Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 4/9/13
Last season Jason Hammel turned in a career year despite starting only 20 games. I wrote about him in the preseason and have targeted him in all my leagues this year. However, in two starts this year (12.2 IP), Hammel has turned in a very strange stat line.While his 0.87 WHIP is sparking, his 4.97 ERA is far from it. In fact, Hammel is the only qualified pitcher so far this year to have an ERA above 4.00 and a WHIP under 1.00. But the strangest stat of all is the fact that Hammel has only struck out just five batters, good for a pathetic 3.55 K/9.I realize that two starts is a very small sample size, and it would be ridiculous to think that his K/9 stays this low. The last qualified starter to finish the year with a K/9 worse than 3.55 was Livan Hernandez back in 2008, and I would be shocked if Hammel doesn’t manage to increase his strikeout rate. The real question is will he strike out batters closer to his career line (6.53 K/9) or his breakout 2012 season (8.62 K/9)?Hammel’s pitching arsenalWhen looking at pitchers’ numbers, it’s important to think about why their numbers have either stayed the same or differed from the past. It usully begins and ends with their pitch selection and velocities. Check out Hammels’s pitching arsenal over the last few years.One of the big reasons that Hammel struck out more batters in 2012 was the fact that he incorporated a sinker into his repertoire. From 2007-2011, he relied mostly on his fastball, throwing it an average of 61% of the time. Last year Hammel not only added a sinker, but threw it more than any other pitch (31%), while relying on his fastball much less (29%). Not only did adding the sinker help mix up hitters, but it also helped Hammel generate more ground balls (53.2 GB% in 2012).This year, Hammel is using his pitches at almost the same frequency as last year. He’s using his fastball slightly more and his curveball slightly less, but aside from that he has been pitching the same (small sample size aside). However the velocity on Hammel’s pitches has decreased by about 1.0 mph each, and now sits closer to his 2011 numbers. While his fastball might not be as overpowering as it was, his change-up velocity has decreased as well. The separation between pitch speeds isn’t an issue.Looking ahead to 2013Unless his velocity returns, I don’t think Hammel can top his 8.62 K/9 from last year, although he should easily surpass the 6.25 K/9 he averaged in the other six years of his career. Assuming no major changes, I would project Hammel to finish the year with a K/9 right around 8.00. Assuming he can still keep the ball on the ground frequently and maintain his good control (career 3.12 BB/9), he shouldn’t have a problem posting an above average ERA and WHIP as well.Buy low on Hammel, or pick him up if you can -– he’s available in 49% of Yahoo! Leagues and 83% of ESPN leagues. Depending on your league format, he would likely be a 5th or 6th starter, but will give you the numbers of a 3rd or 4th starter. There’s a lot of value here, so use his slow start to your advantage and make sure you own Hammel!
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