Many fans adore Troy Tulowitzki. Many more worship Todd Helton. Jason Giambi is a popular player. My favorite player? It might just be Jason Hammel. Part of it is his unique candor in interviews, his rare dry wit. A large part of it is that he a fascinating case study in statistics, testing whatever method of grading pitchers you may ascribe to.
By the eye-and-feel test, Jason Hammel lost something last year after two eerily similar previous seasons. At one point, he stopped his pitching motion mid-pitch because he forgot what pitch he was going to throw. His out pitch disappeared and he lost his sterling control. Only two starting pitchers have a season with a K/BB ratio of 3.00 or greater in Rockies history: both are Jason Hammel. Most importantly, he lost his job in the rotation late in the season.
What do the numbers say? Well, he allowed a .280 batting average on balls in play, a career low, and actually lowered his ERA by five points from 2010. Baseball Reference gives Hammel a 2.0 rWAR, the best of his MLB career, thanks to what is graded as the worst defense behind him in his career. Baseball Reference WAR is a popular method in which to grade pitchers in larger samples, usually starting with a full season. By this method, Jason Hammel was at his best last year.
That just does not pass the smell test.
Delve further. We see that Hammel's strikeout rate plummeted to below 5.00 (a career low), while his walk rate increased by 50% to 3.59, far higher than anything he had shown in the NL before. His home run rate was the highest of his Rockies career. He managed to pitch just 170.2 innings, his lowest total since joining Colorado. He allowed a higher percentage of the base-runners he allowed to score than any year in a Rockies uniform. Yuck.
As a result, his SABR ERA predictor statistics exploded. His FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and tERA all increased by over one full run over his 2010 campaign, suggesting the lowering of his ERA was quite lucky. Baseball Prospectus' FRA increased nearly a full run, once again producing a Rockies' career low in WAR (theirs is called WARP). Given the way he appeared to perform, those sabermetric acronyms seem to mirror what our eyes would tell us about Jason Hammel's 2011 far more than ERA or even Baseball Reference WAR. This seems to be in direct opposition to 2009-2010, when Fangraphs WAR suggested Jason Hammel was about as valuable as Matt Cain. Fascinating.
|2011 - Jason Hammel||7-13||27||1.0||2.0||4.97||3.59||1.11||.280||170.1||4.83||4.65||4.85||5.98||5.15||4.76||1.43|
Grade - D
Jason Hammel was the Rockies' 4th starter to begin the season. After Ubaldo Jimenez left and Jorge de la Rosa was injured, he became the veteran intended to step up and be at worst a stable 2nd starter. That did not happen. I do tend to favor rWAR, but I have a hard time doing so here. Hammel was passable at best as a 4th starter, but the role that he fell into due to Ubaldo/DLR was something he fell far short of fulfilling.
Hammel did a marvelous job in the bullpen late in the season when pushed there: 5 appearances, 10.1 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, 1.74 ERA, just 6 hits and even a save. Other than small sample size, there is plenty to debate about the source of this improvement - comfort in the pen, a reality check from a demotion from the rotaton, the birth of his daughter. For now, it seems the Rockies plan on having him in the rotation to start 2012 despite reportedly shopping him this offseason as a trade piece. With the glut of starting pitchers in the organization expanding by as many as three yesterday, that role seems to be in jeopardy. He may be one of the pitchers dealt to an organization that prefers a pitcher with a decent track record in MLB. He may be one of the starters converted to relief. He may be the #2 pitcher for the entire season. It is tough to know where he will end up, but for now, he is penciled into the rotation.