Jason Hammel’s performance represents yet another interesting storyline heading into the wildly anticipated 2016 Cubs season.
If you recall, Hammel is scheduled to make $9 million in 2016 with a $12 million team option ($2 million buyout) for 2017. Meaning that, setting aside the importance of his 2016 performance to the Cubs’ on-field results in 2016, the Cubs are going to have to decide whether Hammel is worth $10 million for 2017, at the end of the 2016 season.
Given the Cubs’ lack of MLB ready starting pitching prospects, a weak 2017 free agent class, and Hammel’s ability to be dominant at times, you can bet the Cubs are going to strongly consider exercising that option at season’s end.
In the first half of 2015, Hammel was once again lights out. Through 103.2 innings, Hammel had a 2.86 ERA (3.12 FIP), with an equally awesome 25.6% strike out rate and 4.4% walk rate. We were aware of the potential for struggle in the second half, but the dominance of his performance and health were overwhelming ….
After returning from [the leg] injury, Hammel threw just 67 innings the rest of the year, and never quite regained his form. His strikeout rate fell (22.3%), his walk rate rose (7.3%), and his hard contract rate climbed by 10 percentage points(!). Hammel finished the second half with a 5.10 ERA, and there are now serious questions about his durability and endurance for a full season.
So, yes, Hammel has had some problems in the second halves of the past two seasons, but we know he’s been hugely and positively impactful in the first half of each, as well. With so much money on the line, and being the competitor that he is, you can bet Hammel is going to work hard to stay healthy, strong and effective throughout the entire season.
According to Muskat, Hammel has taken his offseason regimen especially seriously, this winter, revising his diet and working with trainer Eric Cressey to lose roughly 20 pounds. But this is not just just a “best shape of his life” story. Hammel has also been working with “pitching guru,” Tom House – who Nolan Ryan credited in his Hall of Fame speech – to become a better pitcher and tap into some of the remaining upside in his arm.
This Spring, I’d expect Hammel to focus on strengthening and tightening up his fastball command – which could ultimately improve the effectiveness of his other pitches.
In a season full of much more popular story lines, Hammel will quietly be one of the biggest decisions the Cubs have to make for 2017.