Tommy Hanson

WSB-TV and others are reporting that Tommy Hanson has died at the age of 29. They are reporting that he suffered a catastrophic organ failure and was rushed to Piedmont Hospital, where he passed away on the night of Monday the 9th.

This is a hard one for all of us. He’s three years younger than me, probably younger than nearly anyone here. He was one of the Braves’ last draft-and-follow picks, taken in the 22nd round in 2005, quickly establishing himself as one of the Braves’ premier pitching prospects. In 2007, at the age of 20, he pitched on the same High-A Myrtle Beach team as Kris Medlen (21) and Jonny Venters (22). At that point, Medlen was still a reliever and Venters still a starter. The next year, he made it up to Double-A Mississippi. The following year, he was in the majors, where he went 11-4 in 127 2/3 innings, earning third place in the Rookie of the Year voting.

He came in the nick of time, too. The 2008 Braves were simply awful — the worst Braves team since the 1980s, utterly wrecked by injuries and finishing 72-90 after a raft of preseason expectations of making the playoffs. That was the second and final year that Mark Teixeira would suit up as a Brave. Though the team sold the farm for him, and fell five games short of the playoffs in 2007, Teixeira started the year cool and the team never got on track, finally selling him for scrap as they stood in late July with a 49-56 record. The team went 23-34 the rest of the way. They needed help. By the end of the year, Baseball America ranked Hanson as the fourth-best prospect in baseball. By June 2009, he was up for good.

With his herky-jerky motion — he nearly paused in the middle of his motion, and his pitch appeared to use just his arm and elbow — that generated a stiff fastball and killer curve, he stymied hitters. Bolstered by a brilliant season from Javier Vazquez and the best year of Jair Jurrjens’s career, the 2009 Braves weathered disappointing years from Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami (who really wasn’t that bad, but somehow earned his way into the doghouse and never managed to get out of it), and finally managed to get rid of Jeff Francoeur — the most important of the Baby Braves was gone, and the Braves’ best prospect since the 2005 youth movement was in the bigs.

All of that led the Braves to a dead cat bounce and a perfectly respectable 86-76 record in Tommy’s rookie year. But he had electrified the team, and even inspired his own parody account, the great Cyborg Tommy Hanson.

The team then won 91 games in 2010, earning a wild card berth. But they ran into an immediate buzzsaw — the San Francisco Giants in an even year, winning the first of their three championships in a five-year period. Tommy didn’t really factor into it, but he started the only game the Braves won — he got knocked out after giving up four runs in the first four innings, while Matt Cain allowed only a single run in 6 2/3, but the Braves pen threw up seven innings of zeroes (Mike Dunn, Peter Moylan, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel, Billy Wagner, and Kyle Farnsworth) and the Giants pen gave up a bunch of late runs.

That was the only playoff start of Tommy Hanson’s career. The next year, the Braves missed the Wild Card by a single game, and the year after that, the Braves made the Wild Card but lost the first-ever Wild Card Game. Tommy, meanwhile, had never quite replicated the results of his rookie season. From 2010 to 2012, he twirled 507 1/3 innings in 87 starts, with a higher ERA, a lower strikeout-to-walk ratio, and an average fastball velocity that declined approximately 1.5 miles per hour each season. His 2012 in particular was worse than league average, his 4.48 ERA buoyed by the 27 homers he gave up in just 174 2/3 innings.

That offseason, the Braves traded him for Jordan Walden, a former Angels closer with a funky delivery of his own who had been beset by injuries of late. Walden thrived in Atlanta, but Hanson got bombed in Anaheim. He made 13 starts in 2013, putting up a 5.59 ERA before finally getting removed from the rotation in August. He pitched in Triple-A in 2014 and 2015, putting up a 5.87 ERA in 102 2/3 combined innings.

Tommy burned bright and fast, and in retrospect it seems like he went from phenom to burnout in almost no time. But he was a really good pitcher from 2009 to 2011, and one of the last great gifts that John Schuerholz left to Frank Wren, along with Medlen and Venters. He was instrumental in helping the team make it to the postseason in 2010 and a key contributor to the playoff team in 2012, even though his numbers were significantly down that year.

