Apropos of Chicago Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s comments a little earlier today that the Cubs could be in the market for more than one starting pitcher, Jon Morosi reports that the Cubs – together with the Royals, Braves, and Pirates – are showing interest in free agent righty Jason Hammel
Hammel, 31, is a free agent for the first time after coming up with the Rays, spending a few mixed years in Colorado, and then pitching in Baltimore the past two seasons. It was a mixed bag in Baltimore, with an effective 2012 (3.43 ERA over 118 innings, 2.69 K/BB) and a down 2013 (4.97 ERA over 139.1 innings, 2.00 K/BB). Interestingly, the results weren’t all that flukey. Hammel was actually very good in 2012 (3.29 FIP, 22.9% K rate, relatively normal BABIP and HR/FB rate, and a 2.6 WAR in just 118 innings), and very bad in 2013 (4.93 FIP, 15.7% K rate, normal BABIP, slightly elevated HR/FB).
The biggest difference for Hammel in 2013? His groundball rate took a nosedive, from a very nice 53.2% in 2012 to just 40.1% in 2013. Couple that with the slight uptick in HR/FB rate (more fly balls, and more of ’em going for homers), and you’ve got a guy who went from giving up 9 homers in 118 innings in 2012 to 22 in 139.1 innings the next year.
Why did it happen? Well, I’m not sure it if was intentional, but Hammel seemed to rely much more heavily on his four-seamer than his two-seamer last year, the latter of which can generate more groundballs for some pitchers. His velocity was down slightly, but not enough to account for the dramatic drop-off in performance. Could “fixing” him really be as simple as suggesting more two-seamers?
I won’t pretend to know the answer, but his history is an interesting study of up-and-down performance, without a lot of traditional good/bad luck indicators. It’s almost like sometimes he’s on, and sometimes he’s off. In any case, he projects to be a relatively average 2-win type pitcher next year, which is perfectly fine at the back of the rotation.
For the Cubs, who knows? Maybe Chris Bosio works some magic, Hammel’s groundball rate (and strikeout rate) tick back up, and he becomes this year’s Scott Feldman on a one-year prove-it deal (with a midseason trade).
If Hammel is willing to take a one-year deal in the $6-7 million range, I think you’ve got to be pretty interested in that. It probably depends on whether he wants a deal like that from the Cubs (where he’s likely to be shipped out to a contender midseason), or wants a two-year, lower AAV deal from a contender now.