By Tristan H. Cockcroft
The difference between Josh Beckett and Tommy Hanson is as simple as experience, a proven track record, and in no way should it be casually discarded. With Beckett you know what you're getting. With Hanson, you're taking the chance that you can improve upon Beckett's annual top-25 starter, mid-$20s earnings.
Not to say that Hanson can't improve upon those earnings. After all, Beckett finished 23rd among starting pitchers on last year's Player Rater, which leaves 22 better ranking places than his. Hanson finished 44th, 21 spots lower, though he made only 21 starts. If you wish, you could project his numbers to a full season of 32 starts, determine that he might have won 17 games with 174 K's and, if you account for his ratios, Hanson's year would have looked eerily similar to that of Matt Cain, who finished 16th, or seven spots higher than Beckett.
I'm as big a Tommy Hanson fan as the next guy, listing him as a dark-horse Cy Young candidate on Jan. 5. I've got him in my top 25. I'm not remotely worried he's going to suffer a miserable sophomore slump.
But I'm also not ready to make you an ironclad guarantee that Tommy Hanson is going to elevate his performance to Cy Young levels this soon. On these pages we do not speak in guarantees, but rather probabilities, and if you're banking upon him matching or exceeding his 2009 numbers prorated to a 162-game season, Hanson's probability of doing so cannot be considered remarkably high.
Sure, Tim Lincecum did it in his sophomore season, and won the Cy Young. But for every Lincecum, who soared past Beckett's recent performance levels in his own Year No. 2, there's a Felix Hernandez, Francisco Liriano or Jered Weaver, pitchers who, for one reason or another, took a step backward. Simply put, adapting to life as a big league pitcher is not an easy task, and the prospect of a lengthy adjustment period cannot be ignored. It's for this reason we will not speak in guarantees.
OK, maybe there's something closer to a guarantee, and that's the veteran pitcher with the consistent track record of success: Your Josh Beckett types. Fantasy owners still seem to have this fear of the blister issues from earlier in Beckett's career resurfacing, but the truth is of the five disabled-list trips he has made the past five seasons, not one was for 20 days or longer. He has also made at least 27 starts in each of those years, averaging 30.2 per season, not including the playoffs.
In fact, in the past three seasons, Beckett has established that he's very much in the prime of his career. These are his per-year averages 2007 to 2009:
30 starts, 16 wins, 3.71 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 188 strikeouts.
Here's what Hanson would have done in 2009, projected to the same workload:
30 starts, 16 wins, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 166 strikeouts.
The ERA differential is great, yes, but outside of that, what precisely makes Hanson all that much more attractive a fantasy option than Beckett? In fact, Hanson's BABIP last season was .279, his strand rate was 80.3 percent and his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 3.50. By comparison, from 2007 to 2009 combined Beckett's BABIP was .304, his strand rate 72.7 percent and his FIP numbers in those seasons were 3.08, 3.24 and 3.63.
Does that mean Hanson was much luckier than Beckett? Maybe, maybe not, but it does point to him hardly being an automatic to repeat his lofty rookie-year numbers, on a per-start basis that is. Beckett, meanwhile, looks pretty stable.
If you're that confident that Hanson can repeat, by all means go for it. These two should rank side-by-side in most any mixed-league draft, but if my pick is coming up next and these are the two pitchers atop the board, I know what direction I'm going.
I'm siding with experience.
Safer Isn't Always Better
By Jason Grey
When in doubt, we tend to go with what we know. It's generally a safer, more comforting option. I get it. But in doing so, we might miss out on the chance for something better.
That's what it comes down to with Josh Beckett versus Tommy Hanson. Do you want to stick with the more comforting option? Given the volumes of words I have written about Hanson in the past year on this site, I think you know which side I stand on.
I could talk about the stats, such as Hanson's 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP last year in the majors, and that, unlike a lot of rookie pitchers, he actually performed better the second and third time around the league with a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings over the last 11 of his 21 starts. That's not a trend I would expect to see if I was going to project a lot of regression in Hanson's numbers this season. Perhaps some slight regression due to a little poorer luck? Sure. But this is not a pitcher big league hitters are all of a sudden going to "figure out."
I could talk about how the stats are supported by his minor league track record of dominance, as well.
I could talk about Hanson's scouting report, with the mid-90s fastball, two plus breaking balls and a developing changeup.
I could do a complete dissection of Tommy Hanson's skills and attributes, but it doesn't necessarily do much in terms of the argument because at the end of the day, Josh Beckett is a pretty darn good pitcher, as well.
So here's what it comes down to for me, and yes, it's this close when making a decision: The American League East.
Josh Beckett pitches in the majors' most unforgiving environment, one that can balloon a pitcher's ERA. Pitchers had a 4.83 ERA against the AL East last year, versus a 4.22 ERA against all other teams. Granted, Beckett doesn't have to pitch against his own team, but it's still the American League versus the National League, and that difference is one of the reasons everyone is even more excited about Roy Halladay this year. The league average ERA in the NL is 4.19. In the AL, it's 4.45.
The potential ERA difference with Tommy Hanson pitching in the National League is huge, and indeed significant enough to sway the debate.
What's funny about us being on our respective sides of this debate is that Tristan was responsible for our Hanson projection.
Looking at that projection, we have:
Hanson: 192 IP, 15 Wins, 3.19 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 188 strikeouts.
It's a sound Hanson projection, though I think the WHIP might be a tad high. Contrast Hanson's ERA projection with Beckett's ERAs over the past two years: 4.03 and 3.86. Although I think there's room for some improvement in Beckett's ERA and that he will beat both of those numbers this year, we're talking about two pitchers who will be fairly close in the other four pitching categories -- with Beckett holding a slight edge given our projections -- but with that slight edge more than mitigated with a potential ERA difference of perhaps half a run or more. That's a big impact.
Granted, ERA fluctuations are highly unpredictable, but when it's so close it's really tough to choose, tough enough that we are having this debate about it, give me the player pitching in the National League.
Picking Beckett over Hanson would just seem to be because of an inherent bias against choosing a second-year player over a proven veteran. Given the respective environments each pitches in, and given the fact there's that slight chance Hanson does not regress that much at all given the way he finished last year, Beckett's experience doesn't win out.
I have no problems owning either Beckett or Hanson this season, but given the choice, I'll pass on the safer, more comforting option for the exciting and tantalizing Hanson.