Joel Hanrahan is a monster. When he posted a 1.84 ERA last year while recording 40 saves in 44 chances he emerged as one of the league’s elite closers. This year, entering July 3rd, he has a 2.10 ERA while recording 20 saves in 22 chances. In fact, his strikeout rate has improved, rising above a strikeout per inning.
That sounds great right? It sounds like Hanrahan is an asset who should be held onto as long as possible, barring a godfather offer. Too bad it’s misleading. Let’s dig deeper.
Hanrahan is striking more guys out this year. His strikeout percentage has gone from 22.3% to 28.9%. Unfortunately this is one of the few numbers trending in the right direction. His walk percentage has gone from 5.4% to 12.4%. He is walking more than twice as many batters as he did last year. This stat alone tells us that Hanrahan is not the same pitcher that he was last year.
Hanrahan is also inducing fewer groundballs this year. Last year, 52.4% of balls put into play against him were groundballs. This year, that number is 35.8%. This is a decrease of 16.6%. On the bright side, 11% of this can be accounted for by an increase in pop-ups. That is a very good thing. On the downside, it is another indicator that Hanrahan is a wildly different pitcher this year than last. His line drive percentage has decreased, which is also great. However, Hanrahan’s fly ball percentage has increased from 28.6% to 50.7%.
More fly balls generally means more home runs. Last year Hanrahan allowed .13 home runs for every nine innings that he pitched. This year, he is allowing 1.2. Some of this is that both numbers need to be regressed due to sample size. However, a tenfold increase cannot be ignored. Hanrahan has become homer prone.
Now we get into the two numbers that make me the most concerned for Hanrahan’s future. The number that will affect his numbers the rest of the year is his strand rate. So far in 2012, Hanrahan has stranded 94.9% of runners that reached base against him. Last year he stranded only 78.2% of those runners. He is currently fourth in the league in this statistic. For context, an 80% strand rate is considered outstanding. Hanrahan is stranding 150% more runners than what is considered outstanding. This is unsustainable. He will strand fewer runners in the future, which will lead to more runs.
Most concerning, especially for Hanrahan’s long-term future, is that his fastball velocity is down from last year. Last year, Hanrahan’s fastball averaged 97.0 mph. This year, it averages 95.9 mph. He has lost an entire mph off of his fastball velocity. Meanwhile, his slider has gone from averaging 85.7 mph to averaging 87.8 mph. This could be explained by multiple things. He could have changed the grip on either or both of his pitches. He could be trying to make up for his lost velocity by overthrowing, which would explain his increased slider velocity and lack of control this year. More likely, it is an explanation I haven’t thought of. It is, however, very concerning, especially given the other changes in his pitching this year.
Joel Hanrahan in 2012 is not the same pitcher as Joel Hanrahan in 2011. Almost nothing has stayed the same. It may be time to trade him before the shine wears off.