Throughout the first half of 2014, right-hander Jason Hammel was simply dominant as a member of the Chicago Cubs’ starting rotation, giving fans reason to believe that fielding a contender wasn’t as improbable as many thought when the season began.
However, a midseason trade of Hammel, along with fan favorite ace Jeff Samardzija, to the Oakland Athletics dismantled two-fifths of the Chicago starting rotation in exchange for a package centered around young infielder Addison Russell, who heads into 2015 as the organization’s top-ranked prospect – even ahead of highly-coveted slugger Kris Bryant.
Prior to the deal, the 32-year-old put together the most consistent stretch of his big league career, going 8-5 with a 2.98 earned run average in 17 starts. In those starts, spanning 108 2/3 innings of work, he posted an 8.6 K/9 mark to go along with several other improved marks – a 1.021 WHIP, 4.52 SO/BB ratio and 3.19 FIP – to name a few.
The right-hander re-joined the Cubs this winter on a new two-year, $20 million deal with a team option for the 2017 season, giving first-year manager Joe Maddon a solid number three starter to pencil in behind Jon Lester and breakout right-hander Jake Arrieta.
Last season, with both Oakland and Chicago, Hammel was notably better at home than on the road, which will be something to keep an eye on during the 2015 season. Here’s a quick look at a breakdown of his road-home splits from a year ago.
As you can see, by and large, Hammel was much better at the Coliseum and the Friendly Confines, but his splits between Oakland and Chicago were also notable. Working with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has helped several pitchers rejuvenate their respective careers since coming to the Windy City, the veteran was a completely different starter – one who had finally figured out pitch location.
So after falling off a bit after the trade, it makes sense that Hammel would be excited to come back to Chicago, where he put together one of the best stretches of his big league career. The righty will be reunited with Lester, who also spent the second half of 2014 with the Athletics, where they helped Oakland reach yet-another postseason contest before falling short of the ultimate goal.
The question moving forward is simple: what Jason Hammel are the Cubs getting in 2015? The right-hander who dominated hitters for months as a member of a young Chicago team or the veteran who seemed uncomfortable at times with an Athletics team in pursuit of an American League West crown?
The Cubs need a solid middle-of-the-pack starter in Hammel, not an ace. And that’s just what he’s poised to be in 2015.
According to Steamer projections for the upcoming season, we’re in store for a .500 season from the former 10th-round pick. He’s slated for an earned run average in the high-3.00s, which is much more realistic than his eye-popping numbers from the first half of 2014. If he can be reliable and pitch to these projections, he’ll be worth every penny of that $20 million deal.
Over the course of his big league career, which began back in 2006 with the Rays, Hammel has a less-than-impressive 4.60 ERA to go along with a 1.392 WHIP. To be successful, he will have to top those numbers and be more in-line with the numbers he posted last year – or he risks being overtaken by the multitude of other options the Cubs have waiting in the wings.
The Cubs do not need him to be an ace, or even a front-of-the-rotation presence. They need Hammel to provide depth and quality outings when it’s his turn to take the ball every fifth day. And there’s really no reason to believe he can’t – or won’t – be that for this year’s ball club.