At best, Joel Hanrahan is a good reliever. He strikes out a lot of batters (career 9.9 K/9), throws hard (consistent 96 MPH fastball), and possesses a good “out” pitch (slider has been worth 30.8 RAA in career). Yet, despite owning a perfectly projectable career 3.74 ERA vs. 3.78 xFIP, the righty’s peripherally-putrid 2012 campaign casts a shadow on his recent jettison to Boston, and subsequent named-role as closer.
Hanrahan never had good control (career 4.2 BB/9 pre-2012), but his 2012 exposed his potentially detrimental issue. Despite saving 36 games for the Pirates last season, the 31 year-old righty also walked batters at a 5.4 BB/9 rate, and was himself saved by an miracle-esq .225 BABIP (vs. career .301 BABIP, and vs. 329 BABIP in 2010). Even though the closer posted a 2.1 BB/9 in 2011, his 2011 control was much more of an anomaly than his 2012 version.
Back in 2009–when he was traded mid-way through the season to the Pirates–Hanrahan too similarly dazzled with a low-ERA (1.72 ERA in 31.3 IP) and sterling strikeout total (10.6 K/9). But his 5.7 BB/9, while ignored by those who were enamored by his transformation from a dud (7.71 ERA / 1.95 WHIP in 32.6 IP with the Nationals in the first-half of 2009) into a “stud”–should have stood out like a sore thumb.
Fast forward to 2011. Hanrahan posted a 1.83 ERA vs. 2.98 xFIP, marking the greatest ERA/xFIP split (in his favor) in his career. Combined with career-bests in GB% (52.4% GB% vs. career 40.8% GB%), BB/9 (2.10 BB/9 vs. career 4.35 BB/9), HR/FB (1.9% HR/FB vs. career 8.8 HR/FB), and [at the time] BABIP (.282 BABIP vs. career .301 BABIP, and vs. 329 BABIP in 2010), Hanrahan’s 2011 was unsustainable.
As it stands, Hanrahan’s 2010 season embodies the type of year Joel Hanrahan should have–and will be lucky to emulate in the more competitive American League East. The righty posted a 3.62 ERA (which is more or less in-line with his career 3.78 xFIP), 12.92 K/9, 3.36 BB/9, .329 BABIP, and 42.0% GB%. While it might be tempting to use a pitcher with such a towering K/9 as a closer, his “high” ERA and mediocre BB/9 scream otherwise. And if not for an incredible 2011 season, Hanrahan would surely be treated as more of a setup man and not a closer.
The argument at hand is not whether Joel Hanrahan has value–he does. But to trade a 22 year-old pitching prospect in Stolmy Pimentel, 25 year-old prospective starting outfielder in Jerry Sands, and ironically, a recently acquired former-closer in Mark Melancon, seems to be a bit of an over-payment. As a reminder, Melancon, who is just 27 years-old, was acquired by the Red Sox from the Houston Astros last off-season for Jed Lowrie–who posted a 2.1 WAR in 2012–and Kyle Weiland. One can make a good argument that Melancon, who had the opposite 2012 that Hanrahan had, could actually have a superior 2013 to Hanrahan. But perhaps that argument is best saved for another article.