Could More Outings Like His Last One Hurt Jason Hammel's Trade Value?

Could More Outings Like His Last One Hurt Jason Hammel's Trade Value?

The Cubs couldn't have asked for a better situation than the one they got with Jason Hammel.

The righty signed with the Cubs just before Valentine's Day 2014 on a one-year, Scott Feldman-esque "flip" contract. It sounds like a great setup to me: $6 million for a guaranteed spot in the rotation to rebuild your value, a probable midseason trade to rid you of that nasty draft pick compensation, with an opportunity this winter to cash in. Meanwhile, the Cubs can use him to add some young pieces in July.

At just 31, the Cubs don't really have to flip Hammel. An extension is possible, in theory. But pardon me for not holding my breath.

In return for the great setup, Hammel went out and gave the Cubs some stellar outings. Take a look at Hammel's 2014 stats prior to his most recent outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates:

GS IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF
12 78.1 53 22 22 16 70 5 4 300

That's good for a 2.52 ERA, 23.3 K%, and 5.3 BB% – each of those marks being top-15 in the National League.

Wednesday night was an uncharacteristically tough outing for Hammel. His 5 IP, 6 K, 2 BB, 11 H, 4 ER performance marked a season-high in hits allowed and a season-low innings pitched. The Cubs would go on to lose, 4-0.

Getting to the point, Jason Hammel had a rough outing after a stretch of many, many good outings to start the year. One single game won't torpedo a player's trade value (unless they got injured in that one game), but what if Wednesday's results started to become a trend?

What if, from now until he is traded, each of Hammel's starts are identical to the one he had on Wednesday? How might that affect his numbers and his value? Call this "what if" scenario a reasonably pessimistic hypothetical.

Let's take a closer look at that last start and see just what we can determine from the box score. I mentioned already that Hammel gave up a season-high 11 hits. Additionally, 7 of his balls in play were line drives: 3 singles, 1 ground rule double, 1 triple, 1 double play, and an out. This line drive total was also a season high.

If Hammel kept giving up double-digit hits in his next starts, would that be cause for alarm? Not necessarily. Pitchers can't really control where the ball goes in the park once it is put in play. Take Hector Rondon's blown save on June 6th against the Marlins: he gave up four hits but none of them were particularly hard; they simply happened to fall just out of the defender's reach.

The line drives, however, may signal something about a pitcher's stuff rather than their luck. I can't comment on Hammel's stuff on Wednesday, I don't have a good eye for scouting things like that yet. But for what it's worth, his current line drive percentage is 21.2, slightly above league average.

Speaking of luck, I like the concept behind FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) because it only counts what a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, home runs, and HBP. Let's move onto those stats as we talk about Hammel.

Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer in the first inning Wednesday to give the Pirates the only lead they needed for the night. Chris Coghlan gave a "valiant effort" and nearly robbed McCutchen of the bomb in one of the best non-catches of the year. It was just the sixth homer given up by Hammel in 2014.

Is it likely that Hammel gives up a homer in each of his starts the rest of the way? Considering this one almost wasn't, I'm not so sure; but we'll proceed with the totals as if he would, rather than cherry-picking in this scenario.

I mentioned that Hammel's strikeout and walk rates were pretty good before Wednesday: 23.3 K%, and 5.3 BB%, both well above average. He struck out six and walked two against the Buccos. One of those walks was intentional, issued from the dugout, and just the second from Hammel this season. You could argue that Hammel only truly gave up one walk since the other was for strategy, but like the home runs, I'm not going to cherry pick.

Barring injuries or a rotation shakeup, Hammel will make six more starts from now until the All-Star Break, against (probably) the Marlins, Pirates, Nationals, Red Sox, Reds, and Braves. Buster Olney said on his podcast that the Cubs want to move their rental arm early (Hammel) and their stud arm late (Samardzija) to try and seperate the market, just like they did last year with Feldman and Garza. (h/t Brett Taylor) Sometime between July 2nd (when trading IFA slots opens up) and the All-Star Game is when we could see Hammel dealt, which is why I used the All-Star Break as a cutoff in this scenario.

If Hammel puts up the same line he did Wednesday night each time he goes out, this is what his season stats will look like at the end:

GS IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF
19 113.1 130 50 50 30 112 12 11 489

If you were an opposing GM, how would you like that line? Would you want that pitching for your team in the second half?

Hammel's ERA wouldn't be nearly as shiny (3.97) as it is now. I calculate his FIP to be 3.56, which is better than Feldman's 3.93 mark during his time with the Cubs.

The rate stat that is most important to me is K% and BB%, and using this elementary "what if" scenario, Hammel would sit at 22.9 and 6.1, respectively. Still pretty darn good and just a few points off from his previous season mark (0.4 K%, 0.8 BB% worse).

No, Hammel wasn't amazing on Wednesday; he gave up a lot of hits, allowed four runs, and took the loss. But he was still striking hitters out and limiting walks at a good rate, especially if you take out that IBB. When taken at its simplest, the key to successful outings is just that – limiting walks and getting outs (which the pitcher can only truly control via the strikeout).

Not that anyone was worried, but I think Jason Hammel and his trade value are going to be just fine. Come the All-Star Break, the Cubs will be sitting on a better-performing pitcher than the one that got them their current fifth starter and 8th-inning reliever – even if that pitcher continues to "struggle" like he did on Wednesday.

Here's to a stellar package for the Cubs and a playoff opportunity for Jason.

@justinjabs

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