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2011 Atlanta Braves Spring Training: Tommy Hanson's Innings Increase And Durability Going Forward

Tommy Hanson reached the 200-inning mark last season at the age of 23, turning in 202.2 innings to be exact. The year before that, between AAA and the majors, Hanson logged 194 innings at 22 years old. These are solid numbers for a pitcher following Hanson's path, and it shows the Braves are doing everything in their power to keep him healthy while building durability. But as he reaches his development peak, it is time to start seeing better stamina from the big righty.

Hanson obviously blew AAA hitters away in his 66.1 innings in 2009, sporting a 1.49 ERA and 12.21 K/9. His 127.2-inning debut to end '09 was also good, recording a 2.89 ERA and 3.50 FIP. However, we saw a slight decrease in fastball velocity from early June to the end of the season. Now, we did see an improved slider by September, both in velocity and movement, and he held his line drive rate steady the entire way, so there was nothing mentioned regarding his durability.

Hanson received his first full season in 2010, and it was everything the Braves could expect. He had a 3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP and 4.04 xFIP, all solid. He also lowered his walk rate to 2.49 BB/9, which was below his minor league average and quite surprising. However, the problem began with the strikeout rate, which ended at 7.68 K/9. Hanson's lowest K/9 in the minors was 9.6, and while they are two completely different levels, it is not unreasonable to expect a K/9 at least halfway close to that during Hanson's career. After all, minor league K/BB is one of the best indicators of potential major league performance.

So what caused the downswing in strikeouts? Hanson's second half. The most telling stat for this claim is this:

First 102 innings - 104 strikeouts

Remaining 100 innings - 69 strikeouts

Hanson pitched to contact much more in the second half. In his first 20 starts, he averaged 2.9 LD/game, 6.1 GB/game and 6.8 FB/game. In his final 14 starts, he averaged 2.7 LD/game, 7.7 GB/game and 7.6 FB/game.

Hanson had just a slight decrease in line drives over his final starts, but the difference is too small to consider. However, his grounders and flyballs allowed are eye-opening. This, along with his strikeout totals, makes it obvious that Hanson lost the ability to get whiffs as the season wore on.

The first thought that popped into my mind when going over these numbers is Hanson's stuff and durability, and how it played down the stretch.

Fastball:

First 20 starts - 93.3 mph, 84.7 contact%, 14.7 whiff%, 40 GB%, 16.2 LD%, 43.4 FB%

Final 14 starts - 92 mph, 91.4 con%, 5.8 whiff%, 47.6 GB%, 18.3 LD%, 34.1 FB%

For the sake of time and space, just believe me when I say the rest of his pitches have similar trends. It is obvious Hanson lost zip and snap on his stuff as the season progressed. He averaged more pitches per start in 2010 than in his shorter stint in 2009. He threw at least 100 pitches in 12 of his first 20 starts, and he reached 100 pitches in just four of his final 14 starts.

Velocity trends like these are not rare for a pitcher under 25. Hanson may be huge, and he may have filled out since the minor leagues, but his body and muscles are still developing. Inconsistencies will happen at this age. However, he is nearing the point where velocity will level off according to his peak, and it may come as soon as 2011. This is why development between the ages of 18 and 24 is so important for a pitcher. If a pitcher is allowed to stretch his workload a little at the time during these years without overuse, he can hit his peak. If he is overused, or even underused, during this period, it is certainly possible that he never reaches his full durability peak. It happens all the time.

When breaking down the numbers, Hanson's durability seems to be the main concern heading into this season. He will turn 25 in August, meaning he is hitting his development peak. That means 2011 and 2012 could show whether the Braves have a true workhorse capable of maintaining durability down the stretch. Despite the inconsistency in velocity in 2010, I think Hanson is on track to hit his peak.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.