I just want to start off with by saying that I am a fan of Tommy Hanson. I've followed his career since the mythical AA no-hitter, his anointment as baseball Jesus in his tenure in the Arizona Fall League, to the day he was called up to the big leagues, and began striking out big leaguers like they were little leaguers. But there's really no way to sugar coat it, so I'm going to get straight to the point: 2012 was Tommy Hanson's worst big league season, ever. And we as Braves fans have legitimate reason to be concerned about the pitcher we all imagined would become the eventual ace of the Braves' pitching staff.
In just about every single meaningful statistical category, Tommy Hanson's 2012 numbers were either his worst ever, or at least, a noticeable decline from a year ago. The only statistic where Hanson actually improved upon was the ever-so meaningful pitcher wins stat, where Hanson notched a career-best 13 wins on the season. Unfortunately, Tommy was 12-5 at one point, before going 1-5 to end the season at 13-10. Fortunately, a lot of us here at the Chop don't really care about the pitching W-L numbers, but unfortunately as a result, we're throwing the one positive stat out the window.
Otherwise, name a stat, and Tommy Hanson's 2012 numbers aren't pretty. Off the bat, Hanson allowed 761 batters to hit .271/.344/.464 (.808 OPS) off of him, which is the worst slash line he's ever allowed. Additionally, he had a career-worst 4.48 ERA and allowed a career-high 183 hits including 27 home runs and 71 walks. To make matters worse, this was done in a span of 174.2 innings; this was all worse than when he pitched in 28 more innings in 2010.
Going into some of the advanced stat categories, reveal mostly all negative as well; his 8.30 K/9 is a steep decline from a year prior, and his 3.66 BB/9 is a career-worst. 1.39 HR/9 is also a career-worst, as is his 1.45 WHIP. Across the board with his rate numbers, every single one of these is worse than his career averages.
Tommy's groundball-flyball ratio was a slight tick up, but still close to his career average of 0.99 GB/FB. But line drives were a career-high 20.7%, and as anyone who watched his starts should guess, his HR/FB rate was also a career-high at 13.5%. Regardless, the ERA is hardly a lie, because his FIP of 4.57, SIERA of 4.10 and tERA of 4.91 all also say similarly about his performance.
In terms of value, fWAR (Fangraphs) valued Tommy Hanson at 1.0 fWAR on the season; which is his career lowest value. Baseball-Reference's WAR (bWAR) is far less generous, as they do not account for FIP, and once again, Tommy measures in at a career-worst -0.6 bWAR on 2012.
To make matters worse, not that Tommy Hanson is expected to be a stalwart with the baseball bat by any means, but not to be ignored in the laundry list of things that went wrong for Tommy in 2012, is his batting line of .020/.059/.020. This was tremendously bad, even for pitcher standards. With one single out of 61 plate appearances, Hanson's .020 batting average and slugging percentage was the worst amongst all pitchers in the National League, and by some miraculous divine intervention, the fact that Tommy managed to nurse out two walks makes his OBP of .059 just second-worst in the league, nudging out Mark Buehrle's .049 OBP. To put some of this in perspective, there were six pitchers in the American League that managed to slap a second hit in under 10 plate appearances during Interleague.
So we've established the fact that Tommy Hanson did not have a good 2012 season. But now we would all like to know why. The good news is that just about anyone who watched Tommy Hanson's starts are going to know just as well as everyone who is simply examining the numbers.
Inconsistencies! On a month-by-month basis, Tommy Hanson's numbers and performances are absolutely maddening. Delving into his splits reveals parts of the season were Hanson is striking out guys like we expect out of Hanson, but is also either allowing too many walks, home runs, or both. Tommy notched a 3.00 ERA in June, but had an un-Tommy-like 6.25 K/9 and still allowed a staggering 2.27 HR/9. In August, Tommy got that HR/9 down to a diminutive 0.57 HR/9, but then ended up walking guys at a 4.02 BB/9 clip. It's like on a monthly basis, Tommy would try to correct the prior month's biggest issue, but then in the process of fixing the dam, another one would crack and leak the next month.
Home runs. As mentioned above, Tommy Hanson allowed a career-worst 27 dingers in 2012. How many of you watched Tommy Hanson starts and thought "man, Tommy cruises through the game, but then gives up these crucial late-game home runs before getting pulled?" If you're like me, then probably pretty often. Hanson starts never felt that comfortable unless the Braves padded him with big leads, which wasn't always that often, because of his propensity of giving up the long ball this season. Here's the breakdown by which innings Tommy gave up homers this season:
So if your eye test thought that he gave up too many late-game homers, then you would correct. The worst part about all these homers. The fourth inning was clearly Hanson's biggest issue, followed by the sixth inning; the interesting thing about all those first-inning home runs, most of them came via the Washington Nationals, who apparently have in their book to attempt to ambush Hanson every time they saw him. The worst part about a lot of the late-inning home runs is that so many of them were in games where Hanson appeared to be pitching well enough, and managing his base-runners to a minimal worry. But then one of those later innings turns into scenarios where a walk or a single suddenly turns into a multi-run homer, and all of Hanson's numbers suffer subsequently.
And the biggest culprit of them all, decrease in velocity. It didn't take a genius to realize that across the board, Tommy Hanson's entire repertoire of pitches were all noticeably slower this year than they were at any point of his career. When he was called up, Hanson would routinely sit around 92-93 on his fastball, but in 2012, his average fastball velocity according to Fangraphs sat at 89.7 mph. It's no secret that a slower pitch is an easier pitch to hit, so it's safe to assume that just about all of his statistical woes stem from this problem. At 26-years old going into 2013, this is the kind of decrease in velocity that nobody wants to see this early in his career. If this pattern of decreasing velocity continues, then he could very well be pitching at around the same velocity as Paul Maholm. And nobody wants that.
Personally, I'm giving Tommy Hanson's woes the benefit of doubt that 2012 was also a season of the nagging injury. From the very start of Spring Training, there was the incident where Tommy Hanson was in a car collision, resulting in a concussion; as supposedly less-severe sounding that may have sounded compared to the shoulder tendinitis he had been plagued with, one only has to look at a guy like the Mets' Jason Bay to see just how crippling a concussion can really become. In addition to the concussion were nagging back strains and pains that managed to shelve Tommy several times throughout the season. As it's often discussed, the slightest nags and aches potentially lead to the slightest mechanical adjustments to compensate for pain reduction, and the results can vary from indistinguishable to devastating. In Hanson's case, it's safe to say that it could have been more of the latter. It's almost as if there were multiple attempts at adjustments, and each one resulted in the wildly varying sets of results from month-to-month.
2013 is going to be a very crucial year for Tommy Hanson's career. After such a disappointing season, there will be a lot of scrutiny on Hanson's health and velocity, and his overall results to see what lies ahead for the big right-hander future with the Braves. With the general depth of the Braves' starting pitching options, there is no guarantee that Tommy is guaranteed a spot in the rotation, and will probably be determined based on Spring Training evaluation.
In a perfect world, Tommy Hanson gets a lot of time this offseason to let his body recover from the litany of nagging aches and pains, and he shows up to Orlando in March, hurling fastballs that are back up to 91+ mph. And the Braves hire someone to drive him around. And he grows out his mullet of domination again. And it results in a Tommy Hanson who not only gets the winz, but has a high K/9, low BB/9, and an even lower HR/9, and proves that 2012 was a fluke.