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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Better Know a Red #4 - Chris Hammond

In part 4 of our 25-part Better Know a Red series, we turn our attention to 40-year old LHP Chris Hammond. Chris has had a long career that started when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 6th round of the 1986 amateur draft out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He steadily rose through the minors and made his major league debut with the would-be World Champion 1990 Reds team, though he did not make the playoff roster. He went on to have five consecutive reasonably effective (though often injured) years as a starting pitcher for the Reds and the Marlins (we traded him prior to the '93 season for Gary Scott and Hector Carrasco), capped by his '95 season when he went 9-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 24 starts. Then, in '96, disaster struck. All his peripherals declined, especially HR allowed, which went from 0.95 hr/9 to 1.56 hr/9! He lost his starting job and ultimately spent three years hanging on as a spot starter/long reliever for the Marlins and the Red Sox. He became a free agent after the '98 season, and at age 32, he retired.

The second phase of his career began three years later when, at 35, he signed with the Atlanta Braves AAA-team as a lefthanded reliever. He made it back to the big leagues in 2002 with the Braves and came up HUGE out of the bullpen: 7-2, 0.95 ERA, allowing only 1 HR in 76 innings. Since that year, he has continued to be a solid reliever for the Yankees, A's, and Padres. The Reds are the latest team to sign him in the offseason, and plan to use him as a lefty-middle reliever, right behind Kent Mercker in our bullpen depth chart.

Additional biographical & personal information can be found in Hammond's entry in Red Hot Mama's Human League.

Historical Stats (please see my Baseball Statistics Quicksheet for explanations & discussion of the statistics used below):
Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
2003/NYY 63.0 6.4 1.6 0.71 0.294 2.86 3.33 3.68 19.2 37%
2004/OAK-AAA 4.0 11.3 0.0 0.00 0.462 0.00 0.70 --- --- ---
2004/OAK 53.7 5.7 2.2 0.67 0.290 2.68 3.63 4.00 16.9 43%
2005/SDN 58.7 5.2 2.1 1.38 0.228 3.84 4.75 5.05 8.9 47%
I was pleased when I heard they signed Hammond, as he has established himself as a consistent reliever the last several years. But looking now at these stats, I'm feeling rather uneasy. He really declined last year. His strikeout rate has steadily dropped since his break out '02 season, and while his walk rates have been consistent, his HR-allowed rate more than doubled last year DESPITE inducing a higher ground ball percentage. To me, this means he was probably making a lot of mistake pitches...not good, though perhaps something that can be repaired. His ERA looks very acceptable at 3.84, but this was helped a great deal by the very lucky, very low 0.228 BABIP. His FIP and PERA, which are based on his peripherals, better reflect what should have happened last year without his good fortune. And keep in mind, he was playing in Petco Park, which is an severe pitcher's park (park factor = 0.918). This year, he's playing in homer-happy (though overall neutral) Great American Ballpark. Unless he can rediscover his ability to keep the ball in the park, it could be a short season for Chris. He has recovered from bad seasons before, but at 40 years, one has to wonder how much longer he can stay with it.

2003-2005 Splits
Category IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
vs. Left 62 5.5 1.7 0.73 0.264 3.05 3.65
vs. Right 113 6.0 2.1 1.03 0.276 3.18 4.22
Home 87 6.2 2.4 0.52 0.288 2.60 3.57
Away 89 5.4 1.5 1.32 0.255 3.66 4.45
One attribute that Hammond has consistently maintained over the past several years is the ability to get lefthanders out. He may not strike a lot of them out, but he rarely walks them and does a good job of keeping the ball in the park. This was even true last year--while he was lit up by righthanders ('05 vs. righty FIP = 5.59, 4.6 k/9, 2.4 bb/9, 1.7 hr/9), he was still quite effective against lefthanders ('05 vs. lefty FIP = 3.58, 6.3 k/9, 1.7 k/9, 0.85 hr/9). I think what these data indicate is that our best use of Hammond this year will be as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Since we tend to carry 12 pitchers, it might be an acceptable use of a roster spot as long as he can remain effective in this capacity.

As with Weathers, his home/away splits don't mean much because he has played for three different teams over the past three years.

Projections:
Year/Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP PERA VORP GB%
PECOTA75 40.3 5.4 2.2 1.34 0.280 3.87 4.69 4.34 6.1 42%
PECOTA 29.7 5.5 2.4 1.52 0.293 4.64 4.98 5.07 2.4 42%
PECOTA25 29.0 5.3 2.8 1.86 0.317 6.13 5.65 6.49 -3.3 43%
ZiPS 57.0 5.7 2.2 1.11 0.282 4.42 4.27 --- --- ---
The projection systems are somewhat at odds with one another. ZiPS projects a decent season from Hammond, while PECOTA projects...not as good a season. All projections indicate a higher HR-allowed rate than has been typical of Hammond since prior to the '05 season, with PECOTA being particularly harsh as Chris moves from Petco Park to GABP. Perhaps most severe was the predicted reduction in innings (29.7 IP); the guy is 40 after all. Even so, the possibility remains that Hammond could be effective for us this year (as usual, see the PECOTA75 line for the 75th-percentile projected performance--a "good case" scenario). If he can remaster whatever it was that allowed him to maintain the low-HR rates of '02 through '04, all the while maintaining his low walk rates and effectiveness against lefties, he could be valuable this year. If not...well, we might see Shackelford on our staff by the all-star break.

References:
Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Chris Hammond Foundation
Fan Graphs