Chicago Cubs: Midnight coming for Cinderella Pitcher Jason Hammel

By Jerry Burnes
Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs
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Jason Hammel is off to a fairytale start to 2014, but the clock is ticking toward midnight for the Chicago Cubs‘ Cinderella pitcher.

This probably isn’t news to anyone around baseball. Hammel has pitched great in six starts, but has a few glaring outliers from his career and league averages. Although six starts is a small sample size — about one-fifth of his projected starts — it’s enough to know the Cubs and his fantasy owners should expect less very soon.

Hammel’s 3.82 fielding independent pitching sits slightly above average right now and ZiPS projects has him falling a little below average by season’s end. Contributing to that fall will be an exponential increase in his Batting Average Against and WHIP—suggested by a miniscule .181 BABIP, well-below league average.

Hammel is hitting the strike zone 46.2 percent, a rate below his career average of 50.8 percent, according to PITCHf/x data, and below his 50 percent rate in 2013 with the Baltimore Orioles. This suggests Hammel’s walk numbers are ready to jump.

His contact rates are down across the board and that could be due to a two-seam fastball that has been much better than the rest of his career, a pitch he is throwing more than 53 percent of the time.

With a stellar but shortened 2012 as the only season remotely close to his 2014 production, Hammel’s K/9 (7.08) and BB/9 (1.99) rates are far above his career averages of 6.54 and 3.08 percent, respectively.

His grounder and home run rates fall in line with career numbers, but one of the biggest outliers — aside from BABIP — is Hammel’s strand rate, which at 84.6 percent is beyond extraordinary.

Now all this negativity doesn’t mean Hammel is going to implode in a blaze of glory. He can still be a valuable and productive pitcher for the Cubs and their paper-thin rotation. In a best case scenario he might maintain a pace close to this long enough to be a good trade candidate.

Hammel can still be a middle of the rotation starter, but it is highly unlikely he is able to maintain many of these numbers. A slight statistical anomaly could point to him maintaining it, but Hammel’s outliers are so far beyond the norm it’s hard to imagine Cinderella getting home before midnight.

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