When the Orioles traded Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel (and Matt Lindstrom), I said " It's entirely possible that Hammel and Guthrie are similarly good pitcher... If the Hammel of old shows up in 2012, there's a good chance the Orioles will have actually upgraded their rotation." It's incredibly early, but so far the returns have been positive:
Obviously Guthrie is unlikely to continue walking twice as many batters as he strikes out (especially since batters aren't really making any better contact against him than they used to). Hammel has looked really good so far though. Here's a rough update of his whiffs per year chart:
You could argue that Hammel threw some two-seamers in 2009-11 too*, even if BrooksBaseball doesn't classify them that way. He's definitely going to that pitch often in 2012 though, as the average movement on all fastballs he's thrown has increased by around two inches of tail. And certainly no matter how you classify them, Hammel is throwing harder than he ever has in a season** (~93.5 mph) while also missing more bats with the pitch. On top of that, he's also getting a ton of groundballs; ~70% with the sinker and almost 62% overall.
* Actually it sounds like a new pitch for him - his four-seamer just happened to get a fair amount of sink sometimes.
* Normally, it looks like Hammel's velocity goes up over the course of the season, but it's starting out higher this year. It'll be interesting to see if he maintains it or - if not - which direction it goes.
The improved whiff rate on the slider is interesting because that's become Hammel's primary non-fastball offering this year:
Maybe it's a pitch-sequencing thing? Sinkers and sliders are supposed to go better together (more so than sinkers and curveballs or change-ups), so it's kind of neat to see the increased slider usage coinciding with the increased number of two-seamers.
It's very unlikely that Hammel will continue pitching at even close to this level - he's 3rd in the AL in ERA, 4th in FIP, and 4th in xFIP* - but he may just be this year's "JJ Hardy" and pitch at an above average clip like he did in '09-10, which would be pretty neat. Groundballs + strike-outs + good control is certainly a winning combo**.
* Jeremy Guthrie actually has the worst xFIP in the majors amongst qualified pitchers. Hope he turns things around.
** Pitchers in the majors with GB% over 55%, K/9 over 7.5, and BB/9 under 3: