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.
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.
|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.