2016 Statistics: 166.2 IP, 3.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 34
Position: Starting pitcher
Earlier this month, Brian Cashman told reporters that his offseason priority was “pitching, pitching, pitching.” The Yankees are in the market for pitching, but the pickings are slim, especially for starters. Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel, however, makes for an intriguing option.
Hammel, 34, hit the open market when the Cubs declined his $12 million club option for 2017. Given the underwhelming free agent class, it’s possible that he slots behind Rich Hill as the best available starting pitcher. Should the Yankees be interested though?
It was a tale of two seasons for Hammel in 2016. He pitched quite well in the first half of the season. He logged a 3.46 ERA (4.52 FIP) across his first 17 starts. After the All-Star break, however, he managed a 4.35 ERA (4.44 FIP). That includes a disastrous September where he completely crashed and burned, posting an 8.71 ERA (6.10 FIP) across four starts. He also allowed six home runs, which works out to an enormous 2.6 HR/9. Hammel was so ineffective that he was left off of the Cubs playoff roster.
This isn’t new for Hammel, who has a history of running out of gas late in the season. From 2014 - 2016, the trend has become painfully obvious.
In each of the three frames, Hammel’s ERA and FIP spike towards the end of the season. He becomes increasingly ineffective after the All-Star break. Any team interested in signing him should recognize that his performance is likely to fall off of a cliff by the end of the season.
There’s also the question of health. Hammel struggled with cramping over the summer, so much so that the Cubs instructed him to eat potato chips for potassium and sodium. Things got a little more serious, however, in September.
#Cubs Hammel scratched from Friday's start because of right elbow tightness. It's a precautionary move— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) September 29, 2016
That’s concerning. Elbow issues tend to raise red flags. It’s even more alarming given Hammel’s repertoire—he’s a slider-heavy pitcher. According to Brooks Baseball, Hammel threw his slider 35.1% of the time. It’s his most frequently used pitch. Even if his elbow tightness was benign, the fact that he throws sliders more than any other pitch does not bode well for future arm health.
One of the other downsides to Hammel is his propensity to give up home runs. His 1.35 HR/9 was the 17th worst among 71 qualified starters. His changeup and sinker were the most vulnerable to the long ball. Having a homer prone pitcher make half of his starts at Yankee Stadium is asking for trouble. This isn’t a new problem, either. Hammel has had a home run problem since 2013.
On the plus side, Hammel is AL East battle tested. He spent five seasons in the division between the Rays and the Orioles. He knows the parks and the competitive environment. He also has a tendency to go on streaks where he’s very stingy in allowing runs. Some of his first half numbers are mighty impressive.
The Yankees have already expressed interest in Hammel, and that’s not surprising. They inquired about him prior to the 2014 trade deadline, too. The organization has liked Hammel for a while. They also need starting pitching, both now and beyond the 2017 season. Depending on his contract demands, Hammel could make sense for the Yankees. In terms of mid-to-back-of-the-rotation pitchers, you could do worse than Jason Hammel.