Jason Hammel is scheduled to make his first start of the spring Monday against the Royals at Sloan Park while Aaron Brooks and the other half of Joe Maddon’s roster takes on the Rockies in Scottsdale. Hammel reported to camp healthy. Hammel is ready to put his second half struggles behind him.
According to a report from Mark Gonzales, Hammel was frustrated by his performance after the break last season. Hammel admitted he’s not pitched to his expectations in the second half the past few years. Hammel reached out to former pitching coach Tom House and worked with him in the off-season.
House found a “few flaws that have been corrected and could help Hammel become a more reliable and effective pitcher over a full season.” According to the Tribune there is a noticeable difference in Hammel’s deliver this spring. Mark Gonzales explained there “is a more pronounced hip rotation that was implemented after Hammel underwent a series of tests and House analyzed video of his delivery.”
House looks to find the easiest way for a pitcher to throw hard. Groin and knee injuries “along with age might have taken a toll on Hammel” but the tests House put him through indicated he does not have any arm issues.
Hammel has taken responsibility for the way he pitched after July 8 last season. Hammel left the game on July 8 against the Cardinals after one inning with a calf/hamstring/knee injury and he wasn’t the same pitcher from that point on.
Hammel was 5-4 in 17 starts prior to July 8 with a 2.86 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Hammel allowed 39 runs, 33 earned, on 80 hits with 18 walks and 105 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings.
The Cubs used the All-Star break to give him extra time to try to keep him off the disabled list. The Cubs were in the mix for a spot in the playoffs and did not have the pitching depth to be without Hammel in the rotation. Hammel returned to the mound on July 21. And he was 5-3 over his last 14 regular season starts with a 5.10 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Hammel gave up 40 runs, 38 earned, on 78 hits with 22 walks and 67 strikeouts in 67 innings.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer admitted after the Cubs post-season run that the team did not handle Hammel’s injury the way they should have.
“Jason, I thought had an All-Star caliber first half of the season. It was just a tale of two halves with him and the dividing line is almost exactly that moment he walked off the mound at home against the Cardinals in July with a calf injury,” Epstein said last October.
“I’d be foolish to say that didn’t play a major part in what happened to him. Maybe that is something that I can learn from and we can learn from as an organization. Maybe there is a different way to handle that process of getting him right from the calf injury and then getting him back on the mound. He came back in a hurry. We were in the middle of a pennant race. Maybe if we handle it a different way the second half would have been different.”
“First of all, I think Jason [Hammel] had a terrific first half and it would be a shame to forget that,” Hoyer said last October. “I think with Jason, my personal opinion and everyone has one internally what happened, I don’t think he was ever the same after that calf injury. I think he was healthy. I think the velocity was still very good but I think any little thing to a pitcher that can throw a guy off.”
“He’s a 6-6 guy that relies on very good downward plane to his pitches and I think when he’s really good he’s kind of in the bottom of the zone. I think that probably mechanically he elevated his pitches more,” Hoyer said. “He became a lot more hittable, the sort of differentiation between his fastball and his breaking ball became more obvious to the hitter. I think that is my theory. I don’t think his arm was hurt but I certainly think the calf injury probably messed with his mechanics.”
Chris Bosio discussed Jason Hammel and what he’s seen from the veteran right-hander so far in camp during an interview last week on the Spiegel and Goff Show (670 The Score).
Matt Spiegel asked Bosio about Hammel and his struggles in the second half. Spiegel acknowledged Hammel was dealing with a hamstring injury, but his performance was subpar after the break and in the playoffs. Spiegel asked Bosio if Hammel has made any changes and what his confidence level is with him being in the rotation.
“Last couple of years Jason Hammel in my mind should have made the All-Star team. Nothing’s changed. He’s healthy. That knee was an issue all year.”
“When you don’t have your lower half your release point is in flex constantly. You’re battling trying to find it. That’s where Jason was,” Bosio said. “I have the utmost confidence in Jason. He’s in a great spot. He’s worked his tail off this off-season to get stronger in his lower-half.”
“I have no worries about Jason Hammel. You’ll probably see Hammel throwing the best out of our starters coming out of the gate in Spring Training.”
Spiegel followed up his initial question about Hammel by asking for clarification. Hammel’s issues in the second half were due to bad mechanics because of the injuries to his lower half, not because of his stuff.
“Well, if you don’t have your legs you’re not going to have the stuff. You’re not going to have the same release point. You’re not going to have command of the fastball, shape on your breaking ball. You’re not going to be able to field your position. You can’t condition the same way.”
“All those things go with each other,” Bosio said. “It’s a domino effect. So let’s just say the dominos were kind of all over the board and they were not in line. They weren’t synched up. Jason is in a great spot. Again, he’s worked his tail off. He looks great. He’s right back to where he was last year.”
“I expect him to put up exactly the same kind of numbers that he did but I know he’s conditioned himself this year to get ready for the long haul and into the playoffs.”
Based on Joe Maddon’s comments, Hammel is penciled in as the fourth starter in his Opening Day rotation behind Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey. It’s easy to forget how good Hammel was before July 8 and what he meant to the team over the first three months of the season.
In 48 starts for the Cubs over two seasons, Hammel is 18-12 with a 3.45 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 3.49 FIP. A healthy Jason Hammel that puts up similar numbers out of the fourth spot in Maddon’s rotation over 30-plus starts will help the Cubs reach their first goal of the upcoming season.