But when I think of him, I think of the excitement that I felt as a Braves fan, staring across the wasteland of a 90-loss team, because he was so clearly the future. When he came up in 2009 and started to dominate the league, it really reignited our hopes for another great run of Braves teams. For a brilliant three years, he lived up to the hype and then some.

It is terribly sad and frankly incomprehensible that he’s gone. But I’m so glad I got a chance to root for him. My thoughts go out to his family and loved ones. I hope that they can find comfort. Hug someone you love tonight.

55 thoughts on “Tommy Hanson”

  1. In 2009, I drove all the way from Charlotte to the Ted just to watch his first MLB start, on a Sunday afternoon against a Brewers lineup at the apex of its power.

    Tommy gave up some bombs — two to Ryan Braun, IIRC. But his stuff was electric. Rarely have I felt such optimism and hope going into the park — and then coming out of it, as well, even though it took an eighth-inning rally and two extra-base hits to pull that game out of the fire.

    In the last month of 2010, he was our best pitcher. We don’t earn the wild-card spot that year without his steadiness (and I believe his ERA from September 1 onward was 1.83). From the All-Star Break in 2010 through the same point in 2011, he was everything we dreamed he could be.

    I hope his family and friends find peace and strength through this.

    R.I.P., Big Red. You shone brightly. You were good.

  2. What a sad day. Hanson’s arrival really did signal a new era of optimism for Braves fans. His life like his career is over far too soon.

  3. Twitter is outpouring with their sympathies and it seems like Tommy was a well-loved, quiet quirky dude. Probably would have fit in well with this blog. May your wings spread over your family, Tommy.

  4. It’s natural to ask “why” when a seemingly perfectly fit 29 year old athlete goes into massive organ failure. But it’s pointless to guess about it. Sometimes its self inflicted or drug aided. Sometimes it’s MRSA and three days later they’re gone. I’m pretty sure the media will let us all know in due time. For now, just sympathize with the folks that loved him. His brother died at 24 two years ago.

  5. Long-time lurker.

    My Tommy Hanson story: My friends and I were sitting in the patio at Churchills in Buckhead when Tommy walks out of the bar holding hands with a very attractive young lady in the “we’re totally gonna do it” kind of way. I, in my inebriated state, yell out “that a boy, Big Red.” Tommy turns to me, smiles, and gives me a thumbs up.

    RIP Dude

  6. Someone posted on twitter that it was a cocaine overdose that led to the organ failure. Sad, way to early for him to go. Be praying for his family.

  7. @21, there will be lots of speculation and most of it will be incorrect. I agree we should hold off in this thread

  8. It’s when organs stop doing their basic functions, declining very rapidly over a matter of hours or days (rather than long-term decline due to some sort of disease like cirrhosis or diabetes). They’re probably referring to multi-organ failure, which can be due a sudden insult like septic shock or exposure to a toxin.

  9. By far my favorite Tommy Hanson game was that crazy spectacle down in Miami when he gave up seven walks and seven stolen bases in only five innings of work yet somehow allowed only a single run and escape with a win. But watching the highlights of his 14-K gem against the Astros in 2011 it is ridiculous how good his curveball could be:

  10. Yeah, there were definitely times when I looked forward to watching Hanson pitch. When he was on, especially early in his Braves stint, he was really effective. Pretty much, up to his last season in Atlanta, I felt like we had a chance to win any time he was on the mound.

    #21
    The internet chatter’s pretty ugly at the moment. Probably best to wait for further, perhaps more official, info.

  11. @23

    Just a HIPAA-compliant generalization, most likely. Causes of death are made public record, but that’s pending an autopsy in a case like this, I believe.

  12. I had a nightmare that the Braves were in Game 5 of the division series against the Cardinals and Fredi started a guy making his major league debut instead of his #1 or #2 starter, who were both well rested. Then the Braves blew a big lead when the kid was allowed to stay in and pitch during a big inning for the Cardinals, and the Braves lost by 1 run.

  13. Well, it’s official, the Braves cannot have a single nice thing in 2015. Brandon Crawford, your NL Gold Glove shortstop.

  14. Good thing the Gold Glove means nothing except that the players who vote on it are dumb. Rafael Palmeiro won it once when he only played 30 odd games in the field and DH’d the rest of time.

  15. #36
    Silly. Crawford’s good, but he’s not Andrelton.

