After the Cubs missed on Masahiro "We think he's a No. 3 Starter – Cashman" Tanaka, the Cubs went to a fall back plan. They signed Jason Hammel to a 1-year, $6 million dollar deal. Hammel, who has been good at times and bad most others, is a classic pump-and-dump candidate a la Feldman/Baker/numerous others. Do you remember the Scott Hairston era? Me neither. In any case, Hammel comes to Chicago after an awful 2013 (ERA 4.97, but he was unlucky; his FIP was only 4.96). Will he rebound in the Windy City?
Jason Hammel was drafted by the Devil Rays in the 10th round of the 2002 draft. He was drafted by the Devil Rays in 2001 as well (in the 19th round), and they continued to like him. He started his professional career in Rk/A- ball, and he was underwhelming then. He wasn't really anything special until 2004, where he pitched the lights out in Bakersfield at A+ ball (1.89 ERA in 71.1 innings). After a strong showing in 2005 that culminated in 10 starts at AAA Durham, Hammel was named the #79 prospect by Baseball America:
…Hammel's lively fastball sits in the 91-94 mph range and gets on hitters quickly thanks to his tremendous extension. He also throws a hard curveball in the 75-79 mph range, and he has shown considerable improvement with his changeup. He has the best command in the system. Hammel's curveball is inconsistent. While his fastball has good life down in the zone, it straightens out when he leaves it up … He should be a significant building block as a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the Rays' building project.
Hammel was called up for 9 starts in 2006 and they were awful. He had a 7.77 ERA and a 1.864 WHIP. In 2007, he split time between starting in Durham and starting/relieving in Tampa Bay. The results at the major league level weren't much better. In 2008, his last year with the Rays org, he relieved almost exclusively and was just about league-average. He was traded to Colorado for Aneury Rodriguez where he was a league-average starter, and afterwards was then traded to Baltimore for Jeremy Guthrie. His first year in Baltimore was a huge success: he started only 20 games, but in those 118 innings he had a 3.43 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 123. It was predicated on a substantial gain on his strikeout percentage (22.9%, by far his greatest number). Hammel suffered an elbow injury (inflammation) in 2013 which is maybe partially to blame for his bad season; the fact remains that his strikeouts fell 7.2% and his LD% increased 3.3%. That's a recipe for disaster. Hammel made $6.75 million last year (his last of arbitration). He had to settle for a $6 million prove-it deal this offseason, in a fairly mediocre class of pitching.
|Pitch (2013)||velo||% lefties||%righties||h-break||v-break|
Number c/o Brooks Baseball
Hammel throws as hard as he did when he entered the league, but his release point keeps getting higher and higher. While he uses his changeup against lefties much more often than he does against righties, they still crush the pitch when they hit it (that's common among off-speed offerings). The slider is more of a traditional 3 to 9 offering and very effective against same-side batters (Hammel is right-handed).
Hammel can throw in the low-90s, but he isn't going to overpower you. Instead, Hammel will try to induce weak contact. When Jason is his most effective, he is a ground-ball pitcher (53.2% in 2012, by far his best year and GB rate). He'll strike out around 16.6% of his batters and walk about 7.9%. That's a little worse than average in walks and a good deal worse in average in K% (7.4% and 18.9%, respectively).
The best thing I can say for Hammel is that he's moving from the AL East to the NL Central. We have at least an idea how that exchange will go (it was worth 20 points of FIP and 81 points of ERA to Feldman, who coincidentally made the exact reverse transition). Hammel had a putrid year last year and elbow issues mean that it could just be who he is now. That being said, 2012 wasn't that long ago, and you only need a guy like Jason to put together 100 solid innings before you turn him over for the next Jake Arrieta or Pedro Strop. Given the paucity of proven talent at the backend of the Cubs' rotation, Hammel will get every chance to realize that value. I have to openly wonder if the upside is really there, though. In my opinion, I'd much rather give that half-season of starts to someone who has a future with the Cubs (Justin Grimm or Kyle Hendricks). We'll wait and see.