Clone Wars: John Lackey and Jason Hammel

There is often a bit of hype that comes with players who are big free agent signings, as John Lackey is likely to be. But should you move him up your board when there are better options later? Jason Hammel has a career ERA of 5.18 and pitches in Coors, but has skills and is getting better. Lackey has 85 more career wins, but let’s see what they did in 2009.

2009

              W  ERA   K   BB  WHIP  K/9   BB/9 GB%    HR/FB% FIP   BABIP
John Lackey    11 3.83 139  47  1.27  7.09  2.40 44.9%  9.1%   3.73  0.309
Jason Hammel  10 4.33 133  42  1.39  6.78  2.14 46.2%  9.7%   3.71  0.337

So we have a pitcher with a reputation, but also has some questions with his health and is presumably on his way to a new team. I’m sure his name will get a lot of press, and depending on what team he signs with he could move way up in drafts. Right now he is currently going around the 125th pick in MockDraftCentral.com drafts. At the same time Hammel is not getting drafted.

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MLB: OCT 11 NLDS – Game 3 – Phillies at Rockies
11 October 2009: Rockies starting pitcher Jason Hammel went 3.2 innings giving up four runs on four hits, striking out five during a National League Division Series game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The Phillies beat the Rockies 6-5 as the temperature dipped into the 20′s.(Icon/SMI)

Both Lackey and Hammel have a four pitch approach with fastballs just a tick above 90 mph, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. However, their pitches are much different in effectiveness. Pitch values may not be the best measure, but you can see Lackey has three solid pitches and a below average changeup. Hammel on the other hand has three below average pitches and what was in 2009 an elite curveball. It only ranked behind Edwin Jackson‘s with a value of 3.53 runs per 100 pitches.

That might be a concern for Hammel going forward in 2010 as he is counting on the success of one pitch instead of Lackey who can rely on three. This is also the first time that Hammel has maintained a BB/9 under 3.0. If his walk rate climbs in 2010 he will fall behind Lackey in ERA and WHIP. It is likely he does see this climb since his largest gains were in O-swing% and O-contact%.

This shouldn’t just be ignored though as their is some evidence in his PITCHf/x that his curve has changed. It is up two mph on average and is moving down only 6.4 when it used to move over eight inches down. This would make his pitches closer to the zone and tougher to lay off. He maintained this movement all year and hence his walk rate was near 2.0 per nine innings almost all season.

BABIP effects contributed to their final ERAs, but some of it was the result of a lesser defense in Colorado. We don’t know what Lackey will have behind him in 2010, but that would play a large part in his BABIP and his ERA. Even with a huge split in team defenses I wouldn’t recommend one over the other based on that alone.

Lackey hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2007 and with his arm’s injury history you have to start wondering how healthy he will be each year. He won’t be your team ace in fantasy, but losing him for an extended time would still hurt. Hammel has yet to be placed the DL, but has also dealt with tendinitis as recently as 2007.

Lackey and Hammel are very differently valued by fantasy players, but with his first season over 170 innings Hammel showed he could be a surprise in fantasy. Based on the current draft positions I would say you are much better served by passing on Lackey and waiting for Hammel. You could also draft Hammel along with Lackey to ensure you have production regardless of injuries to Lackey.

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Comments

  1. Brian Oakchunas said...

    I don’t know that I buy it. They are similar in many small ways but Lackey has the edge every time and that adds up:

    *They had a similar walk rate in ‘09 but while Lackey can keep his, Hammel will likely regress toward career levels over three.

    *Lackey has a slightly higher strikeout rate which will minimally hurt Hammel’s ERA but will also make his holistic fantasy value smaller.

    *Lackey has proven that a .9 HR/9 rate is maintainable for him in consecutive years. Hammel not so much. The ballparks aren’t likely to help here.

    *The ballparks aren’t likely to help with anything else re:Hammel either.

    We’ll give Hammel a pass on the defense for now, but a little bit here and a little bit there is often the difference between a good pitcher and an average one and that is the case here. I could see each of them getting the same exact ERA next year; it’s just that Hammel will have enough regression in his peripherals to really earn it this time.

  2. Aaron said...

    Brian, I think the real point here is not that Hammel is a better pitcher or even a better fantasy pitcher than Lackey but that he might provide better fantasy value.

    If Lackey is a good pitcher but valued by the masses as a very good pitcher then drafting him at market value is a loss of value.  But if Hammel is an above average pitcher who is valued as an average pitcher then paying market value adds value to your team.  Paying market price for every draft slot is a good way to finish in the middle position and it’s the usually bargains in the mid to late rounds that really make the difference.

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