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Due Diligence: Joel Hanrahan

Yesterday afternoon, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors hosted a chat. These are always interesting, because even if you disagree with the guys on their takes and answers, their responses are always measured and informed. In any rate, this is the one Twins-related question that stuck out to me:


Now, it's a fairly innocuous question and answer. And I know that just yesterday I said I wouldn't want to trade any of our starters, at least not for more relief help. But Joel Hanrahan is a fairly intriguing option that I hadn't considered.

Analysis of Hanrahan after the jump.

Hanrahan is a 29-year old, right-handed fireballer who has a higher whiff rate than anyone in the Twins' bullpen over the last two seasons not named Joe Nathan. Over the last three seasons, his fastball velocity has averaged just over 95 mph, and he compliments it with a devastating slider which helps keep contact rates low (just above 70% over the last two seasons). The slider itself has garnered a whiff rate of 26.7% over 2009 and 2010. That's insane. By comparison, Francisco Liriano's slider whiff rate was 22.3% last season.

In fact, in spite of throwing a changeup Hanrahan is almost exclusively a fastball-slider guy, and it worked out pretty well last year. Overall, hitters put together a meager line of .221/.299/.350 against him in 2010, including a pedestrian .333 OBP against left-handed hitters and an impressive .278 OBP against right-handers.

Of course the red flag with Hanrahan has never been his fastball velocity, or strikeout rates, it's been his inability to control the fastball, place the slider where he wants it, and at times his ability to give up so many hits outfielders will think it's raining baseballs. It wasn't that everything he threw was getting hit hard (in fact, since 2007, his well-hit average of at-bats has consistently graded out as an A courtesty of MyInsideEdge), it was that people were simply able to catch up to the fastball from time to time, particularly when he left it over the plate. Because when a guy only throws two pitches and only one of them is a killer, when he gets behind (again) and you're able to sit on that fastball, once you've clocked it then eventually you'll catch up to it. A 97-mph fastball isn't unhittable on its own.

That's the killer when it comes to Hanrahan. In the past he's struggled to get a first-pitch strike, he's struggled to convert two-strike counts into outs, too many of his plate appearances go to three-ball counts, and he struggles to turn hitter's counts into outs.

None of this is to say that Kevin Slowey is without his faults. In fact it's the strengths that both Slowey and Hanrahan bring to the table which make them such interesting players, because even with their imperfections they both have the ability to be valuable pitchers. But if this guesswork on some off-chance actually comes to fruition, then the Twins better be confident that Rick Anderson can polish Joel's command.