POTD Jason Hammel
Would be an SSI Best Bet … except we ran out of certificates


Bill James said last week, in the Hey Bill section,


I often hear “the pitcher let that curveball hang in the strike zone” from TV announcers after a well-hit ball (though it usually “hung” not far above the batter’s knees), almost as often as I hear the same TV announcers congratulating the same pitchers for throwing curves that get called strikes. “You can’t win unless you can throw the curve for a strike,” is how that usually goes. Is this just hypocrisy? 20/20 hindsight? Or am I just not getting something about curveballs in the strike zone? Being a skeptic, I think the same curve that fools a batter looking for a fastball often gets banged off a fence by that same batter when he's looking for a curve. What do you think? Can you make sense out of the distinction drawn by TV analysts?
Asked by: 337
Answered: 6/11/2014
Well. ..not that many pitchers throw a curve anymore. 39% of major league pitchers now throw a curve ball 10% of the time or more. The reasons the curve has become less popular are 1) Umpires are reluctant to call it a strike; 2) Major league hitters generally don't worry about a good curve ball, because they know it will probably be called a ball anyway, and 3) if you do throw a curve ball in the zone, you had blamed well better not hang it.
The difference between a hanging curve and a good curve is more about the angle of the break than the location in the zone. If a right-handed pitcher throws a right-handed batter a curve ball that starts out at his shoulders, breaks 20 feet from home plate and winds up at his knees, it is nearly impossible for the batter to hit that, because you have to swing the bat at precisely the right height--the right plane--and it is nearly impossible to do that if the plane is changing very rapidly. If the pitcher throws a curve ball that starts out at the waist, breaks 30 feet from home plate and winds up at the knees. ..ouch.
Yes, I do agree that announcers very often will declare any pitch that gets hit hard to be a fat pitch, any curve that gets hit hard as a hanging curve, but I also think there is a clear and obvious difference between a good curve ball and a hanging curve ball. Brandon Workman last night had a great curve working. . .nailing the inside corner to a right-hander with a 12-to-6 curve. Nothing you can do with that pitch.

Dr. D spoke with a college hitter one time about "hanging breaking balls."  That's what it looks like!, he told me animatedly.  It comes in high, it's just spinning on a string, and you just blast it!


Watch this tape of Hammel throwing a long series of sliders that:

  • Cannot be hit by RHB's, even way up in their eyes
  • Cannot be hit by LHB's, drawing garbage swings
  • Cannot be hit by anybody, because they're dropping like rocks just as the hitter swings

Here are the % of pitch types that Hammel threw in various seasons:

pre-2013 60 17-22 12 9
2013 59 37 -- --

So this is a guy who had 4 pitches, and cut them back to 2.  This year.  When his ERA dropped from 4.97 to 3.02.  (His 3 true outcomes are 8.6 strikeouts, 1.9 walks!, and 0.7 homers.  He has the #5 WAR in the National League, ahead of Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Grienke ...)

SSI has continually pointed out that when you throw 2 pitches, you can get very, VERY good with those two pitches.  Many, many MANY MLB pitchers need to be attempting this exactly strategy ... probably it is why everybody is effective in the bullpen.

If the Mariners were to acquire Jason Hammel, it would be acquiring a walking poster boy for Seattle Sports Insider's two-pitch sports axiom.  ... that's not to say he'd be good.

But, man, Hammel looks good on tape.


I guess what I'm tryin' to say ... the man has become an overnight star.  He has done it using an SSI Axiom.  If I had any guts, I'd make him a Best Bet.

Definitely if I were a GM, I'd grab him cheap, just to show people how we do Moneyball around cheer.


Dr D




Insurance is always a good thing to have. Even short term insurance. He's better than Erasmo and Young, even at last year's levels.


Doc.  Nice series!  Don't be skimping on your prognostications just because Brandon Maurer has been bad ever since you knighted him with best bet status in March of 2013.  If there is some kid who's the next big thing, the readership demands to know about it.
If the Mariners only had one option, what's more important here, a new DH/1B, a good No. 5 pitcher or a good left fielder?  



A good LF, no question. Pretty much a chronic organizational problem.

GLS's picture

My guess is the only reason it hasn't gotten done is that there is more than one team bidding. As far as packages go, I wonder if Franklin + Victor Sanchez + lower level raw athlete type would get the job done? Or something like that?


Franklin, Sanchez, + for three months of Hammel? Radical overpay.


Grizz, just expect a massive overpay when you hear the Mariners have made a trade.
Unfortunately, our former prospects have performed so poorly on the MLB level, that the current prospects have little credibility.
Plus, since everyone knows Jack MUST make a trade, the other GM's are demanding only our top guys


I really think Jack needs to get 2 players... one who is somewhat of a salary dump (Kemp, Prado, Eithier, Lee... I'll let Jack or you decide) and then a first year or MLB ready stud (like Joc, Yelich, Taveras, Bogaerts, ... I'll let Jack or you decide).
Our current parts can be shifted around. We have a very full farm, it is time to use it to form our nucleus for this stretch run.


I completely agree that Jack needs to thing big with his midseason additions this year. The M's are showing signs of being a contender, but it is VERY fragile. The margin of error on offense is razor thin. He needs think about strict player valuation, to be sure, but given the last ten years of M's history he also needs to factor in the psyche of the team as a potential force multiplier (to use a military term). Land even one guy who's a demonstrated production guy for the middle of the order, and it could help propel others to more success than they otherwise would have enjoyed. Sure they believe. Make 'em BELIEVE. Add one guy like that, and then you can add another who is perhaps flying under the radar a bit.
This team has rebounded admirably from two long losing streaks. I honestly didn't think they had it in 'em. But you can't keep asking them to do it. Make a move that gets 'em PUMPED. If it falls flat, at least you tried.

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