The Royals signed Jason Hammel to a two-year deal this week to solidify the rotation following the tragic loss of Yordano Ventura. Hammel has been a solid mid-rotation pitcher, posting a 3.68 ERA over the last three seasons combined. He spent much of that time pitching at Wrigley Field for the Cubs, so I talked to Al Yellon, editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue about what Royals fans should expect from Hammel.
You will likely be very pleased with Hammel early in the season. He has a reputation for good numbers in April and May -- last year, in fact, he was particularly good all the way through June, posting a 2.58 ERA and 1.076 WHIP in 15 starts.
Hammel has been fantastic early in the year. Over the past three seasons, he has a 3.10 ERA in the first half. Only 23 starting pitchers in baseball have performed better over those three seasons. As a first-half pitcher, Hammel has been better than David Price, Corey Kluber, and Dallas Keuchel.
In the second half, that’s a different story.
After he got pounded in a start against the Mets in July (10 runs and five home runs in four innings, ugh), he posted a 1.26 ERA and 0.884 WHIP in his next seven starts -- before giving up 10 runs again, this time to the Rockies. Then he had a horrific September (8.71 ERA, 1.694 WHIP), was scratched from his last regular-season start due to elbow tightness and did not make the postseason roster.
Hammel had a 4.35 ERA after the All-Star break last year, nearly a run higher than before the Midsummer Classic. Over the past three years, he has posted a 4.59 ERA in the second half. Out of 102 pitchers with at least 150 second-half innings pitched, he ranks as 16th-worst in ERA.
It may be an endurance issue with Hammel. Yellon notes that Hammel has had issues with muggy weather, sure to be a factor in the summer months of Kansas City.
He seems to have trouble in hot weather, though, and often cramps up when it's sticky and humid out. Team doctors actually told him to eat a lot of potato chips on days like this. No, that's not a joke, it's for the potassium.
Hammel has also had issue working deep into games. Over the last two seasons, he is averaging just 5.52 innings-per-start, sixth-worst among 72 qualified pitchers over that time. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was known to have a quick hook with Hammel, which irked the pitcher, leading to a closed-door meeting after a short August 27 start in which Hammel gave up just three runs in less than three innings of work.
“I didn't even pitch today in my mind. I barely threw 40 pitches. It was a side day for me pretty much."
You might laud Maddon for having such a quick hook with Hammel if his numbers were poor the third time through a lineup, when pitchers often have problems. The thing is, Hammel actually excels the deeper he goes through a lineup. Over the last two years, opponents are hitting just .224/.287/.388 against him the third time they see him in a start. Among 117 pitchers with at least 50 innings the third time through a lineup in those years, Hammel ranks 25th in OPS against. So why the quick hook from Maddon? Even Al Yellon is perplexed.
Really, no one is totally sure. He didn't have this quick hook with other pitchers who struggled early.
Jason Hammel should fit into this clubhouse well and endear himself to Royals fans. He bought a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune thanking Cubs fans and the organization after the World Series. Perhaps Jason Hammel could flourish under Ned Yost, who is trusting of his starting pitchers to a fault, and has been criticized for leaving starters in a bit too long. But the Royals will want to keep an eye on him once temperatures start hitting triple digits in July.
Many thanks to Al Yellon for his help. You can read all the latest Cubs news and analysis at Bleed Cubbie Blue.