baseball Edit

The process behind Pete Hansen rediscovering his impressive form

If you've followed our reporting and commentary or listened to David Pierce, you knew at the beginning of the 2021 season Pete Hansen was behind schedule. The sophomore lefty didn’t throw much during UT’s fall offseason, was COVID-19 positive during the preseason, and was trying to play catch-up for, basically, half the season. That’s not a good place for a starting pitcher to be.

As a starting pitcher, playing catch-up is very difficult. Push the body too hard to quickly or compensate for lack of endurance with different mechanics and an injury can occur. It’s a temptation difficult to avoid if the results on the field are lacking, and for Hansen, it was obvious during his first outings he wasn’t the same left-hander who finished a shortened 2020 season with a 0.00 ERA.

Sure, Hansen generated satisfactory statistical results while pitching with a limited pitch count. However, the lefty’s stuff didn’t look the same, and it wasn’t just the velocity, which was down in the 84-87 MPH range routinely. The way the ball was coming out of Hansen’s hand was different, impacting all his stuff - fastball velocity and shape, breaking stuff and changeup. Unintentionally, Hansen was cutting his fastball.

Hansen began to turn the corner when he nearly threw a complete game at Texas State. (Texas Baseball)
Hansen began to turn the corner when he nearly threw a complete game at Texas State. (Texas Baseball)

Physically, he was fine besides trying to build his body and arm back up to being able to throw deep into games, and following the lead of Ty Madden and Tristan Stevens in recent weeks led to a stronger Hansen with better mental and physical endurance on the mound. But in order for him to regain form similar to his fantastic 2020 season, Hansen needed to re-discover his release point. First, Texas had to understand the issue, though.

How does that happen? First, the eyeballs usually pick up on something being off. Whether it’s the shape of the pitch visually, the way it plays or the scouting element of recognizing a change in release point, the eyes usually pick up something first. Actually, Trackman would be the first to spot something.

Trackman is a Doppler radar system that tracks, for pitchers, release speed, spin rate, spin axis, release height, release side, extension, vertical and horizontal release angle, vertical and horizontal movement and more. Texas has been using the system for years, led by Director of Player Personnel and Analytics, Ryan Monsevalles. So, if the eyeballs are seeing something, Trackman can confirm it or vice versa; perhaps something looks off on Trackman, in this case the release, spin and shape, and the eyeballs can confirm it.

And if the eyeballs need a closer look, Texas can bring out the Edgertronic Baseball Camera for a bullpen session, which is the type of thing a weekend off from games is good for. The high-speed, hi-res camera shoots 500 frames per second at highest resolution and up to 17,000+ frames per second, according to Driveline Baseball. Why is that sort of thing useful? Imagine being able to film a pitcher throwing a bullpen at full speed and then being able to see every single revolution the ball takes as it approaches home plate and how it comes out of the hand. If a pitcher is cutting his fastball, Edgertronic cameras can provide the exact frames when a ball comes off a pitcher’s fingertips.

Armed with all the technology needed and the expertise and coaching to utilize it, Texas can discover, analyze, and confirm many pitching issues, like Hansen unintentionally cutting his fastball. I guess I should explain why that’s a bad thing because some of y’all are probably reading about a cutter and thinking that’s not so bad. Since it’s unintentional, it negatively impacts the efficiency of Hansen’s four-seam fastball; batters are able to more quickly recognize the pitch because its spin isn’t an efficient four-seam spin and command can suffer. Combine that with lower velocity, and you have a problem.

Hansen hasn’t completely corrected the issue, but he and the Longhorns have made major strides in recent outings. Texas knew that where his hand was, too close to his head, at the release of pitches was negatively influencing the way the ball came out of his hand; Hansen’s release point reached higher than it did in 2020, and recent outings have seen it get back closer to his normal, 2020 slot. It isn’t a coincidence the results have followed. Across his last 25.0 innings, Hansen has a 1.08 ERA with 18 strikeouts and just four walks. In his three starts during that time, he’s thrown 92, 94 and 95 pitches and has been able to face a lineup a third time routinely.

In particular against TCU, Hansen’s fastball began to play up again; meaning, hitters were reacting to the pitch uncomfortably like it had more velocity than it actually did. Hansen hasn’t regained all of his velocity, although it has ticked up slightly to more 89s in the 86-89 MPH range. But as he’s proven in recent outings against good offenses like Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU, Hansen can be more than effective working at 86-89 MPH with a four-seam fastball possessing better shape. That’s not the only thing about Hansen’s pitch arsenal that’s changed, though.

Against TCU, Hansen started incorporating his two-seam fastball to his arm-side (in on lefties and away from righties) while also increasing his changeup usage while working only with a slider as his breaking ball. This is a great example of Sean Allen at work, recognizing Hansen making progress and incorporating more changeups because of it. Although his changeup basically has fastball velocity, its late, diving action and appearance of a fastball allowed it to be one of Hansen’s most effective pitches against TCU. It’s another example of the value of pitch shapes because in the case of Hansen, he threw three different pitches around the same velocity that all acted differently.

So, here we are. Hansen finally made the move into the Sunday spot of the rotation like he was going to do when the 2020 season ended, and David Pierce exercised the patience to handle Hansen with care before inserting him back into the rotation. Hansen isn't the same pitcher he was then, but he’s getting closer to being just as effective. And his hard work is paying off. It couldn’t be happening at a better time for Texas, but just know there are a lot of things and a lot of time behind the scenes that goes into making the types of changes Hansen has shown recently.