Hanson stopped into the box. Thankfully, a Tommy Hanson plate appearance is usually a good opportunity to calm down and get your heart rate back in order.
The first pitch was a fastball right down the middle, taken for a strike. I don’t know why one would ever throw a different first pitch to Tommy Hanson; I don’t know why one would ever throw a different any pitch to Tommy Hanson.
Hanson almost looked stunned. “That ball is very fast and very close to me!” He stepped back for a moment, considering his options. Two people who didn’t have to consider their options were Kyle Weiland and Chris Snyder. They knew their options: fastball, middle. Why mess around with anything else? Hanson stepped back in, and in came a fastball, down, but over the middle.
Hanson swung, the way you might instinctively swing at a bothersome wasp without considering that the wasp could sting you. Hanson has swung several times before, and he’s made contact several times before, but seldom has he made contact like this, and you can see him kind of lumber out of the box, as surprised as anyone else. Hanson recorded a line drive over the first baseman’s head. That’s a line-drive, opposite-field single. For one swing, Tommy Hanson got to feel what it feels like to be Derek Jeter, kind of.
The moment didn’t get a whole lot of attention on either the Astros’ or the Braves’ broadcast, as they were both still hung up on the Pastornicky dinger. None of the broadcasters recognized the significance of the moment, but the significance wasn’t lost on Tommy Hanson or Carlos Lee, who shared a laugh at first base.
First base coach:
The smiles soon faded, or became grotesquely warped.
It began to dawn on Carlos Lee that he was playing for the Astros, and that the Astros just allowed a hit to Tommy Hanson. Probably at this moment Carlos Lee understood the sort of season he was in for, and the season was only just getting started. Meanwhile, it began to dawn on Tommy Hanson that now he was on base and he had absolutely no idea what to do. In all of those meetings where the team went over signs, Hanson had been politely excused. It was never going to matter. This time it mattered. Hanson didn’t have a clue what to do at home. He didn’t have a clue what to do after home. Four pitches later, Tommy Hanson was erased from the basepaths.
Tommy Hanson has returned to the basepaths since. On June 27, facing Trevor Cahill, he drew a six-pitch walk. He stayed on base for the remainder of the inning. He has not yet returned to the basepaths following a hit. He might never reach base after a hit again. Tommy Hanson is just 25 years old, and he should have a long career ahead of him, so you’d figure he’ll get another hit eventually, but then this is Tommy Hanson, and Tommy Hanson is historically dreadful. You never can know. You just never can know.