Jason Hammel is the type of free agent whose signing won’t make back page headlines, nor will it excite a fan base. But at the right price, signing the 32-year-old righty could pay moderate dividends for a team in need of pitching depth.
Hammel has been referred to as an “innings-eater,” a label that doesn’t totally fit, since his career high for innings pitched is 177; perhaps “innings-snacker” would be more appropriate. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, Hammel has averaged a 4.32 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 6.9 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 over 160 innings. With a 101 ERA+, he is essentially a league-average starting pitcher, and we all know you can never have too much pitching (as far as tired sports clichés go, this one is one of the most accurate and least annoying).
Although he has been worth about 2.3 wins above replacement per season as a starter, he is far from consistent. Take, for instance, that his ERA over the past four years has alternated between being over 4.75 and under 3.50. Hammel nearly reached four wins above replacement in each of his first two seasons, but has averaged below 1.6 fWAR since then.
Hammel raised his midseason price tag by recording an ERA under 3.00 over 108 innings, with the peripherals to back up his impressive performance. Once he was traded to Oakland, Hammel promptly lowered his offseason value by recording a 4.26 ERA over 67 innings, with peripherals to show that he actually pitched even worse than that. Although he is not as bad as his 5.10 FIP during his time with the Athletics would indicate, there’s little reason to believe that he will ever be able to replicate his 2014 Cubs statistics over an entire season.
As far as the Mets go, Hammel is not on the radar. Even if Sandy Alderson were to trade one of Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese, or Dillon Gee, Hammel would still not be a fit. For a team with limited resources and talented pitching up the figurative wazoo, signing a number-three or number-four starter to a multi-year deal worth around $10 million per year is simply not a smart investment.
General managers searching for mid-rotation starters should be careful not to be misled by Hammel’s stellar numbers with the Cubs this past season, nor should they be fooled by the fact that he kind of sounds like a black-market knock-off version of Cole Hamels. Hammel is an adequate mid-rotation arm with the potential to be a little bit more, but he is not without his warts.