Monday, November 7, 2016

Is Jason Hammel a Fit for the Braves?

By Julie Fennell on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational
(Crop) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As news broke Sunday afternoon that Cubs righty Jason Hammel's option was not going to be picked up by the team, speculation immediately began as to whether or not Hammel will be a Braves target. With that in mind, let's take a deeper look into the veteran hurler.

Who Hammel Is/Isn't 

Hammel is a modern day innings eater. 200+ inning guys are few and far between in the today's age of power bullpens so our expectations are closer to the 170-inning range. Since establishing himself as a major league starter in 2009, Hammel has reached that plateau five times.

It probably tells you a lot about Hammel when the first thing that stands out is durability, but that's what you get out of Hammel. Let's be honest - after using the likes of Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona edition), Lucas Harrell, and Joel De La Cruz last year, is durability such a bad thing? Hammel won't give you a lot of high-end performance, but he also won't embarrass you. Maybe a comparison from modern Braves' history is another former Rockies starter, John Thomson. While Thomson would be limited by injuries during his three-year stay in Atlanta, he came to the Braves as a solid, though largely unremarkable, right-hander.

Hammel works off five pitches, though his changeup is rarely employed. He throws a few more fourseamers to righties and a few more curves to lefties. Overall, he utilizes his fourseamer about 30% of the time and that mark is much higher toward the beginning of the game. Once he's able to spot his heater, he can go to his breaking stuff. His slider has been his most-often used pitch over the last two years (35%) while his sinker is his third most frequent call. He upped his curveball usage last year to about 10%, but it remains a distant fourth offering. The four-seamer and sinker have lost a tick of velocity over the last couple of seasons, but still average close to 93 mph. His slider and change both come in at about 85 mph while his curveball comes at the hitter at about 77 mph as it drops sharply upon arriving.

Hammel has carried a strikeout percentage above his career-average of 18.5% in four-of-the-last-five years and his walk rate in 2016 was around his career norm. Some deeper metrics gave him higher marks last year than he carried the previous two seasons because of some luck stats going in his favor. His BABIP was 32 points below his career norm while his LOB% was about 5% higher than usual. Subsequently, his FIP of 4.48 and xFIP of 4.34 were both three-year highs by a longshot. There's little reason beyond age to not expect some more positive fluctuations in his metrics next year and there weren't any telling negatives in his plate discipline stats like Zone% and Contact% to be concerned about.

It's worth mentioning that Hammel finished poorly in 2016 with a 8.35 ERA over his final seven starts. This contributed to him being left off the Cubs' postseason roster. It's also worth noting that 2016 was the third consecutive season where Hammel's performance dipped in the second half according to ERA. Over the last three years, Hammel has a 3.63 FIP and 3.61 xFIP in the first half compared to a 4.65 FIP and 4.07 FIP in the second half. It less pronounced in 2016, though. In fact, if you strip away ERA from the conversation, there was no real difference between the halves in performance. His ERA climbing seems a product of BABIP and LOB% regressing to the mean more so than anything.

With Hammel, I don't believe the floor is much lower than what we saw last year from him. The ceiling may not be much higher, but he did pitch better recently (2014-15). He's going to get decent numbers across the board and will be saddled with his fair share of homers. Because he won't hurt himself with walks, a lot of those homers will be solo shots and he'll work around them. Like I said, he's no great shakes, but he is still a quality option who has been durable enough to stay on the mound every fifth day.

How Much?

Let's take a look at last year's free agent class for an idea of what kind of salary and commitment the Braves would have to consider. Hammel enters this winter with 5.5 fWAR over the last three years. While I do realize there is a lot more to take into account than just that one statistic, it may give us a baseline to help with our projection. The following four contracts went to starting pitchers with a similar fWAR entering the winter of 2015.

Yovani Gallardo, 6.5 fWAR...2 years, $22M, $11M AAV
Mike Leake, 6.0 fWAR...5 years, $80M, $16M AAV
J.A. Happ, 5.4 fWAR...3 years, $36M, $12M AAV
Ian Kennedy, 4.9 fWAR...5 years, $70M, $14M AAV

Amazing that we have gotten to the point where middle-rotation depth costs this much, but here we are. Somewhere between $11M and $16M per year seems like a good range for where to start and end with Hammel negotiations. I'm tempted to eliminate Leake from this comparison, but felt the context might help. As far as years go, 2017 will be Hammel's Age-34 year. That is comparable to Happ, the oldest of the previous list. Yout might think Hammel's declining numbers in 2016 would work against him, but that may not neccesarily be accurate. Kennedy had a similar thing happen to him, but the Royals still paid him handsomely and Kennedy's durability was a key factor for Kansas City.

The Braves cannot get tunnel vision with Hammel. While arguibly the best starter on the free agent market, is Hammel that much better than Edinson Volquez ? Jeremy Hellickson? Andrew Cashner? Not enough to warrant big-time cash for a small time player. While Hammel is a great fit for the Braves, the qualities that make him a great fit for Atlanta also make him a great fit for other teams.

If it were me, my offer would be something like an average of $12 million for two seasons plus a third year option and incentives. That leaves a little wiggle room to increase the base salary some in negoiations and maybe promise a third year, but $39M total over three years is roughly my ceiling. Beyond that and you are really getting into paying too much for too little return.

What say you? Is Hammel worth the investment? Comment below.

See Also

2016 Player Reviews: Joel De La Cruz, Tyler Flowers, Mike Foltynewicz
Braves Can McDowell
Random Ex-Brave: John Thomson


  1. I thought 2 years $30 with $10 option before reading article b/c career fip in top 50 active. Affordable, flexible, tradeable, fair.

  2. I thought 2 years $30 with $10 option before reading article b/c career fip in top 50 active. Affordable, flexible, tradeable, fair.

  3. I love what you do sir. Hindsight is 20/20--I think colon at 12.5 is a great move--like you said--another pitcher like Hammel, but only one year and movable at deadline if two or three of the kids get ready. I hope Whalen gets the call. Tehran, Colon, Folty, Dickey, and Whalen--what a variety of speed and release points. This year is gonna be fun. I think you may be right about a tehran trade--I hope not.