With Felipe Paulino disabled, the White Sox needed to call on their 6th Starter a bit earlier than they envisioned going into the season. Provided with plenty of time prior to what would have been Paulino's next start, however, they had sufficient time to ensure that Andre Rienzo, their preferred choice, would take the ball.
RIenzo leaves a hole in Charlotte's rotation tonight that will be filled by Rangers cast-off and recent signing Tommy Hanson. A top prospect in the Braves system, the 27-year-old righty had a promising start to his MLB career. Called up in June 2009, relying primarily on a vicious 12-to-6 curveball and a hard slider, he was by far Atlanta's best pitcher between '09-'11, piling up 8.2 fWAR in 460.1 IP over 77 GS.
Though he was a flyball pitcher - achieving just a 40.2% groundball rate - aided by a friendly home ballpark and other ballparks in his division, he limited the balls leaving the park. Coupled with an impressive 7.8% walk rate and a good 22.6% strikeout rate, Hanson was an above-average starting pitcher.
But injuries began to derail him in 2011. Back problems in spring training portended shoulder issues later in the season, resulting in two separate DL stints for a rotator cuff strain that meant missing a third of the season. Driving to 2012 spring training, a blown tire caused a one-car wreck, in which he suffered a concussion. The three weeks he missed probably didn't help his shoulder strength.
His velocity was down markedly. After consistently being in the 92-93 MPH range prior to his minor rotator cuff tear, Hanson found himself throwing his four-seam right around 90 MPH. Perhaps more importantly, his curve went from 75-76 MPH to 72-73 MPH. He saw his home run rate spike and his strikeout rate drop.
Traded to the Angels in the offseason, things didn't get any better in Anaheim-Orange-County-Los Angeles-USA-Earth-Milky Way. Hanson battled forearm issues and was sent to the minors in August.
In spring training this year with the Rangers, he didn't show any improvement in velocity. It's rare to see a righty who can barely crack 90 MPH be successful in the majors. He's got an extensive repertoire - in addition to his four-seam, slider and curve, he has a two-seam and changeup - but quantity certainly isn't quality with the current version of Hanson.
Signing rebound candidates like Hanson and Paulino is exactly what the White Sox should be doing. Since he's on a minor league deal, there's essentially no downside to Hanson. But it's difficult to see him returning to useable form as a starter - particularly given that he's now a pitch-to-contact, flyball pitcher. He wasn't keen on the role with the Rangers, but his best bet ultimately may be converting to a reliever. The resultant increase in velocity and opportunity to focus on two or three pitches could be enough to get him back to the majors.