Hammertime Has Run Out

With the game tied at 3-3 and headed into the 11th inning, Clint Hurdle finally made the decision to go to Joel Hanrahan. The Hammer takes the ball and promptly walks the Reds’ first batter, Todd Frazier, on five pitches.

A sac bunt moves Frazier to second base. A wild pitch moves him to third. And with the winning run now 90 feet from ending the game, Hanrahan walks the next batter. A strikeout and a fly out, however, are enough to get out of the inning.

The outing lowers Hanrahan’s ERA, but one could hardly call it a good pitching performance. Consider this: had the wild pitch occurred a batter earlier. The sacrifice bunt would have moved Frazier to third base, rather than second, with one out. And if the last two batters of the inning had switched you have a sacrifice fly rather than a fly out. And a Reds win. Ballgame. Lower it.

The at-bats in both scenarios have the same outcomes, but the order they happen in completely changes the situation. Hanrahan is shouldered with the loss and the guys in black and gold go home sad. But they did not, why?

Joel Hanrahan got lucky.

Some people smarter than I am figured out that pitchers tend to strand 72% of batters on base. This is an average though, so some guys will strand more one season and then less the next. The reason why: a technical term called “luck” that comes from the order in which batters do what they do. Just like we saw above.

Same thing with batters, a guy can hit .302 and if he is up with lots of guys on base he will drive in a lot of runs. Or he can hit .302 with nobody on base and drive in squat. It is all in the timing, how lucky he is.

Pitchers, though, are inevitably pulled toward that 72% mark. One exception being that guys who strike out a lot of batters—like Hanrahan—will strand slightly more. This is probably why Hanrahan has stranded 75% over his career.

In 2012 the Hammer stranded 89.7% of base runners. Of pitchers who threw at least 50 innings, only Craig Kimbrel and Sergio Romo stranded runners at a higher rate. This naturally resulted in less runs and a great ERA for all three.

Similarly pitchers batting average on balls in play tend average out around .300. In light of his luck with LOB% it is no surprise that Hanrahan’s BABIP was .225 last year. This is also among the top 3% of pitchers with at least 50 innings in 2012. Again, lucky dude. While it is always possible to remain where they are, Hanrahan’s LOB% and BABIPs will likely be pulled back closer to the norm. In other words, do not expect so many happy Hammertimes in the future.

Further evidence comes in his FIP. If you do not know what FIP is, this incredible video will explain:

FIP has been shown to be a better predictor of future-ERA than ERA. And comparing Hanrahan to Kimbrel and Romo shows an obvious difference in how they fared in the categories that FIP uses.

2012 ERA: Kimbrel 1.01, Romo 1.79, Hanrahan 2.72

2012 FIPs: Kimbrel .78, Romo 2.70, Hanrahan 4.45

Hanrahan is now 30 years old, made $4.1 million last year, and will be up for arbitration after the upcoming season. While he will be good for the next few seasons, Hanrahan’s luck will not hang around to make him an All-Star again. Bill James predicts his ERA will jump up almost a full run, to 3.64, next year.

Hanrahan has never blown more than five saves in a season, though he has blown four in each of the last three summers. I would be surprised if he does not have five this summer. His stock is higher now than it will be after the season. Now is the time to end Hammertime in Pittsburgh.