Prior to the start of the season, the Rays traded Jason Hammel to the Rockies for a double-A pitching prospect Aneury Rodriguez. Since then, The Hammer has emerged as a solid major league starting pitcher for a team headed to the playoffs.
So why the emergence? Was it the change of scenery or the weaker hitters in the National League or better command of his fastball? Or was it the off-season knee surgery that went unreported in the local media?
Hammel is 9-8 with a 4.30 ERA. But dig a little deeper and you will see just how effective Hammel has been for the first time in his career. His 3.66 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) ranks 12th in the NL. Also, he has a solid 3.00 strikeout to walk ratio this season.
Let’s take a look at how that compares to some of the Rays starting pitchers this season…
According to somebody close to Hammel, the big right-hander had arthroscopic surgery on his knee this past off-season. The surgery was done to repair a minor injury that Hammel may have suffered in high school while playing soccer and was performed by the Rays team doctor.
As early as spring training, Hammel’s knee was 100% for the first time since high school. His comfort level was up and the flexibility in his knee was much less hindered.
We know the Rays prefer to keep things close to the vest, but failing to report an off-season surgery to one of their starting pitchers takes it to a new level. Are there other injuries and/or surgeries that are not being reported?
Of course, the Rays had few options in the Spring as both Hammel and Jeff Niemann were out of minor league options. But why trade Hammel when his value was low and there was a good reason to think he could drastically improve? And why let an injury nag for six seasons only to repair it for the Rockies?
Even a healthy Jason Hammel may not have figured into the Rays future given the talent that is still on the roster and in the system. But, it is easy to see a situation in which the Rays could have done better in the trade market than a double-A pitcher that went 9-11 with a 4.50 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 142 innings this season.