Fantasy spin: Hanson for Walden
My, how the supposedly mighty have fallen.
It wasn't long ago that the names Tommy Hanson and Jordan Walden might have raised many a fantasy eyebrow; Hanson was a top-50 overall pick just two seasons ago, Walden a top-15 closer entering 2012. They are 26 and 25 years old, respectively, and if you flashed back one calendar year, few could have imagined a scenario in which either would be a trade chip.
A poor 2012 for both, however, significantly decreased their stock, and on Friday, they were traded for one another.
It's a deal that makes plenty of sense for the Los Angeles Angels, who have newfound bullpen depth after Ryan Madson signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract to close for the team. The Angels swapped a former closer -- their supposed "closer of the future" -- in Walden to acquire Hanson, who will occupy one of their three rotation vacancies created after Zack Greinke and Dan Haren became free agents and Ervin Santana was traded to the Kansas City Royals.
For the Atlanta Braves, however, it mostly makes sense in that they had rotation depth to deal, what with prospects Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, J.R. Graham, Sean Gilmartin and Zeke Spruill nearing big league readiness, and Brandon Beachy perhaps six to seven months away from a return from Tommy John surgery.
Acquiring Walden isn't a poor move for them, and it potentially pares a couple of million dollars off their payroll, but it simply expands their stable of hard-throwing relievers led by a practically immovable object at closer: Craig Kimbrel.
That Hanson's trade price tag was that of an effective eighth-inning reliever could be a red flag about the shoulder issues that plagued him late in 2011 and caused a velocity drop in 2012. Certainly, fantasy owners can make that assumption, keeping in mind that Hanson's average fastball velocity has declined in each of the past two seasons, going from a career-high 92.6 mph in 2010 to a career-low 89.6 mph in 2011.
Among qualified pitchers, in fact, Hanson's average fastball velocity ranked among the bottom 20 percent in the majors last season, and his .925 OPS allowed with the pitch was 11th-worst of the 123 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 fastballs. Compare that to 2010, when his velocity ranked among the top 25 percent, and his OPS allowed (.722) ranked 29th-best of 118 qualifiers. This is not the same pitcher we saw in 2010 and the first half of 2011.
Moving to the American League won't help matters. The average AL ERA has been more than a tenth of a run higher than the National League average in each of the past four seasons. In two of those seasons, it was higher by more than a quarter of a run. Hanson's own interleague history can help illustrate: He has a 4.06 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and has allowed .268/.357/.414 rates in 12 career starts, noticeably higher than his 3.61-1.25-.241/.311/.391 overall career numbers.
That the Angels play in a division with the Houston Astros, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, each either a light-hitting team or ones that play in pitching-friendly venues (and one of them is both), should help stave off panic of a severe plummet in Hanson's fantasy value. Anyone planning on greater than 25 starts from him, or expecting that he won't need some degree of matchups management, however, faces disappointment.
Walden, meanwhile, isn't guaranteed the primary eighth-inning role behind Kimbrel, which he'd need in order to be Kimbrel's natural handcuff in fantasy. Spring training might ultimately decide how the Braves plan to utilize Walden, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, the latter two sharing time as the No. 2 man in their bullpen. Any of the three, with a standout March, might emerge.
Walden's performance, however, bears careful watching. That the Braves paid the steep price of Hanson to get him might give him the advantage, and Walden's ability to touch 100 mph with his fastball might make him a lethal 1-2 partner to Kimbrel. Walden had a 2.45 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 14 second-half appearances, with a sparkling 13 strikeouts compared to zero walks, so it's not unthinkable that he could be one of the better middle relievers to pick in NL-only drafts.
The most interesting name affected in fantasy by the deal, however, is Teheran, widely considered the Braves' top and most polished pitching prospect. He now rests fifth on their rotation depth chart, though he'll surely be involved in a spring battle for the position.
Though he had a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 in 26 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett in 2012, Teheran remains a high-upside, strikeout-generating pitching prospect. He'll bear the closest watch of all during his spring battle, and if he emerges -- which by all rights he should -- he might warrant enough consideration to even be a final-rounder in standard ESPN mixed leagues. In NL-only leagues, meanwhile, he'd be a smart investment for a few bucks ($5 or so).
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