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March 16, 2012 posted by Patrick DiCaprio

Debate Me: Tommy Hanson is the Braves Starting Pitcher You Want To Own

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Tommy Hanson, ATL

Albert Lang: Anti-Hanson

Of all the Atlanta Braves starters in all the world, Tommy Hanson is not the one you want to own in fantasy baseball.

When healthy, Tommy Hanson is a superb fantasy baseball option. However, he’s being priced right now (ADP of 94, i.e., a top 25 SP and rankings consistent with that), as if he’s a lockdown number two starter on your team.

That is crazy talk – not only is he coming off an injury riddled campaign (torn rotator cuff) but he suffered a concussion in early Spring Training. If recent history is any indication, we know very little about how someone will react to that kind of head injury.

In addition, there has been concern that Hanson could not remain healthy given his wind-up and delivery (specifically the way he pulls his arm through the zone on off-speed pitches), so he has modified his delivery to remove the “momentary pause that had previously created a snapping-like motion,” according to Mark Bowman at MLB.com.

If you’re following the checklist, Hanson tore a rotator cuff, suffered a concussion and tinkered with his delivery. In his most recent Spring Training outing, Hanson gave up two earned runs in 1+ innings. He was hurt by his defense, the weather was crappy and it was just an inning, but he did nothing to alleviate concerns.

At this point, there is no way of knowing whether Hanson is healthy and whether he can stay healthy, yet the price tag is of a surefire starter you can count on. At a position rife with volatility and knowing that injured players tend to find themselves on the DL in subsequent seasons, Hanson is nothing more than a desperate gambling addict’s play.

Meanwhile there are two starting pitchers in Hanson’s rotation that similarly bring the K’s but are cheaper and with fewer question marks: Brandon Beachy (ADP around 114 [33rd SP] and is ranked right around there) and Mike Minor (ADP around 291 [81st SP] but is ranked a bit better than these returns indicate).

Of all the pitchers with at least 140 innings last season, Beachy led the way in K/9 (10.74) and was 14th in K:BB rate. In addition, these rates were right in line with his minor league track record, as he basically dominated every level, posting double-digit K rates and solid walk rates. Beachy owes a ton of success to his impeccable two-seam fastball but also because he reintroduced his slider and, in the process, nearly scrapped his curveball. If you want to gamble on a Braves pitcher with injury concerns, Beachy is your man. He is cheaper and he hasn’t suffered a concussion or retooled his delivery.

Beachy will throw at least 165 innings with a 9.9 K/9 rate, making 180 K’s the floor. In addition, he’ll add solid ratios (3.36 ERA and 1.24 WHIP). In short, Beachy is peachier than Hanson.

While Beachy broke out last season, he did so by taking the opportunity from Mike Minor. Minor posted impressive K-rates in the minors, yet has never put it together in the majors. The biggest contributing factor to his MLB failure has been BABIP. For a bunch of reasons (most of which we probably don’t know), Minor has a .359 BABIP. Of course this is over just 123.1 innings, so it could easily be white noise.

Still, even if he has an above average BABIP, he’s capable of putting up great K numbers and a reasonable ERA. In fact, many projection systems put him down for a BABIP around .330, yet an ERA below 4.00. They do that because Minor has four terrific pitches: a low 90s fastball, mid 80s slider, high 70s curve and mid 80s change. Each pitch has gotten good swing and miss rates (he sits at 9.3% in the majors).

He’s easily capable of posting an 8.7 K/9 rate and mixing that with a 3.2 BB/9 rate, which would match nicely with his minor league K:BB rates. At minimum, Minor will strike out 155 batters and post useable ratios (3.90 ERA and 1.31 WHIP). He has upside on all those numbers.

Minor will have an opportunity to start early in the season as Tim Hudson gets back to form. As he succeeds, it will be impossible to get him out of the rotation. Minor costs next to nothing, yet could return nearly identical statistics as Hanson, with none of the risk.

