Revisit: What went wrong in Brad Hand’s development

Revisit: What went wrong in Brad Hand’s development


All-Star left-hander Brad Hand is now an established reliever with the Nationals. MO2 reviews the missteps in Miami that led to success elsewhere, and this year the Marlins are expected to see plenty of him.

By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd

Brad Hand once again is attending Spring Training in Palm Beach County, and the 30-year-old left-hander is feeling right at home, for a number of reasons.

Hand resides in the county, and he’s with a playoff contender in the Washington Nationals.

Hand signed with Washington for $10.5 million after being placed on waivers by the Indians, following a strong 2020 where he had 16 saves.

The evolution of the left-hander is a true success story, and Hand deserves plenty of credit for becoming an elite MLB reliever after such a difficult first five years of his career with the Marlins.

To Marlins’ fans, Hand is one of the more puzzling players in club history. That’s because he struggled so mightily. He was given 90 games and 288 2/3 innings to figure things out at the big league level, and it never clicked. His record was 9-25 with a 4.71 ERA, and he made 43 starts.

Hand’s tenure with the Marlins ended in 2016, when he was designated for assignment at the end of Spring Training, and was claimed by the Padres. At that point, seemingly immediately, Hand figured things out, and he blossomed into a top flight reliever/closer. He’s been a three-time All-Star, and one of the top lefties in the game.

Man On Second Baseball (MO2) looks back at what went so wrong in Miami, and has gained some insights into why things didn’t work out for him during his tenure from 2011-15.

Not every detail will be revealed, but you will get the general picture.

Starting in Spring Training of 2016, Hand was out of options, meaning he had to make the Opening Day roster or risk being lost.

Hand had been used primarily as a starter until he split time in the rotation and bullpen beginning in 2014. By 2016, he was being looked at exclusively in the ‘pen.

There was some tinkering with Hand’s delivery that Spring Training, and the game results were not good. In 11 Grapefruit League games, Hand’s ERA was 8.18 in 11 innings. He allowed 11 hits, 10 runs, while compiling eight walks and eight strikeouts.

At the time, veteran left-handers, Craig Breslow and Chris Narveson were in camp as lefty bullpen options. Mike Dunn, the most established lefty in those years, opened the season on the injured list. So there was a need for at least one southpaw in the ‘pen.

The Marlins ultimately kept Breslow and Narveson on their Opening Day roster, and Hand was let go.

Behind the scenes, when it came time to finalize the roster, pretty much everyone had seen enough of Hand.

Ownership wanted him gone, the coaching staff wasn’t impressed, and no one in the front office spoke up to defend Hand. The media, which I was part of, offered little to no support. The few times I publicly noted that quitting on him could be a mistake, I was met with social media backlash. That’s understandable, because Hand had shown so little to justify being retained.

Even evaluators from other clubs I’ve spoken to recently who saw Hand in Spring Training in 2016 admit they would have passed as well.

In hindsight, the one person who really liked Hand back then was Carl Pavano, formerly a Fox Sports Florida analyst for the Marlins. I remember sitting next to Pavano in the press box at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium. Hand was warming up, and Pavano nudged my arm to tell me to check out Hand’s warmups.

I was like, “What?”

A former MLB pitcher, Pavano saw what the untrained eye didn’t see. He saw movement and life on the pitches. Granted it was in between-innings warmups, but Pavano ended up being exactly right, while all the rest of us in the market were wrong.

My overview of what went wrong with Hand isn’t necessarily how the Marlins handled his roster status in 2016. All teams miss on players who are out of options.

What really complicated matters for the organization is the fact Hand was rushed to the big leagues as a starter in 2011, which created the out-of-options-bind for a 25-year-old lefty with unproven potential.

Another point is the evaluation of Hand should have tagged him a reliever much earlier in his career, because his success after departing Miami was becoming mainly a two-pitch pitcher.

This is key.

If the necessary three-pitch mix, coupled with delivery concerns, is there, why focus a pitcher into a rotation role when he clearly has the markings of a reliever?

Starting in 2017, Hand became a slider first, fastball second, pitcher, according to Statcast.

Opponents batting averages off Hand’s slider the past four years are: .104 (2017), .158 (’18), .204 (’19) and .139 (’20). In 2019, he had a 42.6 percent WHIF rate on his slider, and it hasn’t been lower than 38.6 percent.

With the Marlins in 2015, Hand’s last season in Miami, he threw a sinker, four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup and slider.

Hand made 12 starts that year, and still had no set role. Remember, starters need at least three quality pitches in their arsenal.

Hand’s changeup was never a quality pitch. Opponents hit .345 and slugged .552 off his changeup in ’15.

After moving on to the Padres, Hand barely threw the changeup. He scrapped it all together in 2017.

Hand went mainly with his slider and four-seamer, mixing in some sinkers as well.

Even early in his pro career, there were questions as to whether Hand could repeat his delivery and if he had a true third pitch to start. Yet, he remained in the rotation mix.

Now, the Marlins aren’t the only team to give prospects every chance to start in the Minor Leagues. The demand is there to find starters, and then if it doesn’t work out, they move to the ‘pen.

But the Marlins lack of organizational depth back in 2011 is a big reason Hand was rushed to the big leagues, making his debut at 21.

Hand turns 31 on March 20, and now the Marlins will be facing their 2008 second round pick often when the Nationals and Miami get together.


One thought on “Revisit: What went wrong in Brad Hand’s development

  1. Reading between the lines on this excellent article, it is apparent that rushing him in 2011 was a big mistake. You could argue the same thing happened with Andrew Miller.

    When you consider that the Loria regime also traded Luis Castillo ( twice), Chris Paddack and Domingo German they should be sued for malpractice.

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