Tommy Hanson: Bargain or Bust?

Yesterday, I touched a bit on Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis, at which point -- because of course -- news broke that the Rangers had signed Tommy Hanson.

The deal was initially believed to be a minor league deal, but now, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the deal is actually a Major League deal worth $2 million plus incentives. If true, the deal would most likely give Hanson the inside track on the final rotation spot, assuming he doesn't fall apart in Spring Training.

While still under the assumption of Hanson being signed on a minor league deal, I began to wonder exactly what Jon Daniels and the rest of the front office saw that made the move seem like a potentially saavy one. Now, given that it appears the deal is actually guaranteed and carries a higher risk, my mind began churning even more, trying to figure out exactly why the Rangers would make such a high-risk move, albeit one that could carry a high upside.

Hanson, of course, was once a rising star, but rotator cuff surgery placed that on hold. He was traded from Atlanta to the Angels prior to last season, and failed to give that organization much confidence, although due to a lack of pitching depth, he started 13 games in 2013.

One of the major reasons Hanson required rotator cuff surgery in 2011 was poor mechanics. A hitch in his delivery was viewed as a primary cause of stress on his pitching shoulder, and it's something he has tried to mitigate since the surgery. As you can see below, the GIF on the left is pre-surgery with the Braves, and the GIF on the right is from last season with the Angels.

As you can see, the hitch is still there, but it's a bit less pronounced than it was in 2011. Perhaps the biggest knock on Hanson since the surgery has been his loss of velocity. In 2013, his average fastball velocity was 89.9 mph, almost a full 3 mph off of his average from his 4.2 WAR 2010 season. 2012 was even worse, which was one of the reasons the Braves opted to make the trade with the Angels. Below, you see Hanson's fastball velocity for the 2012 season.


Hanson's velocity actually got worse as the 2012 season progressed, to the point that he wasn't even touching 92 mph on the radar gun. Compare that to 2013:

The 2013 season began with much of the same. However, he went on the disabled list toward the end of June with forearm soreness. Upon returning in July, Hanson's fastball was suddenly back, and was even trending upward by the end of the season, with his fastball averaging 92.36 in September, and at times coming close to 95 mph.

Now, I'm sure this is something the Rangers front office keyed on when considering Hanson. It'd be surprising if most baseball front offices weren't aware of it, yet it's the Rangers that jumped in and threw money at him. Perhaps it will end up being an uncessary risk. However, given the success Bartolo Colon has had over the past few seasons after rehabbing a shredded rotator cuff, I'm at least slightly hopeful that this move will pay dividends in 2014.

If indeed Tommy Hanson's velocity is something closer to 92-93 mph as opposed to 89 mph, the hope would be that command will follow, and perhaps that, more than anything, is what the Rangers are literally banking on happening. If so, we may be talking again in six months about a payoff that none of us could have seen coming even a week ago.