Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jason Hammel - Better Than His Record

Jason Hammel was just rewarded for some of his service time with a two year $7.7 million contract with the Colorado Rockies. Hammel didn't impress with his won/loss record or his ERA (10-9 and 4.81 respectively). But if you look beyond those things, he's a good pitcher who just needs a little more luck to shine.

Hammel is mostly a ground ball pitcher whose batted balls end up as grounders nearly 47 percent as apposed to his fly ball rate of 33 percent. His line drive rate has always been too high and 2010 was no different with it again being over 20 percent. The luck comes in with his batting average with balls in play (BABIP) of .328, his second year in a row with nearly the same BABIP. So perhaps you have to wonder if that is the norm for him.

But there were several things that made him better than he seemed. First, his strikeout rate per nine innings continues to rise. His 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings was the best of his career. Plus, there was an important increase in the percentage of time batters swung at pitches out of the strike zone. That means that Hammel is getting better at making his pitch and making the batter swing at his pitch. His homer rate is pretty low considering that he pitches half his games in Coors Field. In fact, it's pretty darned impressive that his home/road splits are so similar. There is no big spike at home other than he gave up eleven homers at home compared to seven on the road.

While Hammel's strikeout rate rose, his walk rate was again pretty good which meant that he had his second straight season with a three to one strikeout to walk ratio. That's good. All of these things combined lead up to Hammel as having a fielding independent pitching (FIP) ERA of 3.70 and an xFIP of 3.81, a full run per nine innings better than his actual ERA. If all things were equal and Hammel got a little luck, he would be a fifteen game winner and not a pitcher with a 11-9 record.

The one thing the Fan doesn't like is his paltry average of 5.7 innings per start. He needs to last longer in the game. Part of that is the National League, of course, with the need of pinch hitting for the pitcher. But Hammel can do better to go longer in each game with more consistent performances.

Hammels relies a lot on his fastball, which he throws nearly 61 percent of the time. And according to Fangraphs, it's not his best pitch. Looking at pitch values, his slider is terrific, his curve good (but it was rated great in 2009) and his change up a bit weak. It makes sense for him to use his fastball to set up his better pitches. Still, that's four pitches in his arsenal which is good.

Hammel is a lot better than most people think. He seems to be one of the few mistakes made by the Tampa Bay Rays in recent years as the guy the Rays got, Aneury Rodriguez, is still in the minors. But Rodriguez is still putting up pretty good numbers in the minors, so he still might pan out (to be fair). Hammel is a solid starter for the Rockies. He's not one of the best pitchers in the league, but most rotations need a guy like Hammel who effectively gives his team a chance to win. He is definitely worth the money the Rockies have invested in him.

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