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[December 13th] -- I get a kick out of reading Bill Ladson's "mailbag" column over at mlb.com, partly for what he says and partly for what other bloggers say about what Ladsen said. Without question, it's a love - hate relationship between Ladsen and the blog-o-sphere.

In his latest column, he received the following query from Derwin K. in Santiago, Chile:

If the season opened today, who would be in the Nationals' starting rotation?

And Bill's response:

It's too early, but here is my prediction for the Nats' starting five: John Patterson, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Chico, Mike O'Connor and Shawn Hill

Okay. I'm fine with Patterson, Chico, O'Connor and Hill. The world won't come to an end with those guys in the rotation.

But Joel Hanrahan? I had never heard of the guy. Turns out he was one of the 4400 that Bowden signed as minor league free-agents last month. Oh wait, that's a tv show. He was one of the 21 -- it only seemed like Bowden signed 4400 that day.

Who's Joel Hanrahan? Let's find out.

Hanrahan is a 25 year old right-hander from Des Moine, Iowa. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft (the 57th pick overall). After a couple of decent years at Great Falls (Pioneer) and Wilmington (Sally), Hanrahan produced a solid season at Vero Beach in 2002 (Florida State), going 10-4, 4.20 for the Dodgers. He became only the second pitcher in Florida State League history to throw two no-hitters in a single season (one was against the Expos' FSL entry - Brandon Watson made the last out). He allowed just eleven base-runners per 9 innings and struck out almost a batter per inning. He was promoted to 'AA' Jacksonville in 2003, and pitched even better against superior talent. In 23 starts, Hanrahan went 10-4, 2.43. His runners allowed and strikeouts per 9 innings ratios improved as well. At just 21, he was on the fast track to Dodger Stadium. Baseball America named him the Dodger's fifth best prospect.

His 2004 performance at 'AAA' Las Vegas was a disappointment, for both Hanrahan and the Dodger's organization. He went 7-7, 5.05, allowing a whopping fifteen baserunners per 9 innings. His strikeout total dipped as well. What happened?

Hanrahan was gassed.

He arrived in Las Vegas tired before ever throwing a pitch for the 51's; he averaged 152 innings over his three previous seasons. His delivery - normally very high - became almost sidearm as he wilted in the hot Nevada summer. "He's got to stay on top," said Las Vegas pitching coach Shawn Barton. "When his arm slot is right, everything is good. When he stays on top of his slider that is a tough breaking ball to hit. It complements his fastball." He was diagnosed with tendinitis in his pitching elbow during that first season in Las Vegas, but he continued to pitch through the pain (something his numbers reflected). During the off-season, doctors found a partial tear of the labrum.

He spent most of 2005 back at 'AA' Jacksonville, but the diminished competition didn't help improve his record. In 23 starts, Hanrahan was only 9-8, 4.92. He rebounded in 2006, going 7-2, 2.58 before being recalled to Las Vegas for another shot at 'AAA' competition. He pitched well enough, crafting a 4-3, 4.48 record. His 13 baserunners allowed per 9 innings was on the high end of his career average, and his strikeouts per 9 was the lowest of his career, 5.57. Surprisingly, his overall 2006 record of 11-5, 3.53 wasn't good enough to remain with the Dodgers. He was designated for assignment and eventually signed with the Nationals last month.

Hanranan is an aggressive pitcher who is unafraid to pitch inside. "I like to be aggressive, go after hitters and make them hit my pitch," he said. "I like to pitch inside. I'm not afraid if I hit somebody." His sinking fastball tops out at 91 mph, but it is his slider, called "nasty" by his Las Vegas pitching coach, that is his "out pitch." He is very confident in his ability and isn't afraid to throw any of his pitches at any point in the count.

His problem lies with his mechanics.

Fatigue, nerves and distractions often cause him to lose concentration, resulting in a slightly altered arm angle. That's when bad things happen. When his mechanics are 100%, he has the talent to dominate the opposition (he also had two high school no-hitters to go along with the two at Vero Beach). Hanrahan is 6'3", 220 pounds and has a body type that isn't susceptible to a lot of injuries. He has yet to miss a start in seven minor league seasons.

Hanrahan has a career record of 62-45, 4.23 (he's never pitched at the major league level). He's allowed just under 13 base-runners per 9 innings. By comparison, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb and Roger Clemens allow less than ten base-runners per 9 innings, while Barry Zito, Dontrelle Willis and Tom Glavine average about the same number as Hanrahan. He's averaged almost eight strikeouts per 9 innings, an outstanding number. He's given up an average of .91 homers per 9 innings. As a guide, here are the minor league "home runs-allowed" by some current major league pitchers: Barry Zito: .43 -- Roger Clemens: .32 -- Tom Glavine: .65 -- Jason Schmidt: .47 -- Ramon Ortiz: 1.22 -- Tony Armas Jr.: .59.

Based on his minor league statistics, I'd guess that - if he is given the opportunity to start - Hanrahan would have a 2007 season something like this:

Compare that to Ramon Ortiz's 2006 season with the Nationals:

The Nationals paid Ortiz $2.5 million last year, and will likely have to pay him $3.5 million to $4 million to get him to come back next year (a result of stupid general manager tricks). Hanrahan would make the league minimum, which (I think) is now about $400,000.