Come on, if Jeff Mathis is hitting homers off your pitcher, you’re in trouble.

Thomas Saucke: Pro-Hanson

Their starting rotation in 2012 will be Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson (when healthy), Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor with the likes of Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings.  Moving toward Draft Day 2012, Tommy Hanson appears to be the most logical target amongst the five.

According to MLB.com, Hanson altered his delivery in the off-season by removing a hitch to reduce the strain on his right shoulder.  He was forced to miss the last month and a half of the regular season with a slight tear in his shoulder.   It’s hard to determine what would deter fantasy owners faster, a shoulder tear or his new delivery.  Neither should be a problem moving forward, though.

Hanson had ample time to recover at the end of last year through the offseason.  He reported to Spring Training at 100 percent and, despite a car accident that set him back with a concussion, looks to be ready to go.  Concern over his new delivery will be overblown by his critics because they’ll see this as a sign of uncertainty.  He’s actually simplified things, though, and it’s difficult to see why this will hurt him.

Statistically, Hanson has been one of baseball’s better starting pitchers over the last three years.  Although his ERA jumped up to 3.60 in 2011, his HR/FB rate was up significantly at 12.5%.  Even during limited innings in 2009 and 2011 (127.2 and 130.0), Hanson has posted at least 10 wins every season in the Majors.  His K/9 rose to 9.83 which is closer to the numbers that he posted in the Minor Leagues.  Hanson is statistically solid and pitches for a Wild Card capable ball club.  If you buy his health, you should buy him in 2012.

Tim Hudson is old and had spine-fusion surgery in the off-season.  His ratios are great and he’s proven that he can be a reliable fantasy starter.  For a 36-year-old to undergo a spine procedure, though, I’m extremely skeptical.  He’s reached the point where age will cause breakdowns and I don’t really want to be a part of it.  He’s targeting a May 1st return at the latest.

Jair Jurrjens has established himself quite nicely in Atlanta.  His strikeout numbers don’t blow you away (expect 5.7 this year) and has a better walk rate than Hanson.  His strand rate (81%) was very high last season, though, so it’s to be expected that his 2.96 ERA will rise.  He’s coming off knee surgery which could also be a concern moving forward.  Although Jurrjens represents a nice depth starter, he doesn’t have the upside that Hanson does.  Jurrjens’ WHIP was higher than Hanson’s last year and his strikeout potential is lower.  He’s a nice buy but not really comparable to Hanson.

Brandon Beachy is getting massively overrated going into this season.  He went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts for the Braves last year.  His success was tied largely to his ridiculous 10.74 K/9 which ranked first amongst all starting pitchers who threw at least 100 innings.  Beachy introduced a slider to his arsenal during 2011 Spring Training and used it heavily against righties.   He threw the slider 14% of the time, 20% of the time when ahead in the count, and 21% of the time with two strikes according to ESPN Insider.  Longevity is a concern, though.  Only twice did Beachy pitch 7.0 innings or more although he had at least 90 pitches in 19 of his 25 starts.  He has relied on swings and misses from his fastball to get batters out and I’m not a big fan of his stuff.  Concerning Hanson, Beachy will post better strikeout numbers and a comparable ERA and WHIP.  He should be a nice pitcher this season but it’s hard to buy him as a Major Leaguer with only one season as a starter to date.

Mike Minor wins the last spot by default because Teheran and Delgado aren’t ready.  He posts decent strikeout numbers but has historically horrendous WHIPs.  If he struggles, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Teheran or Delgado getting chances in the rotation.  Mike Minor is a nice buy-low option but to compare him to Hanson is laughable.

Teheran and Delgado will become viable fantasy contributors in the near future.  Stash them away if your league is deep enough especially with injuries to Jurrjens and Hudson.   They will both see time at Gwinnett (AAA-IL) but have the potential to be effective at the Major League level.

Buy Hanson and expect a nice bounce back year from the 25-year-old righty.

 

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