If Anthony Rizzo’s annual crazy catch (go ahead, watch it again) hadn’t bailed him out, who knows what would have happened in the rest of Jason Hammel’s start last night.
I kid, of course – because Hammel was absolutely nails, yesterday – but any reason to re-watch Rizzo’s catch is a good one.
But to the topic at hand, Jason Hammel’s seven shutout innings last night punctuated a trend of absolutely brilliant pitching from the 33-year-old righty that has continued on since the All-Star break. His final line night read 7.0 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 3 BBs, 7 Ks, and it’s time to give him some love. He’s more than earned it.
With yet another shutout stretch of innings last night, Hammel has now thrown 20.0 straight innings without allowing a single run against the Brewers, Angels, and Marlins. Bump that limit out to 27 innings, and he’s has allowed just one earned run. Bump it out even further, back to July 16 – just after the All-Star Break – and Jason Hammel has allowed just four earned runs in last 38.0 innings pitched. That’s a 0.95 ERA (2.98 FIP) through six starts – the best in baseball during that stretch.
But let’s zoom back in on last night for a moment. Hammel needed 110 pitches to last seven scoreless frames against the Brewers – throwing 62 strikes in the process. Of those 62 strikes, Hammel recorded an impressive 14 whiffs, a majority of which came off his fastball (7). With that he routinely worked between 93-94 MPH, even reaching up to 95.0 MPH at times. In addition to his absolutely-kickin’ fastball, his slider was working quite well for him. He threw that pitch for a strike roughly 50% of the time, and recorded three whiffs on it, as well.
But in short, Hammel was great last night and has been for some time now. So let’s check out where he ranks among other qualified starting pitchers throughout the league:
- ERA: 2.75 (8th in MLB)
- FIP: 4.07 FIP (53rd in MLB)
- xFIP: 4.20 (53rd in MLB)
- K-Rate: 21.1% (41st in MLB)
- BB-Rate: 7.9% (53rd in MLB)
So, at first glance you might be inclined to say that Jason Hammel is a really good pitcher, getting really great results due to some forces that may be out of his control. And to an extent, that’s true. Because first and foremost, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a top 50 pitcher in baseball (according to the advanced metrics) like Hammel is – especially when the other four members of your rotation are ahead of you, too. That said, I’m not content to leave it at that (even as the compliment that it is).
While poring through Hammel’s numbers, then, we’re met with that initial conclusion: Because his results far exceed his peripherals, Hammel has been the benefactor of some serious luck in 2016. But I’m not sure it’s all that simple. That line reminded me of someone. Someone we know is pitching very well, despite similar differences between his actual and expected results: Kyle Hendricks. And that got me thinking, maybe Hammel has been inducing some weak contact as part of a dedicated strategy to improve his efficiency and production.
And what do you know, that might be the case:
- AVG Against: .207 (10th in MLB)
- WHIP: 1.06 (16th in MLB)
- Soft Hit Rate: 19.5% (33rd in MLB)
- Hard Hit Rate: 29.7% (23rd in MLB)
In 2016, Hammel has been working against just a .237 BABIP – the third lowest in MLB. And although it’s exceedingly low, his career rate has always been quite low (.298 BABIP), but it’s as though it’s entirely out of his control. As you can see by the stats above, Hammel’s .207 batting average against is top ten in baseball, while his WHIP is in the top 20. While part of that success can undoubtedly be credited to the best (by far) defense in all of baseball behind him, there are some encouraging, sustainable statistics behind the scenes, as well:
- Soft-Hit Rate: 19.5% (33rd in MLB)
- Hard-Hit Rate: 29.7% (23rd in MLB)
In 2016, Hammel has improved upon his career soft-hit rate by roughly 3 percentage points – 33rd in baseball and 19th in the NL. Moreover, since the All-Star Break (his most dominant stretch this season), his soft-hit rate balloons all the way up to 23.2% (which would be fifth best in baseball, just behind Max Scherzer). Similarly, he’s been limiting hard contact at a higher mark than he has previously in his career – 29.7% is 23rd in MLB, and 15th in the NL.
So while Hammel may have not been striking as many batters out as Max Scherzer or walking as few hitters as Clayton Kershaw, he has used his other strengths (inducing weak contact and limiting hard contact) to get better results than what was otherwise expected. That’s a perfectly reasonable strategy and perfectly good reason to be encouraged for the rest of the season.[Brett: Plus, you know, the potato chips! And some bonus Hammel fun, prompted by a question on Twitter that I can no longer seem to track down – sorry to whoever asked it – but if you chop out that start against the Mets, in which Hammel gave up 10 earned runs over 4.0 innings, his ERA drops to 2.14. That’s lower than everyone in baseball except Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. It’s 0.05 lower than Kyle Hendricks. Of course, you can’t chop out that start – it happened – but it’s just interesting to see.]