Who would you rather have as your #5 starter? We know that Ortiz will be bad, and that Hanrahan will probably be bad, but there is that small chance that he could surprise us all and go 12-12, 4.00, excellent numbers for a back-of-the-rotation guy. There is no surprise left in Ramon Ortiz. The advantage of signing Ortiz would be the team's ability to trade him for a prospect in July (assuming of course that he's pitching well enough to warrant some interest from a contender).

I would love to see Tomo Ohka return to the Nationals, even though they probably aren't willing to pay him this year's going rate. It makes sense to sign a free agent pitcher for the front of the rotation, but I'd much rather see the team's "in-house" guys battle it out for the back of the rotation spots. I really want to know if Shawn Hill, Mike O'Connor, et. al. can pitch. A front-of-the-rotation guy could keep next season from becoming a black hole, and that really won't be deviating from "the plan," unless that free agent takes a spot in the rotation away from one of the team's "can the guy pitch" prospects.

What say you?

I found this picture on ebay the other day. Can you tell what year it was taken? Frank Howard vs Mickey Lolich, so that narrows it down, and knowing that "Big Frank" first wore #33 in 1969 narrows it down a little more. But there is one tell-tale sign in the image that gives away the precise year it was taken. Can you find it?

Dude, where's your second baseman? In a move I never saw coming, the Atlanta Braves said goodbye to Marcus Giles last night. The reason? Giles, who would have made close to $5 million in 2007 after making $3.8 last year, was just too rich for Atlanta's blood. The Braves, who didn't win their division for the first time in fourteen years in 2006, is responding to that loss by slashing their budget. Que? Hey, at least the Nationals are getting a couple of draft choices for Alfonso Soriano. The Braves are getting nada for a fairly solid second baseman.

Eric Gagne got how much? $6 million dollars. Gagne, who pitched fifteen innings over the last two years, gets the $6 million dollar base with another $5 million in incentives. So, if they guy saves 45 games, he gets $11 million? My oh my ....

Big Trade: The Houston Astros acquired Colorado's Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio for outfielder Willy Taveras and pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsh. Jennings went 9-13, 3.78 with the Rockies. Willy Taveras had another "Taveras like" year for Houston, batting .278 with 33 stolen bases. Yeah, but. I don't care how many bases a guy can steal, players with a .678 OPS just freak me out. Big time. Combine Endy Chavez and Brandon Watson, and you end up with -- you guessed it -- Willy Taveras. Interesting trade to say the least.

Wilky Stays A Ranger: I didn't do a very good job guessing who'd be tendered and who wouldn't be. Brad Wilkerson was offered a contract by the Texas Rangers. Wilkerson, who suffered through an injury plagued .222-15-44 season, wasn't exactly in the Rangers' good graces. I didn't think they'd keep him. Obviously, the Rangers feel that a healthy Wilkerson will take full advantage of their small park.

"Joel, Jo-el .... Jo-el, Joel" This is for all the Nationals' fans who want the team to sign a free-agent pitcher: Mariners' starting pitcher Joel Pineiro has been non-tendered and is available as a free-agent. Over the past three years, he has crafted a record of 21-35 with a 5.55 ERA. Since 2004, Pineiro has given up an amazing 15 base-runners per 9 innings (only Jason Bergman allowed those many base-runners per 9 innings on the 2006 Nationals). Would you sign him? For how much? My guess is the guy gets a 3 year / $20 million dollar deal.

Hondo wearing White Shoes--1971
Way to go schreech! You win .... um ... my undying gratitude. A March 1971 headline in the Post sports page said: "Senators shoes to be red white and blues."
I think Hanrahan deserves a chance to show what he can do. Then again, Steve Watkins pitched much better at New Orleans last year than any of these guys Bowden brought in, and he'll never get a chance.

Go figure.
There is no history (that I'm aware of)where these career minor leaguers step onto a major league mound and succeed. That isn't to say that Hanrahan can't, but the deck sure is stacked against, not only him, but the other Hanrahan clones.
If the Nats plan on going with the starting pitching lineup that Ladson projects, they will have to pay fans to go to games. With those starters, the Nats won't win 50 games. Most games will be over by the third inning. The sad truth is that crappy pitchers like Armas, Ortiz and Okha have become too expensive for this franchise.
That's a really nice post, Farid. I've always liked how you write these profiles with an eye for getting to know the players (in an online sense) as a story, rather than just a cold evaluation of a guy's numbers, of which I'm often guilty.

I guess the thing with Ortiz vs. Hanrahan (or any of these guys) is Ortiz is a known entity in one of the two elements of a starting pitcher's value: quantity. Of course, he might be of similar quality as Hanrahan at this point, but there's no guarantee Hanrahan can stay on the mound, over the course of a season, for as long as Ortiz has demonstrated he can. Hanrahan might injure himself or have a month with a 10.00 ERA or something like that and find himself out of the rotation. At least with Ortiz (and he gives you little more than the very least here, granted) you know he'll stay in the rotation and fill ~180-190 of the ~900-950 IP an NL team needs from its starters.

Yes, what I'm contending is that there's comfort in falling back to a known mediocrity, and that comfort is worth something (more than it should be in this market, granted).

But if the Nats truly want to blow it up (and I don't think they do, as in trading Johnson, Kearns, Lopez, anyone being paid more than a dime), then all the Hanrahans in the world would be fascinating to watch. ;-)
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