Last week at Getting Blanked we wondered if the Braves might come to lament their lack of activity during the offseason. One main reason for the Braves need for upgrade: significant injury risks in their starting rotation. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens were mentioned as pitchers who leave Braves fans and watchers uneasy when thinking about their health history.
A few Braves writers and fans got their backs up at the suggestion that Hanson’s health issues were anything but temporary. While it is understandable that fans of the team rally to defend an integral part of their playoff aspirations, the Braves themselves clearly don’t like what they see. Despite the insistence of some that Hanson’s injury concerns are overblown, the Braves spent the last month overhauling Hanson’s delivery. Always a good sign!
In actuality, it is a good sign the Braves recognized a flaw in Hanson’s delivery and took strides to improve it. As you can see from the video above, Hanson has a very unusual throwing motion that rarely sees him “plunge” the ball below his waist.
His mechanics are weird across the board. Consider the below screen grabs. The first shows Tommy Hanson the moment before he plants his foot ahead of delivering a pitch. The next shows a pitcher with a similar build/release point to Hanson: Brandon McCarthy. The other shows a more “traditional” guy, David Robertson of the Yankees.
Tommy Hanson puts his body into a very unique position. In addition to his unique plunge, he also appears to get far less rotation out of his hips and shoulders compared to even McCarthy, a guy know for his straight up-and-down style. The Braves and Hanson saw it that way, which explains why they’re trying to make his motion much smoother.
“I’m really just cutting out that pause,” Hanson said. “I felt like I was throwing with all arm. Also, by changing, I could kill two birds with one stone as far as cutting down the running game. Somebody gets on and they have just run all day. I think it’s going to help both.”
The running game stuff is far from the main concern here. If Hanson can adjust his motion to minimize stress on his arm, he must. If the Braves have to rebuild his entire delivery, they must. Eliminating the hitch in Hanson’s delivery should help minimize the tremendous pressure placed on his shoulder to generate all the armspeed.
Another example of the strain Tommy Hanson puts on his arm is represented in his release point. Most starters hold a consistent release point across seasons and game to game. A certain variance is expected but by the time a pitcher reaches the big leagues (and is really good, like Hanson) they possess the ability to maintain their delivery. Which makes the below image from Hanson’s Brooks Baseball player page somewhat disturbing.
That doesn’t look right, does it? Slip-sliding away like that? Could it be he was attempting to compensate for his injured shoulder? Seems likely, especially when we consider the below release point graph of new Reds ace Mat Latos.
That Latos, with a very different but still unique delivery of his own, missed time with a sore shoulder in 2011 (not unlike Tommy Hanson) and displays a similarly slipping release point should raise similar red flags to those that sent the Braves staff into motion. Are the Reds considering changes to their new aces wind-up? Perhaps they should.
The Braves deserve credit for attempting to smooth out the delivery of their best pitcher for the betterment of his career and the team’s immediate fortunes. Obviously how well (and how often) Hanson pitches in the coming months tells us all we need to know about the success of this change.
As for Latos…he showed no ill effects after missing time with shoulder bursitis in 2011. His velocity stayed up as he piled up 42 strikeouts against only 5 walks during the final month of the season. Nonetheless, warning signs remain. The Reds invested so much in their new ace, surely they have their eye on his laborious delivery. There is so much riding on the shoulder muscles and tendons of these pitchers, every team must make the ongoing health of their pitchers priority number one.