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Tuesday Rockpile: Jason Hammered Again

Where have you gone, Jason Hammel-time?  Your strikeout pitch has left and gone away.
Where have you gone, Jason Hammel-time? Your strikeout pitch has left and gone away.

We know all know the story by now.  The Rockies were supposed to be in contention, if not leading the division, by now.  Instead, here we sit, with the 45-51 Rockies in third place and 10.5 games out of first place.  That is the furthest the hometown club has been out of first since August 25, 2010, leaving the very real possibility Colorado will be selling at the end of next week.

"We have put ourselves in a bad situation. You can see guys possibly leaving, and that's not something we want. It's unbelievable. We had the right pieces in the lineup and on the mound. Now it looks like a totally different team in some ways." - Carlos Gonzalez

How did this happen?   Point your finger at a name on the roster and you are probably right.  Ace Ubaldo Jimenez was incredible mortal in April and May.  Jorge de la Rosa's season-ending injury slayed the team's depth.  Aaron Cook has been completely ineffective, and Esmil Rogers, who has a starting role waiting for him upon his return, blew up quickly.  Felipe Paulino was rancid, and the horrifying five car pile up that are the seasons of Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler haven't helped.

But we have talked about all of those ad nauseum.  There is one such disappointment that has not gotten nearly as much ink, and that is Jason Hammel.  He posted two very similar seasons in a Rockies uniform, and his near 4.0 fWAR pitching at the back of the rotation provided Colorado with a deceptively deep rotation.  Now, Hammel is a complete frustrating mystery.  It's tough to deal with watching him, never knowing which version will show up.  But don't take my word for it:

"(He) didn't execute a single pitch. That's the mystery of Jason Hammel. Every other start, you don't know what you are going to get. It's tough to deal with."

That quote isn't from Jim Tracy, Dan O'Dowd, a teammate or even a fan.  It is from Jason Hammel himself, whose refreshingly cliche-free brutal honesty and dry wit has made him one of my favorite Rockies.  Hammel has just not been effective this season after a fantastic April, when he went 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA.  Colorado is just 3-11 in his 14 post-April starts, this after going 16-6 in his post-April starts in 2010 before his "dead arm" period.  Instead of a 3.7-3.8 fWAR season, Hammel is line to finish around 1.1.  That is significant.


What's wrong?  Curiously, Hammel has failed to strike out more than five batters even once after accomplishing that feat eleven times in 2010.  He has already walked 3+ in a starts seven times - he did so eight times in all of last season.  The result is a K/BB that is less than half of his precedent in a Rockies uniform.  

His ability to put hitters away has mysteriously disappeared.  It isn't due to a lack of velocity or a different mix of pitches.  Fangraphs heat maps don't suggest much.  He's throwing less strikes (62%) but not egregiously so (65% and 64% in past years).

Jason Hammel has struck out just 27.4% of batters he has faced in which he has reached two strikes.  The last two seasons, that rate was 38.1% and 38.9%.

To be honest, I have no diagnosis for Hammel's inability to strike out hitters.  In a laundry list of disappointments this season, Hammel doesn't rank at the top, but his rapid regression has certainly hurt the back of the rotation.

Yanks Won't Sell Farm to Get Ubaldo Jimenez -  I didn't think they would anyway.