Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
There are likely many fantasy owners who are waiting for reality to set in for Jason Hammel of the Baltimore Orioles.
After all, this is a pitcher with a career 4.85 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP who has suddenly become an ace in the American League East of all places, starting out 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 38 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings, so we don't blame you for being a little skeptical.
However, the truth is, reality has already set in. Hammel, the 6-foot-6 29- year-old right-hander from Greenville, S.C., has created a new reality, one where he is a top-of-the-rotation dominator who dispatches offenses easier than Baltimore has recorded losing seasons in the past 15 years.
The reason he isn't putting up the same numbers as he did in Colorado and Tampa Bay earlier in his career is because he isn't the same pitcher. He's introduced a new weapon: a 94 mph two-seam fastball/sinker.
In every season of his career before this one, Hammel threw his four-seam fastball more than 60-percent of the time, according to PITCHf/x. In his first six starts this season, Hammel has thrown that pitch just 25-percent of the time.
He's instead started to rely on the two-seamer, throwing it 35-percent of the time and getting frustrated batters across the American League to pound the pitch into the ground.
Because of that pitch, Hammel has become an extreme ground ball pitcher, inducing 1.56 ground balls for every fly ball. He's never had a G/F ratio higher than 0.88 in his career.
Teams are also making less contact overall against Hammel, and the contact they are making has been weaker than in the past.
Armed with his two-seamer, Hammel's contact rate has dropped to 76-percent this season -- he was at 83-percent in 2010 and 84-percent in 2011. His line drive percentage has also dropped from 19-percent a year ago to 12-percent this season.
The righty has also gotten more swinging strikes, and as a result his strikeout percentage has skyrocketed from 12.7-percent to 25.5-percent.
Hammel's sabermetric stats thoroughly support his resurgence. Unlike say, Kyle Lohse -- another fantasy surprise at 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA this season -- whose expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) is nearly two full runs higher than his actual ERA, Hammel's xFIP is 2.76, fifth lowest in all of baseball.
Which means the success Hammel has had this season has not been a result of some good luck. His ERA is a realistic portrayal of how well he has pitched, and his xFIP tells us he's not due for much of a regression.
Baltimore's new ace has experienced some knee inflammation this past week, and he hasn't started since May 5. After throwing a bullpen session on Saturday, Hammel is tentatively scheduled to start Monday or Tuesday, according to Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com.
If the Hammel owner in your league is wary of that knee issue or just doesn't believe the tall righty is for real, use this as an opportunity to swoop in and steal the Orioles ace.
Because Jason Hammel, version 2.0, isn't going anywhere.
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