As a teen, Des Moines native Joel Hanrahan was a hard throwing righty from Iowa's strong Norwalk High Warriors baseball program. After he graduated, he passed on a scholarship to play for the Nebraska Huskers and went straight into the 2000 MLB draft.
He had pretty good reason to jump into pro ball with both feet. The 18 year old was considered the 70th-best prospect that yearn by Baseball America, and ended up drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 57th player taken overall. He signed for a $615K bonus..
Hanny started off pretty well in the Bleedin' Blue system, landing in AAA Las Vegas toward the end of the 2003 season. But he couldn't break through the AAA wall for LA, hamstrung by a high homer rate and control issues. and yo-yoed from level to level for the next three seasons.
After the 2006 season, Hanrahan exercised his option for minor league free agency, and quickly struck a one year deal with the prospect-hungry Washington Nationals. He started as part of the Nat's AAA Columbus rotation, and Hanny pitched decently, with 5–4/3.70 line.
The Nats called him to the show, and on July 28th, 2007, Hanrahan made his major league debut against the Mets, and finished the year with a line of 5-3/6.00 in eleven starts, but with a WHIP of 1.902 and a 6.7/9 inning walk average. He made the club out of spring training 2008, but Hanny was out of the rotation and now a member of the bullpen.
And a funny thing happened. As a starter, he threw low-90s sinking heater along with a slider and change. After moving to relief, his fastball increased to the mid-to-upper 90s while his slider got a little nastier as his second pitch.
After trading Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala, Hanrahan was next to be the Nat's closer. He was 6-3-9 with a 3.95 ERA, dropping his walk rate to 4.5 and pumping up his K's to 9.9 per nine innings. He won a spot on Team USA during the 2009 World Baseball Classic as an injury replacement in the spring.
But he got lit up as the Nat closer once the season started, with a line of 1-3-5/ 7.71 and 1.96 WHIP, though his punchout rate remained at an excellent 9.6/nine innings and his walks were down to 3.9/nine. He lost the job and on June 30th, the Nats traded Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge to the Pirates for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett in your basic change of scenery deal.
And the flip from the Potomac to the Allegheny had immediate effects, at least on Hanrahan. His numbers as a Bucco read 0-1/1.72 in 33 games, and though his walks rose to over 5 per game, he also recorded 10+ Ks per nine. He even won a game during a nap, when a weather-delayed game he was winning as a Nat was completed later in the season after he had switched uniforms.
Hanrahan worked as the setup man for Octavio Dotel in 2010. He went 4-1-6 with a 3.62 ERA, 100 Ks (in 69-2/3 IPs) and a personal best 72 outings. Heck, he even had a bobblehead night.
It got interesting in the dog days. Dotel went to the Dodgers for J-Mac and Andrew Lambo, so Hanny and Evan Meek both were given the opportunity to compete for the closer's role by JR. Neither guy was brilliant, but Hanny came through in 6-of-10 save opportunities and got a win for one that he let get away.
Rather than go into camp and have the pair duel for the closer's spot, the Pirates made it easy on everyone. In February, Clint Hurdle announced Hanrahan as the 2011 closer for the Pirates, and then everybody knew their role; Hanrahan closed, Meek would set-up, and they could spend the spring preparing for those spots.
Pretty good decision on the FO's part. Hanny's closing pedigree was shaky, but the experience in the role was the tipping point in his favor. He took it from there. He was named the DHL Delivery Man Award winner for reliever of the month in June and selected to the All-Star game in July. He finished with a career high 40 saves and a 1.83 ERA.
The big righty had a sea change on the mound, too. He could still reach back for the strikeout when needed, as he averaged 8K/nine innings, but more often went for the quick out instead of challenging every hitter. His sinker became his bread and butter pitch, with Hanny going to it over 80% of the time, and it led to his first MLB season with 50%+ of his outs recorded on the dirt.
The breakout season earned him a nice payday. He signed a one-year/$4.1M deal with another half mil in bonuses on the table if he finishes 60 games in 2012. This off-season was his second arbitration-eligible year, so Pittsburgh has him under team control through 2013.
If he lasts that long. The Pirates believe that a bullpen can built from scratch and without a great deal of investment (and they're probably right.) We all recall when Matt Capp got too costly for the FO's taste and was just flat out released. That won't happen with Hanny, but he could get expensive enough that this might be his last season in Pittsburgh.
Whether he goes at the deadline or the off season probably depends on how the Pirates are sitting then. The brass would love to be competitive and won't be selling off pieces if they're in a race. But closers are generally overvalued in the MLB marketplace, and if Pittsburgh is floundering in late July, Hanny could be a hot item.
If not, we expect him to be shopped in the off-season, while he still has a year of team control remaining. The 30 year old was eyed by Texas during the winter and several rumors of other possible suitors zapped across the web. It's possible that the FO sees a Pirate window opening and would like to keep him around for that fine day, but we see a truly competitive team being more in the 2014-15 timeframe, and that would make for one costly contract for the Bucs.