After dominating the Arizona Fall League in 2008, becoming the first pitcher in the league's history to win the MVP award, Thomas J. Hanson continued to excel in the Atlanta Braves' 2009 Spring Training, with a win and no losses in 5 games (3 starts), while striking out 18 in 17.2 innings. The Braves felt he needed more seasoning though, and optioned him to AAA Gwinnett, where he was dominant, as well with 3 wins and 3 losses in 11 starts, compiling a 1.49 ERA, 1.046 WHIP and 90 strikeouts in 66.1 innings, good for 12.2 per 9 innings.
Tom Glavine was supposed to be the Braves' fifth starter in 2009, but nagging injuries prevented him from ever pitching for Atlanta this season, and the Braves legend and future Hall of Famer was released June 3rd, just as he was, according to him, ready to assume his role in the Braves rotation. This highly unpopular move coincided with Hanson's additon to the roster, just two days later, and it turned out to be one of Frank Wren's most savvy decisions of the season.
Hanson came out of the gate pitching like an ace, collecting 4 wins in his 5 June starts, with a 2.48 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP while striking out 18 in 29 innings. While he had a losing record in July, 1-2, and his ERA jumped over a run, to 3.94, his strikeout rate increased, from 5.6 per 9 innings to 6.5 and his walks dramatically decreased, from 17 in 29 innings to just 9 in 32 innings, leading to a drop in his WHIP, down to 1.25. These trends continued over the rest of his season, with his ERA dipping back below 3 for August and September as well, leading to a final line that saw him win 11 games, lose 4, compile an ERA of 2.89, a WHIP of 1.18, along with 116 strikeouts in 127.2 innings.
In all, it was a stellar rookie season for Hanson, one which should garner him attention in National League Rookie of the Year voting, if not the award itself. On his own team, he had the third lowest ERA among the regular starters, just behind Javy Vazquez's 2.87 ERA, as well as the third most innings per start, at just over 6 per, behind Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens. Hanson had the second lowest WHIP of the starters, just behind Vazquez, tied with Vazquez for the fewest hits per 9 innings allowed, 7.4, and was second, behind Vazquez, in strikeouts per 9 innings, 8.2, and strikeouts per walk, 2.52.
Hanson showed improvement in each of his 4 Minor League seasons, including his most dominant performance in the early part of this season with Gwinnett. His ability to step seamlessly into Atlanta's rotation as a 22 year old and improve throughout the year indicate that he is well on his way to becoming one of the better pitchers in the National Leauge. While there are many hurdles for him to overcome on that quest, including allowing fewer hits and walks, while striking out more batters, he'll enter 2010 as a 23 year old, firmly entrenched in the Atlanta rotation, and just beginning to show his seemingly limitless ability.