Tonight, the Orioles will send right handed pitcher Jason Hammel to the mound in the Bronx. Originally drafted by the Rays in 2002, Hammel saw his first major league game in 2006. Although he was a highly touted pitching prospect, he spent his 3 seasons with the Rays in limbo between the rotation and the bullpen, posting a 5.90 ERA. At the beginning of the 2009 season, the Rockies traded for the 26 year old at the time and stretched him out as a starter. He would go on to post a 4.33 ERA and 3.71 FIP in his first season in Colorado, and followed that up with a very similar 2010 season. Last year, Hammel saw a decrease in his strikeout numbers and an increase in his walks, and although he posted an ERA close to 2010, this time his FIP was 4.83. At the beginning of this year, the Rockies traded him along with Matt Lindstrom for Jeremy Guthrie, and it appears the Orioles have changed a few things about the starter. We’ll detail what Hammel is doing differently, but for now you should know that he’s pitched spectacularly in 4 starts, with a 1.73 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 8.65 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, and a no-hit bid he took into the 8th inning.
Ever since joining the Rockies, Hammel has used a 5 pitch repertoire. While his most used pitch throughout his career has been the 93 mph four-seam fastball, this year he is throwing mostly 93 mph two-seam fastballs. His most used offspeed pitch is the 85 mph slider that has strong break into left handed hitters. He also uses a 77 mph curveball and an 88 mph changeup. In 2012, his selection is 35% sinker, 26% four-seam, 24% slider, 10% curveball, and 5% changeup.
The graph above plots Hammel’s release points by pitch type from a catcher’s perspective. At 6’6″, the tall pitcher releases the ball at around the same height, and around 1.5 to 2.5 feet to the left of the mound. The 3/4 arm slot he uses can be seen in the picture to the right. The compact release zone above shows 2012, but in 2011 he also had a condensed zone, showing an ability to replicate his delivery and no signs of tipping pitches.
The two graphs above show the break of each pitch type from the release point on the right to homeplate on the left. The top image shows a bird’s eye view of the horizontal break. The two-seam, four-seam, and changeup have break into right handed hitters, while the curveball and slider break into left handed hitters. In the bottom image we can see the vertical break, with the four-seam breaking the least and curveball breaking the most.
We have a better idea of how these pitches break based on a catcher’s perspective plot of the vertical and horizontal movement in the image above based on Baseball Prospectus’ pitch identification. The four-seam fastball has the least vertical drop, averaging around 10 inches above the x-axis, and around 3.5 inches into right handed hitters. The two-seam/sinker drops slightly more, averaging around 8 inches above the x-axis, but also breaks nearly 8 inches into right handed hitters. The changeup maintains similar horizontal break into righties, but sinks down to 4 inches above the no-spin pitch. His slider is the first pitch to move away from right handed hitters, averaging almost 4 inches outside the y-axis and more than an inch below the x-axis. Finally, his curveball drops around 8 inches below the x-axis and into left handed hitters around 7 inches.
Plotted above are the spins of each pitch type and velocity. The two-seam and four-seam fastball have standard spin angles at 224 and 200 degrees respectively. His changeup has a higher spin angle than the average changeup, allowing the pitch to move in more to right handed hitters. The low spin angle of the slider and curveball make Hammel’s breaking pitches move in the opposite direction, which sit at 79 degrees on the slider and 40 degrees on the curveball.
Where He Throws It
Here we have the pitch type locations to right handed hitters. The two-seam fastball is located throughout the zone, but he will go up and in and down and away with the pitch. Surprisingly, the curveball is mostly thrown up in the zone, which I suspect is more of a caught looking pitch, rather than a whiff pitch. The four-seam is located up in the zone to primarily draw flyballs and to move up the ladder for a strikeout. Like the two-seam, the slider is also thrown throughout the zone, but sometimes Hammel will go down and away with it to induce the bat to chase the pitch breaking away. His selection to righties is 38% sinker, 32% slider, 22% four-seam, and 7% curveball.
Here Hammel throws all the pitches that break away from lefties away to get them chasing. The slider is really the only pitch he regularly throws down and in, but he also keeps the curveball low to get hitters swinging at unhittable pitches. His selection to lefties is 33% sinker, 29% four-seam, 15% slider, 12% curveball, and 11% changeup.
When He Throws It
|Count||Four-seam (R)||Sinker (R)||Slider (R)||Curveball (R)||Changeup (R)|
Here we have Hammel’s pitch selection facing righties in 2012. Starting off a count, the pitcher does a good job of mixing his four-seam, sinker, and slider, as well as tossing in a curveball. As he falls behind in the count, Hammel relies mostly on his fastball to get strike one, in particular the four-seam. As he gains in the count, he attacks more with his sinker and slider, looking for a groundball or strikeout. So far in 2012, he’s received a 19% whiff rate on the slider, as well as a 15% whiff rate on the “rising” four-seam.
|Count||Four-seam (L)||Sinker (L)||Slider (L)||Curveball (L)||Changeup(L)|
Starting off a count facing lefties, Hammel mixes the four-seam, sinker, and now the curveball. As he falls behind in the count, he again relies on the four-seam fastball. As he gains a favorable count, he increases his slider, curveball, and changeup at times, but still mixes his pitches 0-2. Facing lefties, he’s drawn an 11% whiff rate on both his fastballs, and a 14% whiff rate on his slider.
In the past, Hammel has been more of a contact pitcher with a good ability to draw groundballs. Now that he’s increased the sinker usage, he’s increased groundballs and strikeouts. His batted ball rate through his career is 46% groundballs, 34% flyballs, and 21% linedrive, but because of the sinker, there is a good chance his groundball rate increases this year. Although he sports a career 6.33 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9, in 2012 he’s had an incredible 8.65 K/9 and 2.77 BB/9. While the whiff rates on his slider improve the strikeout numbers, the whiff rate on his fastballs might not be sustainable as hitters pick up on his new selection. In his career, he has a platoon split of .286/.358/.458 to lefties, as opposed to .280/.330/.430 against righties. He also has a home/away split, but I’d attribute the difference to his years playing in Coors Field.
Against The Yankees
The Yankees have faced Hammel in 11 appearances, 5 games started, and 29.0 total innings. Yankee hitters have destroyed him for a .322/.394/.595 triple slash, but this came while he was struggling with the Rays. In total, his 7.45 ERA does not represent the type of pitcher he is today, so I wouldn’t take these numbers too seriously.
|Probable Yankee Lineup||At Bats||Triple Slash|
|Derek Jeter SS||19||.316/.409/.579|
|Curtis Granderson CF||26||.192/.276/.346|
|Alex Rodriguez 3B||12||.083/.389/.083|
|Robinson Cano 2B||20||.300/.333/.350|
|Mark Teixeira 1B||20||.150/.261/.300|
|Nick Swisher RF||22||.273/.320/.409|
|Raul Ibanez DH||9||.000/.182/.000|
|Andruw Jones LF||17||.235/.350/.471|
|Russell Martin C||8||.125/.125/.125|
Hammel should improve his career now that he’s successful learned to be a sinkerballer, but some numbers are too extreme to continue. His whiff rates on the fastballs are very unlikely to continue, and a 14% linedrive rate for 2012 is bound to increase. While the Yankees might strikeout a few times on his slider, if they can stay away from the double play, they could certainly hand him his first loss of the year.