Player Brainstorm: Jason Hammel — Part 2 (Analysis)

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== Very good at being pretty good (is there more?) ==

So … what about Jason Hammel then?

It took him a couple of years to settle in, and, oddly enough, he didn’t really hit his stride until he was traded to Colorado.

And after that point, he’s been quite solid most of the time.

Here’s how he breaks down in our Brainstorm designer stats:

Age HR%+ BB%+ K%+ XBH%+ PSA+ Conv+ Comp
2006 23 60 69 75 37 68 69 38
2007 24 70 65 81 53 74 77 51
2008 25 68 69 62 86 69 86 55
2009 26 108 129 84 81 119 102 121
2010 27 103 121 89 99 120 109 129
2011 28 82 80 62 88 77 89 66
2012 29 124 89 112 123 123 124 147
2013 30 50 98 77 76 90 89 79
2014 31 118 130 117 108 145 124 169

The four columns with blue highlights are tied to the 10-year MLB average, which is set to 100.  The three red-highlight columns are our Brainstorm “three numbers” rating “command/control” [PSA+], “stuff” (Conv+] and the composite of the two [Comp].

We can see that:

  • Hammel rates very well four of the last six years.
  • 2014 is his best year ever.

In ’09 and ’10, he was quite good despite a below-average K-rate.  He made up for it by chopping his BB-rate in half, and being pretty good at avoiding homers.  Not devastating, but effective.

In 2011, his surface stats were similar (he still ate innings, and his ERA actually went down), but he was ugly underneath.  Walks up; homers up; strikeouts down.  I’m not sure what happened there.  It may have been nagging injuries, but in 2012 (when he really did have nagging injuries) things pretty much recovered.

Indeed, he was a very good starter again in 2012 for the O’s except for missing a month with a knee injury.

Things got wobbly again in 2013, after serving as Baltimore’s Opening Day starter, but this time was a bit different.  Strikeouts dipped, but there was no spike in walks.  He was definitely getting hit harder, but some of that (not necessarily all) appears to be due to an unlucky run on HR-per-fly-ball.

After getting “on track” in 2009, he had been running pretty consistently in the 6% range on HR/FB.  In 2013, that spiked up to 9.6%.

Now, he also missed time that year with inflammation in his right forearm, so it could be that his command was out of whack and — in lieu of more walks — he was grooving more balls in the zone and that resulted in homers.

Regardless, 2013 was another “not so good” season, but an overall better not-so-good season compared to 2011 since there was reason to think that the HR% would recover.

===

So here he is in 2014, and experiencing something of an age-31 plateau leap.

You can see that our stat breakdown for 2014 ranks him very highly across the board.

  • His 3.02 ERA is matched perfectly by a 3.02 FIP.  In xFIP, it’s only slightly higher (3.31).  All three are career-best.
  • His 8.6 K/9 ties his career best, and his 1.9 BB/9 is easily his best ever.
  • He’s having good fortune on HR/FB (5.3%), though it’s likely to revert some.
  • He’s produced a “Quality Start” 64% of the time — also a career high.
  • And perhaps most importantly, his swinging-strike percentage is up to 11.1%, when it never went over 9.9% in the past.

As we mentioned in Part 1, he’s throwing pretty much the same stuff he’s always had, so there are really only two possibilities:

  • Hammel’s relative good fortune (lower BABIP-against, lower HR/FB) is just rolling over into his other stats and won’t last (that is, he’s getting away with being more aggressive and will be burned by it eventually); or
  • Hammel has made a mental plateau leap and has figured out how to deploy his weapons in a way that produces more whiffs and weaker contact (it happens).  He does appear to be relying more on his slider and moving away somewhat from the change and curve.  Maybe that’s it.

If it’s the former, then you still get an innings-eater whose “floor” is still pretty tolerable (his worst xFIP since 2009 is 4.65).

If it’s the latter, then you’ve got another most intriguing starter, and, with all the uncertainty in the rotation, that can’t hurt.

In terms of a mid-season “add” of a starting pitcher, Hammel looks like a pretty solid bet.  Of course, offense would be nice, but that’s a different article.

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