It occurred to me the other day, and I was reminded of it by this column in USA today, when should we be concerned about how many inning Tommy Hanson is throwing. The column points to the notion that young pitchers should not increase their workload by more than 50 innings over the previous season.
Hanson had 138 minor league innings last year, and already has 146 innings between the majors and minors this season, putting him 8 innings over last year's total with only 42 more innings to go this season (according to that magical rule of 50). Calculating that Hanson goes about 6 innings per start (damn good for a rookie, by the way), quick math tells us that Tommy has 7 starts left in him before he surpasses 50 innings over last year's total.
Counting forward, if Hanson makes all of his scheduled starts, he would have 8 more starts during the regular season. That's not too far over what his projected innings total should be. But there's more...
Now consider this; Hanson's 138 innings total between A and AA from last year is a bit misleading since he also pitched in the Arizona Fall League. He threw 28.2 innings in the AFL, which brings his 2008 total between two stops in the minor leagues and the AFL to 166.2 innings. With that more accurate 2008 innings total in mind, Hanson's 2009 workload has yet to match last year's, and with the plus-50 rule in place he could easily throw 200 innings without over extending himself.
I thought of two things that this could mean. (1) Perhaps the Braves should extend Hanson deeper into games. Of course, a lot of that has to do with Hanson using his pitches economically. (2) If we make the playoffs, Tommy should still have a fresh arm, and he could easily make five starts in the post-season without over-extending himself.
All of this brings back memories of Steve Avery. The Braves are often credited with killing the young arm of Avery by throwing him way too much in 1991 -- Bobby Cox even admits to this. Avery threw 171 innings in the minors in 1989, then 181.1 innings between the majors and minors in 1990, and then blew past the 50-inning increase by throwing 239.1 innings between the regular season and post-season in 1991.
This is certainly a cautionary tale for young pitchers, and one that the Braves, especially Bobby Cox, are very aware of. It seems that the entire way the Braves have brought Hanson along this year is one of continuous caution -- limiting his innings in the minors, and then monitoring his pitch count in the majors. There may come a time in an important game when they need him to extend himself and throw 8 or 9 innings, and by limiting those innings on the front end of the season, he should have enough left to go the extra mile if needed here at the end and still not throw more innings than he should this year.
It was mentioned on the boradcast the other day that Tim Hudson's return could also have an impact on Tommy Hanson. Far be it to imagine that Hudson could be any more effective than Hanson has been, so there's no reason then to replace him in the rotation, but Hudson could spell Hanson here and there, as well as spelling Kenshin Kawakami. There was some mention of a 6-man rotation, but I don't think the Braves are ready to open up that potential can of worms.
I didn't know whether to be concerned about Hanson's workload when I started this article, but now I feel pretty confident he can handle it without being over-used.