Javier Vazquez had an outstanding season in 2009 for the Atlanta Braves. It was arguably his best season as a major league pitcher.
Vazquez was 15-10 in 32 starts last season, with a 2.87 ERA. The right-hander allowed 181 hits in 219.1 innings, with only 44 walks, and 238 strikeouts. Vazquez finished fourth in the voting for the National League Cy Young Award.
And despite that outstanding season, the Braves traded Vazquez last week to the Yankees in a five-player deal. It was just simple math - the Braves had six pitchers for five spots in the rotation, and someone had to go.
Now the reason someone had to go was the decision to bring Tim Hudson back with a new contract. No one is going to blame the Braves for that. Hudson was effective in his seven starts late in the season as he returned from Tommy John surgery. He's been a solid starter for the Braves, not to mention a huge force in the clubhouse and in the community.
But the trade of Vazquez does make you wonder who will replace him and his production in the rotation. Hudson is a somewhat different pitcher than Vazquez. He doesn't strike people out like Vazquez has in his career, and he's more of a sinker-ball specialist than a power arm.
If Hudson returns to being, well, Tim Hudson, the Braves will be happy. And we all have to remember that Hudson was the ace of the staff before he got hurt in August of 2008.
But will someone in the Atlanta rotation be that power arm? Will someone be able to have 200-plus strikeouts and replace Vazquez's 22 quality starts from a year ago?
How about Tommy Hanson?
He's as good a candidate as anybody, and we all know what the kid is capable of doing. Hanson was about as impressive as a rookie can be in 2009, and the 23-year-old is only going to get better.
Hanson pitched about two-thirds of the season in Atlanta, and in his 21 starts had a 11-4 record, with a 2.89 ERA, and 116 strikeouts in 127.2 innings pitched.
You combine those numbers with Hanson's 11 starts in Triple-A Gwinnett, and it really equals a full season. Here were his combined numbers between Gwinnett and Atlanta in 2009:
145 hits allowed in 194 innings pitched
52 earned runs
Those numbers aren't too far off from what Vazquez did last season in Atlanta. And that's the type of season Hanson needs to have if the Braves are going to be a force in the National League East.
There is no reason to wonder if Hanson can pull it off next season. He's only going to get better, and his success from 2009 is going to help him even more as he matures.
Hanson is a special kid, driven to be successful. He's going to know that he's not a rookie anymore, and with Vazquez leaving, it's going to be up to him and rotation-mate Jair Jurrjens to pick up the slack.
The Braves are going to need Derek Lowe to bounce back and improve on his mediocre 2009 season, and they'll also need Kenshin Kawakami to be effective as the number five guy. But the key could easily be whether or not Hanson is able to replace Vazquez and become an elite pitcher.
Evidence shows he has a great chance to do just that, and if he does the Braves are going to survive trading one of the best pitchers in the game from 2009.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
Will Hanson replace Javier Vazquez?
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