If there’s one thing this blogging gig has taught me, it’s how to look a little deeper into the nuance of the game in order to discern the truth and even get predictive on occasion. Watching Jason Hammel Friday night, I could just tell he was off his game.
It wasn’t obvious to me right away, but I started to suspect something by the bottom of the 4th inning. I was sure of it shortly after the Mets starting batting in the 5th. It takes a highly trained eye to catch the subtleties of missed spots and velocity changes, which is why I am so uniquely equipped to make an assessment of Hammel’s performance well before the masses.
Or maybe I saw the same 10 earned runs punctuated by five Mets homers that everyone else was forced to endure. Looking back at the numbers, I’m actually surprised now that he threw 80 pitches that didn’t end with that giant apple in center rising in celebration. So I guess that’s something.
It’s a few weeks early for this downturn in production, so I’m going to chalk this up to a random hiccup for now. But with Adam Warren nearing readiness and the trade deadline fast approaching, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it tightened the leash a little bit. Whether it’s a hiccup or a full-blown case of whooping cough, an outing like this was the last thing the Cubs needed at this point.
They’re blowing through a series of 24 games without a day off with a starting rotation that has — to this point — only utilized five men and a bullpen that has looked a little shaky of late. Having Hammel self-immolate on the mound in Queens before retiring a hitter in the 5th didn’t exactly help, well, anything.
This doesn’t signal the end of Jason Hammel’s time in the rotation, nor does it hasten the timeline or increase the need to target a replacement. It does, however, highlight the fact that the sustainability of the 2.54 ERA Cubs starters had maintained through 78 games was highly questionable. And the highest question was probably Hammel’s ability to pitch at such a high level.
His 2.58 ERA heading into the game was behind only Jon Lester (2.03) and Jake Arrieta (2.10), which seems really good. But his FIP (3.89) and xFIP (4.36) were significantly higher than any of his fellow starters, indicating that the mean old regression monster was getting ready to take a big, wet bite of out of Hammel’s rear end. All the pilates in the world aren’t going to fix that.
My intuition has been known to fail me from time to time, though, so maybe this is one of those rare moments of fallibility. Maybe we’ll look back on this outing as a speed bump on Hammel’s road this season and we’ll laugh about having the temerity to question his effectiveness.