Braves starter Tommy Hanson throws in the second inning at Yankee Stadim

Atlanta Braves: The fall of Tommy Hanson

It’s time for the Braves to make a bold decision and “bench” Tommy Hanson for the rest of 2012, just as they have done with Uggla.

Hanson, a once-promising ace in the farm system, has regressed to a pitcher who can’t control his pitches and one that can’t seem to stop allowing runners on the basepaths. His loss of velocity on his fastball is well-known to Braves fans who follow the team closely enough, but it’s his complete loss of command — both of the mound and his pitches — that is really the most alarming development.

While it’s true that Hanson is in his age 25 season (just turned 26), and that does offer some hope, his future looks cloudier with each outing. He’s spent time on the DL two years in a row and it’s looking like his delivery could be his downfall. Of course, I am no medical expert so my opinion on his shoulder has no basis. I just don’t like what I’m seeing from him. At the very least, the Braves should consider removing him from the current rotation this year. His stats in the 2nd half say enough about his performance:

7 Starts, 35 IP, 33 K, 23 BB, .331 Opp. AVG (48 Hits)

Sure, the strikeout numbers are there — but look at the amount of baserunners he’s allowing. That’s an average of 2.03 baserunners per inning. That is unspeakably bad for a starter, well for anyone really. Once he allows a runner, he can’t stop them from stealing him blind either. Hanson has allowed 25 stolen bases in 2012, third highest in baseball according to ESPN. While that has been a problem for some time, it’s just adding fuel to the fire when you aren’t preventing baserunners very well. Hanson has cut down on the number of homeruns he’s allowing since the All-Star break (down from 1.36 per 9 to 1.03), but that has just translated into more basehits. And that HR/9 is still not a good number.

You could say that he has suffered from a high amount of balls falling for hits over that stretch (BABIPs north of .375 in July and August), but he’s getting rocked by hitters to the tune of a 22.3% (July) and 28.3% (August) line drive rate.┬áSince returning from a short DL stint, he’s failed to pitch past the 5th against the Padres and Giants and allowed 15 hits combined in those starts. For the year, he’s managed a quality start in just 40% of his outings — 5th worst in the majors (interestingly enough, Tim Lincecum is 3rd worst). The Braves need Hanson, or someone else, to pitch better than this.

Perhaps the root of Hanson’s ills lie with his fastball. While most Braves fans are familiar with the decline in velocity, if you take a look at his average fastball velocity over the last three years, the reality of it all sets in.

2010: 93.4 mph (actually increased from ’09 to ’10)
2011: 91.9 mph
2012:
90.5 mph

*data courtesy of Brooksbaseball.net

A drop in velocity of one MPH is reason enough for alarm — let alone two. This is a guy who was throwing 96 MPH in the minors. On top of that, he has struggled to locate his pitches (mainly the fastball) and it seems like he’s constantly pitching behind in the count or with a full count. When he actually does get ahead of hitters, he often struggles to put them away.

Maybe Hanson can find a way to reinvent himself, but it may not be with Atlanta if he can’t find an answer, and it certainly isn’t going to happen this year. He isn’t a free agent until 2016, and he’s still pretty cheap, so there are positive things to be said of Mr. Hanson.

In a tight race for the Wild Card (and even the NL East still), Atlanta simply can’t afford to keep sending him to the hill — though they probably will and it’s not the first time they’ve decided to stick with a struggling pitcher in September (See Lowe, Derek). Every start counts for a team trying to put the catastrophic collapse of 2011 behind them.

As a Braves fan, you can only hope that Hanson magically finds a way to pitch effectively over the last month of 2012. Maybe the frustration with Hanson is misplaced, but it’s probably because he’s shown so much promise before. Personally, I don’t think he should be taking the hill anymore this season and he isn’t giving me much of a reason to look forward to 2013 either.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.

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