Baltimore Orioles: Jason Hammel worth taking a shot on?

Sep 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel (39) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Oriole Jason Hammel is still lingering on the market. Should the O’s make a run at signing him?

At the start of the offseason, the Chicago Cubs cut Jason Hammel loose, allowing him to chase a contract for more than the $12 million he was slated to earn for 2017. The reasoning behind the move went something like this — the Cubs wanted to go in a different direction with their fifth spot, and keeping Hammel under contract with no real role would significantly lower the value of his next contract. No one would have predicted that only a few weeks before Spring Training, Hammel would still be looking for a job, and will certainly earn less than $12 million in 2017.

As has become an annual tradition for the past two decades, the Orioles could use starting pitching help. Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy are all penciled in at the top of the rotation, and all should give Buck Showalter plenty of confidence each time they take the ball. Beyond that trio, it’s up to Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley. Who knows which version of Jimenez will show up — the one who pitched like an All-Star in the first half of 2015 and the second half of 2017 or the one who carried an ERA over 7.00 deep into last season? Miley is the definition of a fifth starter on a bad team, not someone who should be counted on in the rotation of a team that is spending at record levels. There is always need for more depth when your presumptive fourth and fifth starters combined for a 17-25 record, 5.40 ERA, and 41 home runs allowed last year.

Since leaving the Orioles after the 2013 season, Hammel is 35-28 with a 3.68 ERA (105 ERA+), 4.02 FIP, 1.2 HR/9, 8.3 SO/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 1.162 WHIP. He has limited hitters to a respectable line of .238/.295/.412 line. There have been some hiccups along the way. The Cubs traded Hammel to the Oakland A’s at the deadline in 2014, and he proceeded to turn in a 4.26 ERA and 2-6 record with nearly two home runs per nine. He has spent parts of six years in the American League, and has a 4.90 ERA in the Junior Circuit, compared to a 4.15 ERA in parts of six years in the National League. Hammel’s AL ERA is bumped up due to his bumpy start in Tampa where he had a 5.90 ERA in 73 appearances. For his career, Hammel’s ERA is 5.06 in the second half, over a run higher than his 3.99 first-half ERA, which is definite cause for concern.

After 11 years in the big leagues, it is pretty clear what type of pitcher Jason Hammel is. He gives up fly balls by the bunches. That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but for Hammel, more of those flies tend to turn into home runs than would be expected. He has finished the year with a HR/FB% lower than 10% (the presumed league average) in three of his professional seasons (coincidentally, two of those seasons came in Colorado, so go figure), and last year allowed almost 14% of his fly balls to leave the yard.

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Hammel has continued to get whiffs at a decent rate on his slider and curve, while working a four-seamer and sinker. The sinker, however, is a problem in that it is just not that effective in creating ground balls. For his career, Hammel has seen a higher percentage of his sinkers turned into home runs than his straight fastball, and opponents have slugged .494 against the pitch. Only once in the past five years have opponents slugged higher against Hammel’s four-seam fastball than his sinker. If that’s not a recipe for success in Camden Yards, I don’t know what is.

There is also the concern that Hammel’s raw stuff is declining. Scouts have expressed this belief, and there are also injury issues that have popped up over the years. He was scratched from a start at the end of the season due to elbow tightness, and is viewed as more of a five-inning pitcher who cannot go through an order three times. So, it does make sense that Hammel is still out there waiting for a deal as he enters his age-34 season.

Bringing it back to the Orioles, the need for another starter is there. You can never have enough depth when Jimenez and Miley are slated to start the season in the rotation. The best options waiting in the minor leagues are Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright, who should be viewed as long-relief options only. Who knows how many innings Bundy will be allowed to throw in his second season in the big leagues. It would be a big help to have a legitimate option to fall back on if an injury in the rotation pops up. Tillman and Gausman have both spent some time battling through injuries over the past two years, and if either goes down, the Orioles are in serious trouble.

Still, ponying up for Hammel seems unlikely at this point. Dan Duquette hinted at having between $20-30 million to spend this winter at the start of the offseason. He has already spent close to $20 million to re-sign Mark Trumbo and bring Welington Castillo into the fold. We know by now that Duquette likes to save some of his budget for mid-season acquisitions, so he may not look to max out his allowance before the start of the season. Unless Hammel is willing to take something in the neighborhood of a year and $6-8 million, the Orioles may take a pass.

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As Spring Training approaches, and Jason Hammel lingers on the market, it will be harder and harder for the Orioles not to jump in and snap him up. This is when Duquette has shined during his time running things in Baltimore. Looking at the numbers, it’s a toss-up as to whether or not Hammel can pitch well during a second go-round at Camden Yards and the beefed up AL East. This is a division full of launching pads and powerful lineups. Unless the market completely ignores Hammel as camps open, the Orioles may be better off spending their money on another bat or a left-handed reliever.