Tommy Hanson once looked likely to be atop Atlanta’s rotation for a long time, but after the right-hander struggled for the past season-and-a-half the Braves have traded him to the Angels.
Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com reports that the Braves will get 25-year-old reliever Jordan Walden in return, which makes it a swap of two young pitchers whose stock has declined dramatically in the last year.
Through his first three seasons Hanson tossed 460 innings with a 3.28 ERA, but this year his ERA rose to 4.48 and his average fastball velocity fell from 92 miles per hour to 89.7 mph. Hanson has struggled with back and shoulder problems since the middle of last season, but even with the declining velocity he managed 161 strikeouts in 175 innings.
Walden went from saving 32 games as a rookie closer in 2011 to quickly losing the job and being relegated mostly to low-leverage outings this year, although he still finished with a nice 3.46 ERA and 48/18 K/BB ratio in 39 innings.
After signing Ryan Madson the Angels clearly felt Walden was expandable and they certainly need plenty of rotation help after trading Ervin Santana and potentially losing both Dan Haren and Zack Greinke to free agency. A healthy Hanson is a 26-year-old top-of-the-rotation starter under team control through 2015 and that would have huge value, but he comes with some big question marks attached and in the meantime the Braves’ scary good bullpen gets even scarier with Walden and his-90s heat.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.