Pittsburgh Pirates: Should the Bucs be Worried about Joel Hanrahan?


When the Pittsburgh Pirates shipped Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Washington Nationals for Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan in June of 2009, you couldn’t have found a happier Pirates fan than me.

Morgan and Burnett were no parts of the Pirates future and while I liked taking a chance on the upside of Milledge, I absolutely loved acquiring Hanrahan.

During that spring, the unproven Hanrahan caught my eye as Davey Johnson turned to him late in games for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. At the time he seemed just like the type of power arm with a future the Bucs needed.

Looking back at the deal, it’s a win for general manager Neal Huntington as he would likely deal Morgan and Burnett for just Hanrahan ten times out of ten in the future.

Hanrahan had a successful 2010 season, he struck out 100 batters in 69 2/3 innings and became the Pirates’ closer at the end of the season; but came of age in 2011 when he  garnered a career high 40 saves, and finished the year with a 1.83 ERA.

He’s jumped right back into success in 2012 as Hanrahan has converted six of seven save opportunities, with the National League hitting a meager .156 off of him.

But despite the success, is it time to worry about “The Hammer?”

I’ve always been a big supporter of the Hammer.  I like the way he attacks hitters and it’s hard to argue with the results, but something is different with him this season; especially when it comes to his control and that alone is something to keep an eye on.

Hanrahan throws two pitches exclusively: a four-seemed fastball (96-99 mph) and a slider in the upper 80s. His fastball is his primary pitch, and the one he throws most often in every count.

That’s fine as long as the results are there, but way too often he can’t get the fastball over the plate. When he does, opposing hitters can’t catch up to it consistently.

But he must start painting the strike zone with it more consistently.

Also that once nasty slider hasn’t looked so nasty this season.

It’s another pitch he hasn’t been able to find the strike zone with consistently and throws it less and less per game.  When he’s going good Hanrahan’s slider is a weapon. Right now it’s not.

It’s definitely something worth keeping an eye on in the upcoming weeks.

Should the Hammer still be the Bucs closer? Absolutely.

You can’t argue with the results even though he’s making things more and scarier by the appearance. The bottom line is that Hanrahan’s getting the job done.

However, the control needs to get better or down the road Pirates manager Clint Hurdle could be forced to make some tough decisions.

Pitchers change and right now, Hanrahan is trending in the wrong direction. Hopefully when he returns to the team next week the break will have done him some good as for the Pirates to compete, they will need the Hammer at his absolute best.

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