(Photo: David Dermer, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 30 – Throws: Left – Bats: Left – Contract: $7 million
2019 in review: Hand was an All-Star in 2019 with a 2.17 ERA in the first half, 55 strikeouts in 37.1 innings and 23 saves. He was one of the best relievers in baseball. Unfortuately it seems he went through a long dead arm period in the second half, perhaps due to first half overuse. His second half ERA was 5.40 in 20 innings with 29 strikeouts and just 11 saves. Overall he posted a 3.30 ERA in 57.1 innings with 84 strikeouts and 18 walks 34 saves and five blown saves. As a reliever, he still managed to post an fWAR of 1.6.
Beyond the stats: Through April and May Hand’s slider had a spin rate over 2,500 RPMs. By June it dropped over 100 RPMs and by August almost another 50 more. It might be pretty easy to point to his arm slot dropping with his arm getting tired that caused the spin on his slider to decrease. He lost about an average of a mile an hour on his fastball in his peak months (June/July) velocity wise, down from 94 in 2018 to ~93 in 2019. The margin for error decreases with each drop no matter how small, but his velocity overall didn’t change much from 2019 from 2018.
On the mound: Hand is still sider heavy. Only in September when he barely pitched due to his dead arm did his fastball percentage near his slider usage. In June he was throwing the slider 61.8% of the time and the fastball 36.6%. He still registers the occasional sinker on StatCast, which does have somewhat significant different movement than his four seamer. His slider still gets a lot of swings and misses and only allowed a wOBA of .246 with an xWOBA of .236, even less.
2020 role: With Emmanuel Clase on the shelf (for now, depending on if he’s healthy when the season finally is allowed to start) and James Karinchak’s spotty fastball command, Hand is still firmly the Indians closer. He said that he changed some of his routines to be able to recover faster and work on arm care so he doesn’t experience dead arm. It’s likely in 2020 with the postponement of the season that he’ll have a lesser workload so it might not be an issue after all. Nick Wittgren is probably next in line for saves based on 2019 success so without anyone in the bullpen with closer experience, Hand’s leash should be long on the role.
Fantasy impact: Second half of 2019 notwithstanding, Hand is in the second tier of fantasy closers. He still racks up strikeouts with his saves, but relievers like Nick Anderson, Aroldis Chapman, Ken Giles, Josh Hader or Kirby Yates are a little more in the elite category. But you can probably get Hand later in drafts for cheaper than big names and still get great value. He’s very firmly the Indians closer, but even so, I never overpay for saves. You should be able to get very good production from a closer like Hand while letting others overpay for bigger names early on in drafts.