Jason Hammel has had a disproportionately large impact on the recent success of the Chicago Cubs.
Originally signed to a one-year deal in 2014, Hammel started his Cubs career strong. In his first 108.2 innings, he kept a tidy 2.98 ERA, while collecting 104 strikeouts, before being traded (as part of a bigger package) on the Fourth of July. A trade that, you’ll recall, netted shortstop Addison Russell, top 10 prospect Billy McKinney, and Dan Straily (who was eventually part of the deal that netted Dexter Fowler).
If that was the extent of his impact to the Cubs, it would have been plenty, but Hammel came back after the season and signed on for 2015 and 2016 as well.
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 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.
Questions that Jason Hammel is addressing this offseason.
Over at The Athletic, our friend Sahadev Sharma spoke with Jason Hammel about the late season fatigue and what he’s doing to avoid it in 2016. “I did change the offseason regimen … to address the second-half fatigue,” Hammel told Sharma at the Cubs Convention. “Whether it was injury related or not, I still need to find a way to stay stronger through the second half.”
Apparently, Hammel, 33, has been working with a trainer in Chicago all offseason, to focus on his core and lower half strength. The trainer has reportedly had success with others in baseball in the past, and Hammel feels good about the experience.
“I know what type of pitcher I am,” Hammel told Sharma. “I know what I offer and I know what I can bring to the table. It’s a matter of just getting my confidence back to where I was.”Hammel has his work cut out for him, but we know how good of a pitcher he can be. With John Lackey imported, there’s slightly less pressure on Hammel, and maybe that, too, will help. Hopefully, the changes he’s making this offseason show up at the end of the year and Hammel can finish the season strong.
For many more thoughts on and from Hammel, and from Joe Maddon, check out the article at the Athletic, it’s well worth the read.
*[Brett: Michael inserted that asterisk, meaning to mention in this space that the game in question was the one where Jhonny Peralta and Pedro Strop combined to break our hearts, but he subsequently told me that what he actually meant to say was that it was the day he learned just how handsome, funny, and tremendously enjoyable I am with which to take in a game.]