After a tough loss to the Yankees on Wednesday afternoon, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel had his record fall to 2-1. Not a bad record for a guy on a struggling team, but just citing the W-L record would actually be doing a great disservice to how well Hammel has pitched early on.
Jason Hammel: 2014
Not bad for a guy who as of this writing, is available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues.
So if you’re thinking about grabbing Hammel going forward, what do you need to consider?
Hammel is off to a nice start but at 31, he’s far from a baby. In nearly 1,000 career innings entering this season, Hammel’s career had been largely mediocre.
Jason Hammel: Pre-2014
Certainly it’s possible for someone to turn a corner or at least have a season that’s far and away better than the rest of his career. It should also be noted that until this year, Hammel’s has either pitched in notoriously strong hitter American League East, or for the Rockies at Coors Field. Pitching with the Cubs may offer something of a break, but pitching in the National League Central isn’t exactly a cakewalk. So having a fear that Jason Hammel will eventually regress to his career numbers wouldn’t exactly make you an over-the-top pessimist.
Another point that needs to be made is that the Cubs can’t be counted on to consistently give their pitchers run support, or protect leads. If your league counts quality starts instead of wins, that’s not such a problem. But even though Hammel won his first two starts, expecting him to be out of the 10-12 wins range is probably setting your sights a little high. You can overcome that, especially in this day in age when even the best pitchers rarely win 20, but it is something that you need to consider.
I like the ERA, but WHIP is probably a better determination of how well a pitcher is doing and early in the year, it’s easily the better determinant. The 3.05 ERA means that Hammel has allowed seven earned runs. In only 20.2 innings, five earned runs would mean a 2.18 ERA and nine would mean a 3.92. I certainly haven’t seen all of Hammel’s starts this season, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been that hard to find two runs that could have been avoided, or scored, to sway that in a big way one way or the other.
The WHIP dances around a little less. If in his next start, Jason Hammel allows 10 hits+walks without recording an out, he’s still got a respectable WHIP of 1.21. Not quite as dazzling as his current mark, but still solid.
The other somewhat tricky part to looking at early numbers for pitchers is that the quality of opponent is questionable. Well, Hammel has taken on the Pirates twice and now, the Yankees once. Maybe not the best offenses in the game, but not the Astros or a Giancarlo Stanton-less Marlins, either.
If nothing else, that gives me confidence in giving a green light to Hammel in his next three starts (home vs. Arizona, at Milwaukee, home vs. St. Louis) and re-assessing him after that point.
The other thing that’s important to remember is that the Cubs have a history in recent years of getting good numbers from pitchers without a great track record. In 2013 alone, they got good seasons from Scott Feldman and Travis Wood. The more that happens in places, the less of a coincidence that becomes. They don’t quite have the Pittsburgh Pirates track record of revitalizing pitcher’s careers, but it’s not bad.
What to do Going Forward
Hammel doesn’t have the overall track record of a Kyle Lohse, or the potential to be dominant like Michael Pineda. In the case of both of those guys, I felt it was best to go pick them up ASAP, even if you already have good pitching. I still feel that way.
With Jason Hammel, I’d definitely advise picking him up, but only if you need a bit of a boost to your pitching or if you have a fairly natural guy to drop. Don’t be afraid to sign him, but don’t force the issue, either.
If you do decide to pick up Hamels, give him a few starts, probably the next three, which we went over over above.
If we get more than a month in and he’s still pitching this well, then I’d be a bit more inclined to look past the rest of his career and make more of an assumption that he’s either turned a corner, or is in a career year. But until then, don’t be afraid to sign him, just keep conservative expectations.