This post was written by Zach Mariner. Follow him on Twitter here.
Friday night was, in a word, disastrous for Jason Hammel, Baltimore’s ace from 2012. Despite a 5-2 record on the young season, Hammel has struggled mightily, and his rough outing against Tampa Bay (seven earned runs on 10 hits in 4.2 innings) was the worst of his nine starts.
Hammel was 6-1 through nine starts in 2012, and his ERA was down at 2.78, compared to 5.72 so far this season. He only has three quality starts, as opposed to six through nine starts last year. His innings pitched are also down, having thrown just 50.1, compared to 55 at this point in 2012. If not for the ridiculous amount of run support from his teammates (over seven runs per start), his record would probably not look nearly as nice as it does.
Which brings us to the question, why? Well, he’s still throwing 60.9 percent of his pitches for strikes, barely down from last year’s 62.1 mark. However, his strikeouts are down from 8.67 per nine innings in 2012 to 6.47 per nine in 2013, closer to his career mark of 6.57. The culprits behind Hammel’s decreasing strikeout numbers are the decline of his velocity and vertical pitch movement across the board, which may support the argument that his impressive 2012 might have been a fluke, as he’s regressed more toward the 2011 version of himself. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s making all the difference in the world.
Another area where you’re really seeing a big difference is Hammel’s fly ball/ground ball ratio. Right now, it stands at 1.12, where as last year it was down at 0.76. If that weren’t enough, he’s given up twice as many home runs (seven, as opposed to just three in 2012) as he did through nine starts last season.
It also doesn’t help that Hammel is oftentimes missing his spots, leaving the ball up and out over the plate and giving hitters a chance to drive the baseball. We’ve heard Buck Showalter talk about Hammel having trouble “repeating his delivery” which is just a fancy way of saying he’s been inconsistent, and it’s certainly showed in his numbers. Hammel was quoted after the game on Friday as saying, “I’ve been here before. I’ve figured it out before. I’m not going to continue to beat myself up.” And followed up by saying he’s been “trying to do too much.”
And that makes sense to a certain extent, as the expectations for him are higher, since last season he was on pace to have easily the best season of his seven-year career -- if not for it being shortened by injuries. A lot of people described last year as somewhat of a fluke season for him, as he went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA -- from 2006-2011, he had a 34-45 record with a 4.99 ERA, struggling in stints with the Rays and Rockies.
It is important to note that while Hammel isn’t pitching quite as well as he did a year ago, he’s still doing his part to stay healthy and put the Orioles in position to win ball games, for the most part. He trails only Chris Tillman in both innings pitched and strikeouts. So even though he hasn’t looked like the anchor of this starting rotation, he’s still doing enough to get by, assuming he can turn things around within the next few weeks.