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August 22, 2011

Fantasy Beat

The Trials and Tribulations of Jason Hammel

by Jason Collette

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My entire start in the fantasy writing arena began what seems like eons ago at RotoJunkie.com. These days, the site has a new form (RJBullpen) as the former moniker went down with the SS Fanball when it was sunk last season, but one thing that has lasted throughout the site’s history is the “outrageous predictions” thread. This season, my three were as follows:

If you stop reading this piece right now, I will not be offended, but it is not called outrageous predictions for nothing. That is the Wily Mo Pena approach to predictions—swing for the fences and you will run into one every now and then, just as he did yesterday when he hit an ankle-high curveball from James Shields to a part of Tropicana Field that never sees a baseball. One that I ran into was saying that Rajai Davis would disappoint a lot of people this year who were hoping for double-digit home runs, a better batting average, and more steals while moving away from Oakland to a professed aggressive manager in John Farrell. In fact, there was a lot of discussion about that particular topic in the comments of a particular article, but the very first comment in that article is the one that stings badly in hindsight.

That article was about a 12-team mock draft that I did with my good friends Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz over at MLB.com Fantasy411, and I had the final pick of the entire draft. With it I took a player I was very high on this pre-season, Jason Hammel, instead of some rookie named Michael Pineda. I laid out my case for Hammel in a late-February piece entitled Hammel Time (blame former editor Marc Normandin for the cheesy title.) Needless to say, a 7-12 record and a 5.24 ERA later, sticking my neck out to recommend Hammel for readers has turned out about as badly as advice could turn out. If it helps any, I feel your pain as I took him as my last pick in every—and I mean every—league that I participated in this season. What went wrong?

The February article showed how his home and road splits were not that far apart but that his ERA and FIP were. After putting up FIP’s of 5.30, 5.12, and 5.28 with the Tampa Bay Rays, Hammel was trending nicely with the Rockies with FIP’s of 3.67 and 3.73 heading into 2011. This season, that is simply not the case as his 4.98 FIP does little to take the sting off his 5.24 ERA. Simply put, he has pitched as bad has his statistical line indicates, especially at home. He made giant strides last season pitching at Coors Field, going 7-2 with a 4.07 ERA after posting a 5.73 ERA the season before. This season, however, has been a step in the wrong direction as he has won just three of 12 decisions at home while posting a 6.01 ERA and serving up 12 home runs in 73 innings of work; that total is one more than he gave up last season in 97 innings of work.

The second part of the article covered Hammel’s struggles pitching with men on base. For his career, Hammel has never stranded runners particularly well. As a reliever for the Rays in 2008, he stranded 72 percent of his baserunners—which is a career-best number for him as his career average is 68 percent, and he is once again stranding less than 70 percent of his runners this season. Unfortunately, he is doing it at nearly a career-worst rate of 66 percent. Only his 2006 rookie season—in which he stranded just 62 percent of his runners—has been worse. To rehash his numbers before the season, here is how Hammel pitched with nobody on, with men on base, and with runners in scoring position:

  • Bases empty: .273/.324/.433 in 1,386 plate appearances
  • Men on: .316/.378/.477 in 1,093 plate appearances
  • RISP: .310/.393/.474 in 685 plate appearances

Compare those career numbers to what he has done this season:

  • Bases empty: .272/.334/.424 in 353 plate appearances
  • Men on: .300/.391/.483 in 295 plate appearances
  • RISP: .315/.405/.417 in 178 plate appearances

Hammel’s efforts with nobody on base are right in line with where he has been throughout his career, but he has failed to make that next step in pitching better with men on base and with runners in scoring position. Coming into this season, his batting average against with men on base was in a three year decline, and his batting average against with runners in scoring position had dropped from .295 in 2009 to just .263 last season before spiking back up to the .315 level it is at now.

His batted ball rates have not changed that much from last season, his groundball rate dropping from 46 to 43. While a relatively small change, the results have certainly become less desirable, and that has a lot to do with a decline in his stuff. Hammel’s 4.8 strikeout rate is the lowest of his career, and his 3.9 walk rate is a tremendous increase from his low walk rates the previous two seasons in the Rockies’ rotation. He has seen his strikeout to walk rate dip from the 3.0-3.1 range to a totally unacceptable 1.2 rate this season. In 2009, he struck out 17 percent of the batters he faced and bumped that up to 18 percent last season, but this season that has fallen to a career-low 12 percent as batters are swinging and missing at just six percent of his pitches this season.

Before the season, it was hypothesized that one of the factors that has caused some of Hammel’s issues is a genetic one. MLB.com’s Thomas Harding had a good story out last month in which Hammel revealed he takes Crestor to help battle his cholesterol as his family has an unfortunate history of heart disease that took his father at an early age. Hammel admitted to some of the side effects of the medication affecting him last year, and it would help explain his slow start and unfortunate finish to the season. He also explained how he has altered his diet and regimen to prepare for the 2011 season, moving toward an herbal approach this season—it’s supposed to lack the side effects that were a factor last year. Apparently, the side effects of the herbal route are not much better as Hammel has been all over the place this season.

He started strong out of the gate with four wins and a 3.23 ERA in his first five starts but has gone 4-11 since that point with a 5.77 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, once again fading miserably in the later part of the season. The Rockies recently made the long-overdue decision to move him to the bullpen after looking at his numbers since July 1st, which show a 26/25 K/BB and nine home runs allowed in 45.1 innings of work.

You have to feel bad for Hammel as he struggles to deal with a genetic condition that has affected his pitching numbers whether he goes the traditional medicinal route or the alternative route. Until he can find a happy treatment plan and improve his pitching with runners on base, my days of recommending him to others or drafting him myself are over.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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