clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rays Alumni: The Dirty Little Secret that is Jason Hammel

New, comments

Entering Spring Training this past season, the Rays found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place in the battle for the 5th spot in the rotation.  The team had 2004 4th overall pick Jeff Niemann,  and 2002 10th round pick Jason Hammel fighting for one rotation spot, with the loser competing with free agent Lance Cormier for the final spot in the bullpen.  Both, Niemann and Hammel were out of options, so if the Rays were to keep Cormier it was doubtful the Rays could retain the loser of the rotational battle.

Niemann had long been full of potential, but injuries had derailed, or at least delayed, his emergence into the big leagues.  With a reputation of needing a long time to warm up, the team was hesitant to move him to the pen. This was confirmed in a small sample size of poor bullpen performances in the Spring.

 Having an undistinguished career with the Rays for the most part, Hammel's big moment  came on September 10, 2008 in the 14th inning of a critical game at Fenway Park. Carlos Pena belted a 3 run homer in the top of the inning to give the Rays a 4-1 lead paving the way for a classic Troy Percival meltdown. Percival loaded the bases to being the bottom of the 14th.. Having exhausted the rest of his bullpen options and having no faith left in Percival, Joe Maddon turned to the low-leverage long man Jason Hammel to face Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and Alex Cora with no outs in a raucous Fenway Park. After giving up a harmless sacrifice fly to Youk, Hammel came back to strike out Bay and induce a Cora flyout. For me, that performance was as epic as Dan Johnon's home run off Papelbon.  Following the game Percival uttered, "When I'm the weakest link in the bullpen, its a pretty good bullpen."  Sadly, that prophecy did not hold as true in 2009.

Hammel had bounced between the rotation, the bullpen, and Durham since 2006 without clearly defining his role. Enter the Colorado Rockies. Colorado was willing to part with young pitching prospect Aneury Rodriguez (2009 season profiled here) in exchange for the Hammer.  Hammel was pegged in a similar role with Colorado as he was with the Rays, a bullpen long man with the occasional spot start. That would change when 5th starter, Franklin Morales, injured his shoulder during an April start.  Hammel took the spot and the Rockies didn't dare take it away from him.  Was this the same Jason Hammel that pitched for the Rays?

 

Year

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

2006

6.55

4.3

1.43

5.26

2007

6.78

4.24

1.27

5.05

2008

5.06

4.02

1.26

5.25

2009

6.78

2.14

0.87

3.71

 

Well that's  a significant K:BB change. We will look more into that in a minute. What about the reduction in longballs? Detractors will point to pitching in the National League. Facing pitchers is fine and dandy, but Hammel went from a pretty neutral park to Coors Field and its 1.09 park factor. He saw his HR/FB% drop from an unlucky 13.3% in 2008 to 9.7% with the Rockies. Hammel did give up a high line drive % of 22.8% leading to a BABIP of .337. This type of statistical line conjures up fuzzy memories of Andy Sonnanstine circa 2008.

 

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

BABIP

Sonny08

            5.77

          1.72

0.98

3.91

0.312

Hammel09

            6.78

          2.14

0.87

3.71

0.336

 

If the strikeouts and walks changed so dramatically, what gives?

 

Year

SwStrk%

Ball%

CB%

wCB/c

O-Swg%

2006

6.5%

38.5%

20.40%

-0.13

16.90%

2007

9.0%

38.6%

8.70%

-0.26

24.90%

2008

4.9%

39.7%

10%

0.53

22.30%

2009

9.4%

35.2%

15.60%

3.53

27.10%

 

Swinging strikes nearly doubled while achieving a 4.5% decrease in balls thrown. Most interestingly is the development of Hammer's curveball. His run value above average per 100 curveballs thrown (wCB/c) of 3.53 was the tops in baseball for qualified pitchers with at least 10% usage.  This more than likely directly caused the increase in swings outside the zone.

 

Last week we looked at the roller coaster ride of Edwin Jackson. There is an argument to be made that "The Afterthought" Jason Hammel proved to be the better starter in 2009 despite being traded for much lower compensation.

 

Year

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

FIP

tRA

SwStrk%

GB%

RAR

RAR/St

Hammel

6.78

2.14

0.87

3.71

5.2

9.4%

46.2%

34.5

1.15

Jackson

6.77

2.94

1.14

4.28

4.75

9.8%

39.1%

35.8

1.08

 

 

While tRA favored Jackson due to Hammel's high line drive % allowed, K:BB, FIP, ground ball %, and runs above replacement per start support the Hammer.  Sentiment early in the year told a tale of the front office being fleeced on the Jackson deal while mining something out of nothing from the out-of-options Hammel.  Very quietly 2nd half Edwin returned to form, while the Jason Hammel trade became the Rays' dirty little secret. Then again.......2010 Jason Hammel may just become 2009 Andy Sonnanstine