According to this tweet by Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish, five major league teams are reportedly interested in free-agent starting pitcher Jason Hammel:
Source: 5 teams in the hunt for Jason Hammel. Nothing imminent, but a decision should be made next week.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 25, 2014
The Texas Rangers should not be one of those five. While Hammel might seem like a low-risk, high-reward arm to many teams, he would not be a fit in Arlington.
Over the last week, I've cycled through most of the available starters on the market and made cases as to why each one would fit with the Rangers rotation while Derek Holland recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. Most of the ones I've discussed—Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo, Bruce Chen and possibly A.J. Burnett—have strong cases as potentially nice fits.
Hammel, 31, is a guy who needs to be addressed specifically, as well—but for why he won't fit or succeed in Arlington. But as always, I'll start off with what he does well.
Hammel has been able to keep the ball in the yard pretty well over his career. Between 2009 and 2011 pitching with the Colorado Rockies, Hammel averaged 174 innings pitched while allowing an average of just 18.6 homers per season in that span.
It should be noted that pitching at Coors Field is no easy task, and Hammel was able to keep the ball down more often than not. Last year with the Baltimore Orioles, he surrendered 22 homers in just 139.1 innings. With a workload closer to his Colorado averages, Hammel would have ended up allowing around 30 homers in 2013.
But 2013 does seem to be an outlier when you take a look at his lifetime numbers in the home run department.
Mechanically, he relies heavily on his sinking fastball, which induces a high number of ground balls. The Rangers figure to have one of baseball's premier defenses this season, and that would certainly benefit Hammel.
He'd be able to trust his stuff a little more knowing the guys behind him can make plays and get him out of jams.
His control is just on par with the rest of the league. His career average for walks per nine innings is 3.1. That's decent, but you'd like it to be a little lower in the American League.
Finally, Hammel is a large man at 6'6" and 225 pounds. He can be an intimidating presence on the mound and has velocity in the low-to-mid 90s, accompanied by a big 12-to-6 curve ball and a sharp-breaking slider.
But here is why the Rangers should turn away from him.
First, his asking price. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted this on December 9:
Jason Hammel's reps said to be looking for a 3-4 year deal for the right-hander.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 9, 2013
I haven't seen any definitive updates on what Hammel is asking for now, but that doesn't sound too good off the bat for the Rangers, or really for any club.
What is particularly scary is the difference and glaring inconsistency between his 2012 and 2013 seasons with Baltimore. Despite only making three more starts in 2013 than he did in 2012, Hammel's ERA jumped from 3.43 to 4.97, his strikeout rate per nine innings dropped from 8.6 to 6.2 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted from 2.69 to 2.00.
Outside of his 2012 season with the Orioles, which was considered to be a breakout for him, Hammel has never finished a season with an ERA under 4.33. Much of his career workload was spent in the National League, even if it was in Colorado's launching pad.
Over his career, Hammel hasn't fared well against lefties or righties. Lefties have hit .281 off him, while righties have batted .278. Those numbers aren't due to improve much pitching at Rangers Ballpark.
He also has a recent injury history that is an immediate cause for concern. Discomfort in his pitching arm as well as flexor strains in his lower back caused Hammel to miss significant time over the last two seasons with Baltimore.
The Rangers can find better value in another starting pitcher on the market. Between Hammel's injuries over the last couple seasons, his reported asking price and lackluster career averages, Texas should stay away despite any feelings that he might be worth a gamble.
He's definitely not worth a three-year gamble.
Unless Hammel can be signed to a one-year deal in the range of $6 million to $8 million with a possible team option for a second year, Texas should turn its attention to guys who will provide greater benefits to its rotation.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.