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Pitching Mechanics Analysis
Tommy Hanson

Over the years, a number of people -- many of whom are fantasy baseball owners from sites like rotoworld.com -- have asked me what I think of the pitching mechanics of Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves. I don't think I've said anything publicly about Tommy Hanson's pitching mechanics, but in private e-mails I have had exchanges like this one from July 2009...

QUESTION: I came across your website recently and I appreciate the work that you do. You seem well educated in the fundamental mechanics for a pitcher and I enjoy reading what you have to say. Recently the Braves promoted Tommy Hanson, a prospect that is very exciting to watch, and even more exciting when one sits back and takes in the amount of poise he has for such a young player so early in his career. However, I have been in a constant argument with a friend of mine that based on the way that he throws the ball that Hanson is looking at elbow or shoulder issues in the near future (before age 29). I would love to have you as a source to either validate my argument or shoot me down and tell me I don't know squat! Let me know if you'd be interested in taking a look at him. Thanks!
ANSWER: He makes me nervous because his elbow gets a bit high. More importantly, he has the slow, slow, fast pacing (ala Matt Clement) that I'm not a fan of. I wish he was smoother in his pacing instead of speeding up from the high-cocked position.

...and this one from December 2009...

QUESTION: Driveline Mechanics says Tommy Hanson's arm action is good, but I see that his elbow gets higher than his shoulder. You say that's a bad thing. What do you think of Tommy Hanson's pitching mechanics?
ANSWER: Hanson's arm action isn't that bad but it does look like he's got a timing problem. His PAS forearm is late.

Given that Tommy Hanson seems to be blowing up, I thought it would be helpful if I went into what I saw and why I said what I did.

A Not-Terrible Arm Action

There's nothing glaring in Tommy Hanson's arm action. There's no Inverted W or Inverted L. While there might be a hint of Inverted V in his arm action, it's borderline at best. In truth, Tommy Hanson just shows some signs of Hyperabduction.

Tommy Hanson - Hyperabduction

Tommy Hanson

While that makes me a bit nervous, I'm not sure that Hyperabduction is (all that) bad in and of itself.[1]

Two Significant Problems

Having said that, Tommy Hanson does have two significant problems that are likely behind his current arm problems.

Slow, Slow, Fast

As I alluded to above, Tommy Hanson has the slow-slow-fast pacing that I don't like because it is often characteristic of inefficient, arm-y, top-down pitchers. In my experience, it also makes pitchers more vulnerable to developing a timing problem (aka rushing).

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson
Continuous

Notice, in the clip above, how Tommy Hanson starts out slowly and then, all of a sudden, rapidly rushes forward toward the plate. I saw this slow-slow-fast pacing in Matt Clement and I think it contributed to his problems. I also see it in Kyle McClellan and think it will keep him from staying healthy as a starter.
     I much prefer pitchers who are smooth and who gradually pick up their pace toward the plate rather than suddenly rushing forward toward the plate.

Major Timing Problem

The other, bigger, and related problem that Tommy Hanson has is a major timing problem.

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson
Stop Frame

The thing to notice is how he breaks his hands normally and his arm swing is fairly standard. However, Tommy Hanson's Pitching Arm Side (PAS) forearm basically stalls on the way up to the high-cocked position.[2]
     His PAS forearm starts to externally rotate and then, in Frame 29 and Frame 30, it stalls at about 20 degrees of external rotational (just a bit above horizontal). A couple of frames later, Tommy Hanson pulls back with his glove, his front heel plants, his shoulders start to rotate and, all of a sudden, his PAS arm flips over and lays back into external rotation.
     The problem is that that "all of a sudden" process puts a significant amount of strain on the elbow and the shoulder.

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

That rapid external rotation happens especially quickly and forcefully because Tommy Hanson's PAS forearm isn't in the correct position when his front foot plants and his shoulders start to rotate.

Prognosis

The problems with Tommy Hanson's pitching mechanics that I discuss above, combined with the fact that he is having shoulder problems, the root cause of which can't be isolated, scream "labrum problem" to me. That, of course, doesn't bode well for Tommy Hanson's long-term prospects.
     If I ran the zoo, I would shut Tommy Hanson down for 2011 and pray that he heals during the off-season. I would then convert him to a closer. His timing isn't going to allow him to stay healthy as a starter.

Notes

[1] I just came across a piece by Will Carroll in which he mentions that Tommy Hanson has an impingement. Well, an impingement is one of the things you run the risk of when you get your PAS elbow up and keep it up. Perhaps that's all it is, but I doubt it. While there may indeed be an impingement and a problem with the rotator cuff, I wouldn't be surprised if there is something bigger going on in Tommy Hanson's shoulder.

[2] The way that Tommy Hanson's arm stalls out on the way up to the high-cocked position is also obvious in this clip from the consistently terrible (and horribly named) baseball-intellect.com web site.

Tommy Hanson

Tommy Hanson

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