Recently, people have been worried about the long-term effects of pitching in Coors Field. That thought process is usually inspired by the always rousing previous two seasons of Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez looked like he hit a wall at Coors and just fell down. Now with that wall blocking him, he can no longer advance. Seemingly all of his numbers have spiked away from dominance, past respectability, and all the way to mediocrity. Blame Coors, but also remember to blame Jimenez, simply because Coors hasn't had that lingering effect on everyone.
Jason Hammel is a pitcher who seems to have been liberated since being unbound from Coors. Granted, the strain on the arm for Hammel might not be the same as with Jimenez. Hammel began his career in Tampa Bay, while Ubaldo had played his entire career with the Rockies. Jimenez threw 358 innings in Coors from 2006 through 2010, while Hammels threw only 267.1 innings in his three years as a Rockie from 2009 to 2011. For Hammel, there just weren't as many high-stress innings.
The Coors effect doesn't only include the fact that balls fly out of the park like it's a little league field. Pitches simply don't move as much in that high atmosphere and because of that, pitchers tend to throw differently than how they normally would. An environment like that can make them uncomfortable. Hammel has completely changed the way he is pitching since leaving Coors and thus, his 2.61 ERA and his 8.73 K/9IP may not be a fluke in Baltimore.
Camden Yards remains a hitter-friendly ballpark, but compared to the Coors experience, it might as well be Petco. Hammel was no stranger to that atmospheric effect on his breaking ball. Now that he has gotten away from the pitching morgue of Denver, his slider is actually moving significantly more. In 2012, the Hammel slider actually has 23 percent more horizontal movement than it did in his 2009-2011 stretch in Colorado. Because of that, Hammel is using that pitch even more, throwing it 23 percent of the time after never using that slider more than 18 percent of the time in any of his three seasons in Colorado.
In fact, Hammel has become so comfortable with that slider that it has now become his go-to put-away pitch. He has progressed in using the slider more in previous years, but never quite as often as in this season. His first year in Colorado, he used his slider on only 15 percent of two-strike pitches. In 2010, that number bumped up to 20 percent. In 2011, it stayed about stagnant at 21 percent. However this season, Hammel is using his slider more often than any other pitch in two-strike counts, unleashing it 30 percent of the time. Being away from Coors has allowed him to fashion himself differently with that pitch. Meanwhile, that's not even the biggest change he has made to his repertoire.
Coors Field is just about the last place a pitcher wants to keep the ball in the air. Batters hit the ball in the air off Hammel on 53.8 percent of balls in play in 2009, 53.3 percent in 2010, and 56.1 percent in 2011. Since going to Baltimore, however, he has become a groundball pitcher. Only 46.9 percent of balls in play are in the air. Because of that, he has posted a 1.72 groundball/flyball ratio, easily a career high. That change, though, isn't just statistical randomness that can be the result of a lucky few months to begin a season. He has developed a sinker and he's using it often.
When Hammel needed a strike, the four-seam fastball used to be his only true weapon. That pitch accounted for at least 60 percent of his total pitches in each of his three seasons in Colorado. But now Hammel is using a newly-developed sinker like a four-seamer and keeping it down in the zone. He is throwing the four seamer only 30 percent of the time and using his sinker 29 percent of the time. When he fell behind in the count, it used to be that he had to go with that four-seam fastball - which is relatively straight – as his only get-me-over option. Now, Hammel is actually using the sinker more than any other pitch when he falls behind in the count - and he's throwing harder.
According to BrooksBaseball.net, Hammel's average velocity on his four seamer currently stands at 94.46 miles per hour, almost a full mile per hour more than his previous career high as a starter. Additionally, that sinker is averaging a boring 94.33 miles per hour, well above the major league average.
Hammel's FIP currently stands at 3.13, the xFIP at 3.32. That's a relatively large difference between his 2.61 ERA. Some of that might have to do with his career-low .267 BABIP, which doesn't really go in hand with his .310 career number in that category. That being said, the career numbers might not be as relevant as with other pitchers. 2012 Hammel is a different pitcher than 2006-2011 Hammel. A different pitcher in a different ballpark with a different defense could very likely yield different results. Shocking, right? In this situation, that's a positive for Hammel and if he continues to be undervalued by fantasy owners and baseball minds alike, it might be smart to capitalize on his low value before it's too late.