What is a Brad Hand?
Brad Hand, Dismantling Nick Markakis (2 Sliders & a 97mph Fastball). pic.twitter.com/s3iSihrz0i— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 7, 2018
In a little more detail, Brad Hand is Andrew Miller lite, bumpy path to success and all.
Hand is a 28-year-old left-handed relief pitcher, drafted in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Miami (née Florida) Marlins. Despite being drafted out of high school, Hand sped through the minor leagues, making only 85 appearances before getting an extended look with the Marlins. Originally a starter, Hand was considered the Marlins’ fifth best prospect by Baseball America when he made his debut in 2011.
By wins and losses, his debut season was forgettable, but beyond the 1-8 record in 12 starts, Hand showed flashes of the pitcher he would become, including a 93 ERA+. Hand would bounce between levels between 2012 and 2014, without much of an extended look, though. When he was called up for good in 2015, however, a consistent home did not help Hand, as he turned in a record of 4-7 in 38 appearances (12 starts) with an ERA of 5.30, FIP of 4.08, 6.46 K/9, 2.09 K/BB, ERA+ of 72, and -0.8 bWAR.
The Marlins ran out of patience with Hand prior to the 2016 season and cut him. Their loss was the Padres’ gain, as they claimed him off waivers on April 8, 2016, and promptly turned him into one of the games most feared relievers, capable of making hitters look like this:
Brad Hand's 3 Filthy Sliders to Harper. ️ pic.twitter.com/HfgMD4yPVV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 24, 2018
Hand’s success upon joining the Padres was immediate, and in his two-and-a-half seasons there he had an ERA of 2.66, FIP of 3.07, ERA+ of 154, K/9 of 11.8, and K/BB of 3.94, which earned him 4.4 bWAR in San Diego. FanGraphs’ flavor of WAR liked him a little less, crediting him with 3.9 fWAR over the same span. However, when discussing relief pitching WAR, four wins over two-plus seasons is elite. Since 2016, Hand is 12th among relievers in fWAR and 15th in bWAR (for reference, Andrew Miller is fourth in fWAR, 5.5, and first in bWAR, 6.9).
Success for Hand has largely been dependant upon his slider. Used 40% of the time since 2016, the slider has been the fourth-most valuable in baseball during that stretch, with a weighted value of 26.1 runs, ahead of Miller’s by half a run. Hand’s slider generates swinging strikes 19.7% of the time and is only put in play 10.3 percent of the time. The slider averages around 82 mph and is nine times more likely to be hit on the ground (4.6 percent) than to be hit out of the park (0.5 percent). Part of the reason the slider is so difficult to hit with authority is that it has about 10 inches of horizontal movement away from lefties or in on righties. However, Hand shapes his slider with each pitch, sometimes showing the batter much less break.
Brad Hand, Backdoor and Back foot Sliders, Overlay.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 27, 2018
Just because they're the same pitch type, doesn't mean they're the same pitch. pic.twitter.com/DsokWFnVmQ
To go with the slider, Hand primarily uses a four-seam fastball (22.5 percent) or sinker (21.7 percent). This year both offerings have averaged 94 mph, offering great separation from the slider in terms of velocity. The movement on his fastballs, however, are quite the opposite of the slider, and even more effective because of the way Hand can tunnel his pitches.
Brad Hand, unfair 94mph Fastball anad 83mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/W30QNP2BxT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 10, 2018
With that repertoire, in 2018 Hand has built upon the success he found upon arrival in San Diego to the tune of a 3.05 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 13.2 K/9, and 4.33 K/BB, accounting for 0.7 fWAR (Hand has -0.1 bWAR this year, but fWAR seems more instructive because it uses FIP, which strips out factors outside the pitcher’s control). Projection systems seem to believe he’ll be able to continue that in the second half (though the projections have surely not been updated to reflect his new team), pegging him for 3.06 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 12.3 K/9, 3.94 K/BB, and 0.4 fWAR over 28 additional appearances.
Combined with a healthy Miller and Cody Allen, Hand offers the Indians arguably top three relievers among postseason contenders. Considering the fact that Hand is signed through 2020 with an option for 2021, you could also argue that Hand also extends the Indians’ window several years.
Either way, watching this will be fun.