Coming off a highly successful rookie season, it was difficult to know what to expect out of Tommy Hanson in 2010. On the one hand, there was a chance that he was pitching over his head last year, or that the league would catch up to him. You know, the typical "sophomore slump" scenario. On the other hand, it was possible that last year was simply the tip of a big, red-haired iceberg of acetude. That is certainly what Braves fans were hoping for.
For the first few months of the season, many seemed to think that Hanson's 2010 was headed for the "sophomore slump" category. Those who delved beyond his ERA, however, were comforted that his strikeout, walk, and home run rates were all improved from his rookie campaign. Sure, he had exhibited a tendency to get knocked around every now and then, but that was only mildly worrisome in the grand scheme of things. The talent was there.
In the second half of the season, the talent took over. From July 1st to the end of the season, Hanson's ERA was 2.40, bringing his season mark to 3.31 (right in line with his 3.33 FIP). That may not be quite what Braves fans' best-case scenario was, but it is darn impressive nonetheless. Throw in the fact that he didn't turn 24 until August, and you've got a burgeoning ace. This season wasn't quite his breakthrough year, but there's a good chance that 2011 or 2012 will be. If he can stay healthy, that is (always the biggest question for pitchers).
Now that we're below the jump, we can pick a few nits about Hanson's year. Keep in mind that these are relatively small issues, and that we all know that Big Red's freshness lasted right through the 2010 season.
First off, Tommy has a tendency to get shelled a bit more than we'd like. He gave up 5 or more runs 6 times this season (including 8 runs in 1.2 IP to the Reds and 9 runs in 3.2 IP to the White Sox), and seemed unable to keep his team in the game when he didn't have his best stuff. This may just be an issue related to his youth and inexperience; I'm sure a lot of pitchers learn how to cope with tired arms and such as their careers progress. Regardless, if Tommy is going to win a Cy Young, he'll probably have to at least limit the damage done to his ERA in these kinds of games.
A related issue is Tommy's wastefulness with his pitches. In 2010, Hanson averaged 5.38 pitches per out; by comparison, Tim Hudson needed only 4.87 pitches per out. Through 6 innings of a typical start, Hanson had thrown 97 pitches--he was basically done. So it's no surprise that he averaged a bit less than 6 innings per start (5.96, to be precise). By contrast, Hudson needed only 88 pitches through an average 6-inning stint, which allowed him to go 7 innings or more much more often (he averaged 6.73 IP/start). If Hanson wants to raise his game to the next level, being more efficient with his pitches is a good place to start.
Finally, one minor concern relates to Hanson's strikeout rates. As I mentioned above, they were quite good early in the season. In fact, he struck out more than a batter per inning through the end of July (9.18 K/9). That's fantastic: it would have ranked 6th in the NL this year if he had kept it up. From August 1 to the end of the season, however, he only averaged 5.53 K/9. Probably he was just tired from his first exposure to a full major-league season, but it is certainly possible that he had some nagging injury that caused the drop in strikeouts. Then again, his ERA didn't suffer at all, so perhaps it is nothing to worry about. We should keep an eye on his K rates in 2011, though, just to be sure.
Despite these few minor flaws, Tommy had an excellent season in 2010, and looks like a good bet to be even better in 2011.