Evaluating the Talent: Jason Hammel

I’m not sure there was a sadder non-injury-related story in the Rockies’ 2011 season than Jason Hammel. His troubles were frequent and frustrating, ranging from a balk he committed because he apparently forgot which pitch he was planning to throw to a demotion to the bullpen in August because he just wasn’t good enough to start anymore.

I’ve been a Hammel defender from the beginning, and that’s because I think he’s usually given us what we’ve had a right to expect from him. The starting rotation was in such turmoil this past season that it was easy to look at guys like Hammel and think they should be doing better. The reality, however, is that he was and always will be a back of the rotation guy. If Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, and Juan Nicasio had done what we needed them to do all season long, Hammel wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much attention. We might still have cringed a bit at his less-quality starts, but we wouldn’t have been so dependent on him being brilliant. His role on the team is not to be brilliant. It’s to be pretty good, once every five days, and not cause more problems than he solves.

Did he do that in 2011? Well, he posted a WAR of 1.0, so that means he gave more than he took away. That might surprise some of you. But when Hammel is good, he’s very good. He had a couple of spectacular outings that gave us a glimpse of just how good he might be if he could find some consistency. Last May, he pitched 7 shut-out innings against the Diamondbacks twice. Of course, he followed up the second of those starts by giving up 7 runs to the Dodgers in 4 2/3 innings. And that was his main issue last season. Every time he did something great, people started to think he had “turned a corner,” and then he would blow it.

So where does that leave him for 2012? Well, the rotation is quite a crowded field right now. I like Hammel, but I wouldn’t mind so much if he was crowded out of it because five other guys were better. However, if he is our 4th or 5th best pitcher, that’s okay with me too, as long as our 1st, 2nd, and 3rd best pitchers are really good. His $3 million salary makes him worth keeping around in the back end. What can’t happen, though, is that we end up depending on him like we did in 2011. If that does happen, we need to cut him loose for somebody more reliable. It’s a brutal truth, but it’s the truth nonetheless.

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