There are many numbers in baseball. Some would say too many. But let’s just focus on two different sets of numbers. Real simple. Here’s this first set. Now, I know math isn’t everyone’s strong suit, but see if you can tell the pattern going on here:
Got it? Ok. Now, don’t overthink this, because the pattern is simple: those numbers are going up.
Alright alright, let’s try this again, only with a different set of numbers. Same exercize. Fit the pattern. Be Detective Miller, minus the terrifying alien goop and spaceships, or I guess you can be Sherlock Holmes if you don’t understand that admittedly somewhat obscure Expanse reference. It’s all in good fun, anyway. Here’s the pattern, and it’s ever-so-slightly more difficult:
Don’t let the first two numbers fool you too much; your instinct is correct. Those numbers are going down.
At this point, you’ve probably seen the title of this article and surmised that those two sets of numbers have to do with Jason Hammel and that they don’t exactly mean that he’s doing well. And you’d be correct.
The first set of numbers is Hammel’s yearly ERA since 2014 to this year. That number has gone up every year. A pitcher’s job is to not give up runs, so this is a bit of an important red flag going on here. It’d be like if your accountant stopped accounting, or something.
The second set of numbers is Hammel’s yearly strikeouts per nine innings since 2014. All things being equal, strikeouts are pretty much the best out possible, and you can’t survive as a pitcher if you ain’t striking anyone out. Hammel ain’t striking anyone out, and is on a long downward trend.
Look: there’s a simple reason why Ichiro doing Ichiro things at age-44 and Bartolo Colon doing Bartolo Colon things at age-
87 44 is the absolute best. Nobody lasts that long playing baseball. Few people last that long playing any professional sport.
I could do a deep dive of what’s going on with Hammel, but it wouldn’t be particularly productive. Per data from Fangraphs, it’s a bit of everything. Hammel has lost about 1 MPH on both his fastball and sinker since 2014. His pitches as a whole aren’t fooling people; hitters contact rate outside the strike zone has ballooned from 62% to 69%, his overall swinging strike rate is down by about 1%, and hitters are just being more aggressive against him.
Hammel turns 36 in September. He has 1736 career innings under his belt, and has pitched in the postseason four times. Dude’s old, baseball old that is.
It would be one thing if Hammel had just now fallen off a cliff in terms of production, but his losing battle to Father Time has been on display for years now. If ERA and K/9 aren’t enough evidence for you, check out his xFIP, which has also been on a slow and steady increase.
There could be a lingering injury that we don’t know about. But everyone pretty much knows why Hammel isn’t doing well. It is what it is. As a scout in the movie Moneyball says, everyone has to stop playing baseball sometime; for some kids it’s at 12, others it’s at 40. It might be 36 for Hammel. That’s a pretty good run.