Yesterday, I had a chance to watch South Kitsap graduate Jason Hammel pitch against the Mariners. He fared well before running into trouble in the seventh inning of a 6-3 loss. Here is the feature I wrote on Hammel, who has been a steady presence on the mound during his first season with the Baltimore Orioles.
Earlier in the week, I asked Jason Churchill of ProspectInsider.com — he also is a scouting analyst for ESPN Insider — to explain Hammel’s turnaround. After all, this is a guy who looked like an average starting pitcher for six seasons with Tampa and Colorado before improving his stats across the board this year.
Here is what Churchill had to say about Hammel:
This year, Hammel clearly has a better plan and it starts with the use of his fastball. He’s throwing few more curveballs early in games to keep hitters off balance and to change their eye levels the first time through the lineup — but the fastball has also ticked up a bit in velocity by almost a full mph, which is significant.
The arm side run on his fastball is prevalent; in past years, that was a straight pitch for Jason and he needed to cross it over to his glove side — in on a left-handed batter, away from a right-hander — to get any sink. In 2012, he’s been using run it back over the outer edge against right-handed hitters early in the count and ties up lefties with it.
When you can do that down in the zone — something Hammel wasn’t doing a year ago as he was up in the strike zone regularly in 2011 — the secondary stuff becomes more effective.
Hammel, simply put, is a completely different pitcher. Even the slider is better this year — after being a flat pitch with little break and no tilt last year, it’s got bite and he’s keeping it down consistently.
As a result, he’s getting ahead and is better equipped to put away hitters when he gets to two strikes. Rather than a full arsenal with a plus fastball, two fringe breaking balls and below average everything else, including command, he’s solid-average across the board to go with the plus fastball.
It’s a bit backwards that he had to come back to the American League, and in the East, no less, to find success. I would venture to suggest that he needed a change of scenery, both literally — getting away from Coors Field where the humidor helps but isn’t a fix for the thin air and spacious pastures — and into an environment of consistency in terms of how he can attack hitters.