The fear of Chicago Cubs fans was that Jason Hammel would have his typical second half collapse. Thanks to a new fitness regime and–yes, potato chips–he’s been quite a surprise. Should we be more concerned about his recent outings than Jake Arrieta?
The questioning of Chicago Cubs starter Jason Hammel is in full swing. It didn’t take long after another poor start post All-Star break. Clearly, he’s not been the same pitcher as he was earlier in the year, but is it justified that we’re hammering down on him so much? You may think so, but that might not be the case.
Hammel has allowed more than four runs just three times. For comparison? Jake Arrieta has allowed it four times. Not a drastic difference, but our opinions on these two is distinctly different. One is “an ace” and will help anchor the staff heading into October. The other–by media account–is battling to even be part of the rotation. One has had historically bad second halves. The other has had…well, ONE good second half. So why the poor opinion of Hammel?
When you win the NL Cy Young, your struggles can be overlooked–at least on the short-term. Hammel had one poor start in July (10 ER, 4 IP vs Mets) while the other two have occurred within his last four starts. Arrieta has spread his out, mixing in a dominant performance around the lesser outings. We’ve talked plenty about Arrieta, we’re here to figure out Hammel. And it may be for the same reasons that they have struggled.
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Jeff Sullivan recently wrote about one of baseball’s “best pitches has gone missing”. That pitch he’s referring to is Arrieta’s cutter/slider. He’s still been good, but that pitch has not been as dominant. None of Hammel’s pitches are dominant, but it’s clear he’s lost faith in his fastball command. When your stuff isn’t dominant, that command is critical. As I start looking at his FanGraphs, you can start to see a pattern in what’s going on.
Long ball + Walks = Bad day
Hammel is mainly a fastball/slider guy who will mix in a curveball and an occasional changeup. His velocity has stayed relatively in check, but the use of his curveball has spiked–most notably in his poor outings. Hammel has at times abandoned the changeup, even though it’s not a pitch he throws often.
Now, it doesn’t take analytics to see that the long ball has been an issue in those bad outings. That will often bee the case with any pitcher. But couple that with the walks and you find yourself in trouble. His BB/9 in his three “bad outings” were 3.18 vs MIL, 5.40 vs COL, and 4.50 vs NYM. He allowed two home runs against the Rockies and Brewers–and five against the Mets.
One of the other troubling trends is the batted ball type %. Hard % of contact has slowly gone up, while his soft contact % is trending down. It’s becoming apparent that Hammel isn’t fooling many hitters. Hammel needs to identify what the issue is and soon, or his playoff roster spot will be in jeopardy.
Everyone looks at “history” in different ways. If you were focused on the past, you would have expected Arrieta to falter last year. Hammel should collapse this year. And why are you reading about the Cubs if you’re focused on history? You know what’s going to happen. They aren’t going to do anything but let us down.
History always has the potential to repeat itself. With so many years of baseball in the books, it’s hard not to. But that has always been what I love about the game. There’s always that chance of seeing something you haven’t before. A better finish for Hammel. A Cubs World Series. I don’t think that’s asking too much.