Is Tommy Hanson the Next Great Atlanta Braves Pitcher?
By Tommy Rancel
Stephen Strasburg is the top pitching prospect in baseball, but he may not even be the most important young pitcher in his own division. Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves is not only a major league starter right now; he’s also poised to become one of the National League’s best starting pitchers.
Even in his own backyard, Hanson plays second fiddle. Braves outfielder Jason Heyward is generally regarded as the top prospect in baseball. In addition to the top ranking, Heyward has been the most talked about player this March, highlighted by a windshield-shattering home run display.
Strasburg and Heyward have the hype, but Hanson is the only one with major league experience, and major league success.
In 2009, the 23-year-old right-hander won 11 games in his first 21 major league starts. According to baseball-reference.com, only 22 players (classified as first-year players, not necessarily rookies) other than Hanson won 11 games in their first 21 starts with a sub-2.90 ERA since 1901. Hanson posted a 2.89 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 127.2 innings.
Despite his young age, Hanson showed control usually found in a veteran starter. He struck out nearly a batter per inning (8.18 K/9) while keeping his walks at a manageable 3.24 per nine innings (BB/9). Hanson excelled at missing bats, with a swinging strike percentage near 10% (9.9%) and a contact rate (percentage of swings against that are put in play, including foul balls) of 77.2%.
Hanson has a good fastball that runs around 92 miles per hour. His secondary pitches–curve ball and slider–are even better. He induced 18.1% whiffs on his slider and 15.6% on his curveball. The major league average for a right-handed pitcher’s slider is around 13%, and 11% on a curveball.
While Hanson tossed just 127.2 innings at the major league level, he threw 194 cumulative innings in 2009. That increases the likelihood that he’ll be good for 30-plus starters this season. Bloomberg Sports’ projects him for exactly 30 starts and just over 180 innings. If that projection holds, Hanson could pass 15 wins in 2010, with some strong supporting numbers too.
One knock on Hanson would be his home run rate. As a neutral pitcher with a 40% flyball rate, Hanson allowed just 0.72 home runs per nine innings. This was due to a lower than normal home run-to-fly ball rate of 6.9%; a starting pitcher is usually around 10% to 12%. Hanson should give up a few more long balls in 2010, but his ability to keep men off base could limit some to solo shots.
When looking for other young pitchers with similar starts to Hanson, Clayton Kershaw comes to mind. In 2008, Kershaw made 21 starts, going 5-5 with a 4.26 ERA. He then made 30 starts last season, posting a sparkling 2.79 ERA over 171 innings. Hanson’s stuff rivals Kershaw’s, as does his upside in terms of strikeouts and swing-and-miss ability.
Hanson is getting a lot of respect in drafts this year. He is the 25th-rated starting pitcher and places 95th overall in B-Rank. His average draft position (ADP) is 67.8. The ADP looks a bit high, but Hanson is worthy of a seventh-round draft pick is shallow leagues. Don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on him in your draft.
For more on Tommy Hanson and other potential young aces, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.