Ever since the untimely death of Yordano Ventura, the general feeling was that the Kansas City Royals were going to have to go out and acquire another starting pitcher. Names like Doug Fister and Travis Wood, but the name that was mentioned multiple times was Jason Hammel, the best available arm still on the free agent market. Royals GM Dayton Moore can be a sneaky dealer, and while most were zoned in on the Super Bowl, Moore made his move:
The Royals got their man in Hammel, locking him up for two years, $16 million dollars with a mutual option (of course Dayton gave him a mutual option!!) for a third year. As of this writing the breakdown of the financials have not been released (I would tend to think the annual salary will be higher in 2018 than this year) but even without that knowledge the Royals seemed to have locked down a solid mid-rotation starter at a fairly cheap rate.
So what kind of production should Kansas City expect from his signing? Hammel pitched for the Cubs in 2016, racking up 166 innings with a 3.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP and an ERA+ of 105. Hammel raised his ground ball rate last year, posting at 42%, his highest percentage since 2012 in Baltimore. He’s not a big strike out guy, but he did put up a 13.2% strike out to walk ratio, and both his strike out and walk rates in 2016 were about league average. He does throw his slider quite a bit, in fact he threw it 35% last year, the 4th highest percentage of sliders for qualified pitchers. Hammel did improve his left on base percentage last year bumping up to 76% while his batting average on balls in play also took a step downward. A very positive sign for Hammel in 2016, especially where it concerns not only Kansas City but pitching at Kauffman Stadium, was how hard the ball was hit off of him. His line drive saw a dip this past year while his ground ball rate saw an increase. Hammel really didn’t see a major shift in hard hit rate or soft hit rate and his exit velocity is interesting:
While Hammel was up and down when it comes to exit velocity, this is actually fairly accurate throughout his career. His velocity also didn’t see a big change in 2016:
The chart above has Hammel’s velocity for both 2015 and 2016. What was very noticeable, especially with his changeup and slider, was the consistency in 2016 compared to 2015. It really seemed that Hammel was able to not vary much month to month, which is a positive considering some of the rumors that were floated out there this winter.
One of the reasons Hammel was still available this late in the winter was because of a feeling that he was hurt late in the 2016 season:
If you looked at the exit velocity chart above, Hammel appeared to not pitch after the middle of September and he wasn’t on any of the Cubs postseason rosters. The Cubs also declined his club option for 2017 after the season, which was fairly reasonable at $12 million. All this led to many teams assuming that he was hurt and probably hurt his chances out on the market this winter. Normally, pitchers who are injured show a decrease in velocity, which is normally an indicator that he is injured. If you look at the velocity charts above, they are pretty steady. That shows me that any injury concerns can probably be put to bed, unless a major decrease shows up when games start in Spring Training.
Financially, Hammel’s signing appears to be a steal for the Royals. Even if his contract calls for a split of $8 million a year (and once again, I’m expecting us to find out it is lower than that for year one of the deal), that puts Kansas City’s payroll just a bit higher than what Owner David Glass was wanting, but not too far off. Considering Hammel has averaged 161 innings a season over the last 8 years, this is a great deal and once again shows what a fantastic job Dayton Moore has done this winter while working under financial restrictions. In fact, Hammel’s deal looks fantastic in comparison with former Royal Edinson Volquez’s contract he got from Miami:
Steamer projections are expecting Hammel to produce 1.3 WAR this year, while 2.0 for Volquez. But if you go more off of last year, Hammel produced 1.4 WAR while Volquez compiled 1.5. The two pitchers are fairly similar with Hammel about a year older in age. If you asked me which pitcher I would want going into 2017, I would take Hammel. Hammel produced a lower walks per 9 and hits per 9 than Volquez, and over their respective careers, Hammel has shown more consistency. In many ways, Hammel is a perfect replacement for Volquez, even if it feels like he is in Kansas City now because of what happened to Yordano Ventura.
With pitchers and catchers reporting in about a week, it’s good to see that the Royals are now set and ready to go all across the diamond. Hammel is the final piece of the rotation puzzle and should be a steadying veteran force in the middle of what is looking more and more like a good group of starting pitchers. The Royals should expect consistency more than anything else from Hammel this year and that is a strength that some take more lightly than they should. It’s unfortunate the circumstances that brought Hammel to Kansas City (and I do feel the Royals don’t sign him if Ventura is still with the team) but he is now ready to wear Royal blue and represent Kansas City. It’s another good acquisition from the Royals front office and they should be applauded for their work this winter. One thing I ask of Royals fans this year: don’t bring up the Wild Card game to Hammel. I’m sure he will hear enough about it when he shows up to Arizona this spring. I can already hear Salvy joking with him about his game winning hit…trust me, Hammel will take it much better coming from Perez. I mean, who could hate Salvy?