Jason Hammel: The Man, the Myth, the Back-End Starter

***UPDATE: I went ahead and averaged everyone's rankings, as I'm somewhat foolish in the original analysis. This has been reflected in the article, and in the linked spreadsheet as well.***

 

Jason Hammel is a stud. At least, in my opinion he is. I found that he really solidified his spot in the rotation after a shaky April. He had a bit of an ugly July as well, but all things averaging out, Hammel finished the season at 10-8 with a 4.33 ERA, 176 2/3 IP, and a nice friendly smile to go with all of that.

Now, what's probably sticking in most Rockies' fans mind is his first and only postseason start against Philly, where he didn't have his ace stuff. He only lasted 3.2 innings, allowing 4 runs on 4 hits, 5K's, 3BB, and sucked up the loss. Definitely not solid stuff.

But we all know that 1 start does not make a pitcher, especially a first postseason start, where nerves and the bitter cold may have played a part. In the minds of many fans, however, he still wasn't the solidifying force that many people would have liked to see over the course of the season, #5 starter or not. I've read several claims that he should be in the bullpen in 2010, making way for starters returning from injury, for young prospects looking eager to make the rotation, and perhaps even being bumped when Colorado inevitably trades for Roy Halladay.

See, I disagree with the notion that he hasn't earned himself a spot in the 2010 rotation. I personally feel he's earned himself the #4 spot, behind Ubaldo, Cook, and DLR.

I feel strongly enough about this to make the following claim: Jason Hammel was the best (or at least top 15%) among all #5 starters in the majors this season, and that he'd even find himself in the middle of the pack (top 50%) among all #4 starters this season.

Now, to explore this hypothesis, I pulled all the #4/#5 starters from Baseball Reference to see how well he stacks up. I included all the #6 starters as well and called them #5s. I had to make a few adjustments as BBR ranks the 1-5 based on innings pitched, which makes sense for the most part: your ace will likely have the most innings pitched, and the #5/#6 will probably have been called up/sent down and/or demoted to/promoted from the pen, thereby giving them an overall lesser workload than the other rotation members. That said, I had to make sure that Cliff Lee was an Ace, and other pitching staffs with a lot of injuries didn't have their Ace listed as the #4.

Now there are a couple of interesting details to note here. For starters, the #5 slot isn't nearly as non-competitive as you'd think. Populating the back-end include not only a bunch of no-names and veterans just there to eat innings, but also young bucks who burned their way past AAA and will probably be a #3 or higher in the 2010 season. That said, the #5 competition is almost stiffer than the #4 competition, as the #4 doesn't have quite the revolving door that the #5 does, and oftentimes will house the Livan Hernandez' of a rotation, who really kind of suck, but not badly enough to be demoted.

Join us after the jump as we see where Hammel stacks up against the competition.

Now, when I evaluate a pitcher, I look at the following things: ERA, FIP, xFIP, tRA. I'll be excluding xFIP and tRA from this not because I don't think they should come into play, but because I have like 60 pitchers to stack up and their xFIP/tRA aren't easily calculable and/or aren't nicely listed on BBR. Ah, the drawbacks of making your own spreadsheets.

After the runs/9 metrics, I then move to peripherals: WHIP, K9, BB9, HR9, K/BB. I feel those can tell more of a story of how the pitcher actually pitched without taking a lot of the more variable aspects of the game into play (parks and such - although obviously HR9 is very different based on where you pitched. This is where the "YEAH BUT COORS" comes into play).

Finally, Innings Pitched. Typically, it's not that big of a deal, because we can just look at rate stats to level the playing field, but considering the revolving-door nature of the #5 slot, it shows that the pitcher was consistently good enough to not lose his rotation spot to anyone else.

So let's get to cracking.

Jason Hammel posted a 4.33 ERA in 2009 over 176 2/3 innings, good for an ERA+ of 104, allowing a WHIP of 1.387. His FIP sat at a solid 3.66. Per 9 innings, Hammel struck out 6.8, walked a mere 2.1, and gave up 0.9 HR. He struck out 3.17 batters per walk allowed.

Based on those numbers, Hammel ranked as follows:

 

#5

ERA

13

ERA+

11

WHIP

17

FIP

3

K9

13

BB9

5

HR9

9

K/BB

4

IP

2

Average

8.89

 

Averaging all those rankings gives Hammel an average rank of 8.89, as seen above. This puts Hammel as 3rd among #5 starters, with 1st being Tommy Hanson (4.33) and Jeff Niemann (8.56). That's some pretty fine company to have right there. So let's see how he stacks up among the steady #4 starters:

 

Hammel

DLR

ERA

7

8

ERA+

7

8

WHIP

9

8

FIP

1

4

K9

13

2

BB9

2

21

HR9

5

10

K/BB

2

4

IP

2

1

Average

5.333333333

7.333333333

Averaging THOSE rankings puts Hammel at an average 5.333 ranking among #4 starters. Ahead of him, nobody. That's right, he's first. Directly behind him are Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wells, and Jorge De La Rosa.

Clearly we're not looking at all the pieces to the puzzle here. There's more to a pitcher's makeup than simply how he ranks among his peers. But considering the job we asked Jason to do this season, it would appear he held it down admirably.

If you asked me to tell you which number impressed me the most about Jason Hammel this season, I'd answer simply that it's his walk rate. With 2 fireballers/K machines in Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa, we also saw some pretty unfriendly BB9's, despite their relative improvements. Jason almost halved his BB9 from his past 2 seasons in Tampa, and took to attacking the strike zone far more than we'd seen of him in his career. Granted, he had times when he was very hittable, but at the very least, a BB9 that low will keep you in games longer and help you eat more innings at the back end of a rotation.

Additionally, Hammel ranked 31st in tRA*, the adjusted and regressed form of tRA. While that doesn't really show how the other #4/#5 pitchers did this season, putting Hammel that high up on the list is pretty impressive to say the least.

So let's go back to my hypothesis.

Did Jason Hammel rate top 15% among #5 starters?

No, no he did not. Based on the criteria, Hammel just barely missed being in the top 20%. So swing and a miss there, although he might have caught a piece of it. Yes, yes he did. Ranking 3rd behind Jeff Niemann and Tommy Hanson is no small feat, considering Hanson is the Braves' top pitching prospect and Niemann is the guy who beat him out for the job in Tampa. Very admirable.

Did Jason Hammel rate top 50% among #4 starters?

Yes, yes he did. Based on the criteria, Hammel blew past the top 50% and topped all eligible #4 starters in the categories used to evaluate.

That said, based on the hypothesis given, the conclusion I draw is that while Hammel ranks very favorably among #5 starters, he can easily compete with #4 starters, and I feel that puts him in a place that should all but guarantee him a rotation spot in 2010.

If you'd like to see the raw data I used to make this evaluation, I've created a Google Docs spreadsheet here for you to look at and mess with.

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