Jason Hammel’s Command Off In O’s Opening Day Win

Opening Day for the Orioles was certainly fun. A win against a division rival. Adam Jones hitting rockets all over the park (he could have easily gone 4-5 or even 5-5 on the day). Chris Davis not only hitting a home run, but working back from an 0-2 count against a lefty (David Price, who's an OK pitcher I guess) to draw a walk. Matt Wieters homering (and doubling), while also giving Price fits in a 13 pitch plate appearances that resulted in another walk. Just seeing Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts healthy and on the field (both had a pair of hits).

Earl Weaver-ball beating small ball was pretty sweet too, as the Rays played for the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 6th with the sac bunt (they went up 3-2) before the O's put a five-spot on the board in the next frame, punctuated by Davis' three-run bomb (after an intentional walk to Wieters, no less).

All of that stuff was covered elsewhere – I was really curious* about what was going on with Jason Hammel (6 IP, 3 H (1 HR), 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K) instead. A lot of people are expecting some regression from Hammel this year after his surprisingly good 2012 season, so his first start of 2013 was something to keep an eye on. Part of his success was due to some increased velocity and use of a two-seamer fastball, which helped up his groundball rates.

* Curious enough to start investigating. At that point I figured I might as well post it.

Velocity: Hammel averaged 93-94 mph with his fastballs (both the two-seamer and the four-seamer) last year, touching 96 on occasion. On Opening day he sat a tick lower (~93 on average) and didn't reach that high end (topped out at 95). That's not slower enough to be worried, I think. And it's much closer to where he was at the start of last season than where he was at the end of it. Assuming healthy and normal progression during the season, he should be back to his "new" level.

Fastball: In 2012, Hammel threw more two-seamers than four-seamers (around 30% more). In his first 2013 start, it appears he stuck mostly with the latter; the PitchFx classification has it at 36 fastballs and 11 sinkers, and that seems pretty accurate judging by the movement charts (not too many pitches with more tailing and sinking action). It also wasn't surprising to see that break-down after watching the game, as Hammel repeatedly missed up in the strike-zone (or out of it) and gave up a lot more flyballs (11, versus only 5 groundballs) than you'd expect from him. On the bright side, Hammel was able to throw his slider for a strike pretty well, even if the poor counts he was in kept him from being able to get any swings and misses on the pitch.

After the game Hammel said he was having trouble with his fastball command, which makes the pitch selection seem a little curious to me. Is the classification off, such that he threw more two-seamers but didn't get his usual movement on them? Or did he think he could get better command of the four-seamer, despite a fastball with extra sink potentially falling into the zone more?

During the game I thought that maybe Hammel was dropping his arm more than usual, but his release point seems to have been consistent with last year. This is one of those situations were actually having access to ask a player directly might be helpful, but if I find something out I'll post an update.