    Guess Simmons can use that as motivation, but it’s kinda hard for a starting MLB SS to make fewer than 8 errors in an entire season.

  16. Simmons not winning the Gold Glove? I may have to start boycotting baseball.

    Sad news about Hanson. Hard to believe.

  17. I can’t imagine Andrelton being very popular around the league. He slides late on offense, and tags hard on defense. But I have to imagine he didn’t win the award because he can’t hit. Everyone knows that Gold Gloves tend to go to the best “star” who can also play defense.

  18. @44 Often that’s true…or they go to the guy who has already won a few and has a reputation for winning them. This result is somewhat surprising to me given the Gold Glove inertia Andrelton came into the season with.

  19. I think there’s a good chance the voting process had something to do with it. There’s a bit in Bill James New Historical Abstract about that Palmeiro election in ’99 not having been a function of a bunch of idiot voters so much as an electoral process that drastically diluted the votes for the serious candidates. (As well as a relatively small number of idiot voters.)

  20. On our Hamlet question (to be or not to be on Mike Minor)

    This is a framework to look at that.

    If you tender a contract, it has to be at least 4.48. Arb can take it to last year (5.6) or higher. With his arm not even proven to be serviceable at time of offer, I don’t know how that affects arb process. Lets ASSUME 5.6.

    I am rough guessing percentages of likely output by Minor:

    10% #2 / 3 post 2016 arb yes post 2017 QO yes
    55% #4 / 5 post 2016 arb yes post 2017 QO no
    15% #2 lefty pen post 2016 arb, no n /a as to QO
    20% no ML value post 2016 arb, no n / a as to QO

    To look at value in each case.

    1. value 2016 approx. 20 mill (3 WAR). Arb contract 2017 12 mill. Surplus value 8 mill. Pick worth 3 mill. So, 25 mill surplus value.

    2. value 2016 approx. 7 mill (1 WAR) BUT ALSO, some (?) value in not accruing service time on Banuelos, Foltynewicz, whoever that stays down). Value 2017 arb cost lower at 7 value 7, some value from “hold down.” Net, 1.4 mill with a little long term plus.

    3. value 2016 approx. 1.5 mill (avoids a Joe Beimel from 3 years ago or similar signing). net is minus 3.1

    4. minus 5.6 mill.

    THEN, ASSUMING the probabilities, take 25 x .1 + 1.4 x .55 minus 3.1 x .15 minus 5.6 x .1. Total: weighted excess value is 2.345 mill.

    SO, if the Braves don’t have a more negative view of Minor’s chances than I just set out, then for a team that isn’t setting itself to contend in 2016, this is a good move to see if there is value in Minor.

  21. For those wondering,
    Here’s where Hanson sits on the all-time Braves pitcher lists.

    Games 108 Tied 62nd Atlanta T-124 franchise
    Wins 45 15th Atlanta 49th franchise
    Loss 32 25th Atlanta T 88th franchise
    Innings 635 20th Atlanta 76th franchise

    Interestingly Jordan Waldon, who the Braves received from the Angels for Hanson, also played 108 games for the Braves before getting traded.

  22. @48 – Good analysis but there’s a math error (only 10% instead of 20% for option 4 in the equation). Actual is +$1.685 million given your probabilities.

    I’m inclined to think it’s more like 5%/25%/35%/35% for net expected value of -$1.445 million. Still, unless $1.445 million is the difference between signing Heyward again and not, I don’t see the team doing anything else awe (or even mildly confidence) inspiring with the cash. Might as well tender him.

    [edit: I guess the risk is $5.6 mill coming out of the potential Heyward money, which could actually be significant, so stay the heck away from him and give Heyward whatever he asks for +10% to apologize for trading him in the first place]

  23. @ 48

    the mind boggles..

    Mike Minor
    could any assessment be finer?
    the detail astounding
    the meaning some have to admit quite confounding.

  24. Yanks trade back-up catcher John Ryan Murphy to Twins for Aaron Hicks, a defensive CF.

    I’m guessing that means they’ll be moving an outfielder, perhaps Brett Gardner, who has a relatively attractive contract. Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract, however, might make him difficult to move.

  25. I’m interested to see if AJP accepted a similar deal that he did last offseason. Now, more than ever, Bethancourt needs to step up.

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