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Jason Hammel Trade Revisited

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It's not always the blockbuster deals that build winners.  In fact, it often is not.  With the Rockies on the verge of the playoffs, it's a good time to reflect on one of those seemingly innocent little trades that has paid big dividends for Dan O'Dowd this season.


The Pledge

Tampa Bay entered the season with a true embarrassment of riches regarding starting pitching.  James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine were locks to make the Opening Day rotation, and 2007 first overall pick David Price was a capable fifth starter at the very least.

But that left out two talented right-handers:  Jeff Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004, and 2002 10th rounder Jason Hammel.  Both had exhausted their options and would have to be traded, released or placed on waivers if they were not on the 25-man roster on Opening Day.   The Rays elected to keep David Price in AAA to start the year, forcing them to move only one of the pitchers.

As Spring Training neared an end, there was no clear winner for the fifth starter role, though rumors abounded that the Rockies were hoping to trade for Hammel.  Niemann was 2-1 with a 6.32 ERA over 15.1 IP in the Grapefruit League, while Hammel was 0-1 with a 3.96 ERA in 25.0 IP. However, the investment the organization had in Niemann worked in his favor.


The Turn

On the final day before the season, the Rays decided to keep their former first-rounder.  They traded Hammel to the Rockies for 21-year old pitcher Aneury Rodriguez, who had pitched in High-A Modesto last season.  It seemed at the time of the trade, Rowbots seemingly disliked the trade greatly, pining for Niemann instead.  Granted, one season is not enough to properly evaluate a trade, but for the sake of argument, should we be happy we landed Hammel instead of a guy who was chosen behind only Matt Bush, Justin Verlander and Phillip Humber in 2004?

Join on the other side to find out.

Jason Hammel finished his season last night, though Jeff Niemann still has a scheduled start Saturday against the Yankees.  Still, we'll check out the players' statistics for comparison now anyway.  A cursory glance at traditional stats (W/L, ERA, WHIP) suggest Niemann was unquestionably the better pitcher this year.  But take a closer look.

2009 - Jason Hammel 10-8 174.2 4.38 1.39 3.73 4.24 6.75 3.12 0.88 .337 1.51 (10.8) (1.4) 13.4 3.8 $17.2M
2009 - Jeff Niemann 12-6 175.2 3.94 1.35 4.09 4.67 6.15 2.07 0.87 .301 1.01 9.7 (1.7) 0.2 3.0 $13.4


The Prestige

Hammel has a better FIP, tRA and WAR.  More clearly, he strikes out more and walks les.  Quite frankly, the only reason his WHIP and ERA seem higher is due to a much higher batting average on balls in play.  

What's fascinating about Hammel though, is that he not only matches up with Niemann extraordinarily well, not only is he arguably the best fifth starter in the game this season, but he ranks near the top of the league in a couple important peripheral statistics.

One knock against Hammel coming to Coors Field was his propensity to give up the long ball, but it just hasn't been a problem with Colorado.  The Rockies won 12 of his 15 Coors Field starts and his 0.88 HR/9 is fantastic for a Rockies pitcher - indeed, it is 17th best in the National League.  He also has the sixth best curveball value in MLB and accrued the 25th most WAR among all MLB starting pitchers, 14th in the NL.  Arguably most exciting, he has the 14th best GB/FB ratio in the bigs. That's a heck of an effort from a guy that couldn't crack two rotations out of spring training.

Now, before anyone messes their pants, I am obliged to point out a couple caveats to these statistics, at least those in comparison to Niemann.  Even though Hammel has been forced to pitch at Coors Field, he also has gotten the benefit of Dodger Stadium and PetCo Park, the league's top two pitcher's parks.  Niemann, meanwhile, also pitches in a hitter's park, but in his division, only the Toronto Blue Jays play in a park with a factor below 100, and that's just 98/99.

In addition, there is no greater difference in offensive inter-division skill than between the NL West and AL East. Niemann most assuredly has been facing stiffer competition in the opposing batter's box, and on a level playing field, he would grade out probably fairly evenly if not slightly better than Hammel.  But at this point, it's essentially like asking whether you'd prefer steak or lobster, at least relative to league average fifth starters.  My appetite tends to pitchers with strong GB/FB rates,  so even if Niemann and Hammel are essentially even, we got the best guy for Coors Field.   In case price is your deciding factor, Hammel made $422k this year, while Niemann received $650k from the Rays. 

As for Aneury Rodriguez, it's still too early to guess whether he was too much to give for Hammel.  He could conceivably become an ace, though as Rox Girl said in April, "Aneury's ceiling is Jason Hammel" before Hammel's ceiling raised a little this year.  

Rodriguez scuffled a little bit when the trade brought a promotion to AA Montgomery, but he adjusted and rebounded well, posting ERAs under 2.60 in June and July.  The jury will be out for a few more years, but just for now, here's his AA stats this season.

2009 - Aneury Rodriguez 9-11 27 27 0 0 0 0 142.0 121 78 71 17 59 111 4.50 1.26

Will it be a good trade when it's all said and done?  Who knows...Aneury and Niemann could become monsters and Hammel's arm could fall off, but as for this year, it looks fantastic.  There has been plenty of publicity about Dan O'Dowd's  shrewd trade to pick up Jason Marquis, but at just 0.1 WAR below Marquis, there's another Jason trade that ought to help Dan O'Dowd become a finalist for Executive of the Year.