Jason Hammel Pulled After Only 39 Pitches, Not Injured and Not Happy (Plus a Fun Conspiracy Theory!)

I’m not usually one to question Joe Maddon, but I have to admit to being totally baffled when he headed to the mound to pull Jason Hammel from the game just one out into the 3rd inning. The starter had only thrown enough pitches to match his jersey number and had given up 3 runs on 5 hits, the last three of which were singles that happened to find holes. What’s more, the Cubs are holding a 14-game division lead and don’t figure to have any must-win games coming for more than a month.

The only thing I can figure is that Hammel is kind of a when-it-rains-it-pours guy (he’s given up 10 runs in 4 or fewer innings twice this season, including his most recent start) and Maddon saw the storm clouds brewing when the Dodgers opened the 3rd going double, single, single, FC (with a wild pitch in the at-bat), single. There’s something to be said for being proactive when you feel your pitcher just doesn’t have it, pulling him out to save the team and maybe his pride. But are you really doing Hammel’s psyche any favors by yanking him that early?

We saw similar scenarios last season, when Hammel’s struggles down the stretch forced his early departure a few times. Even in those abbreviated post-injury starts, though, he never pitched fewer than 3 innings. On the five occasions in which Maddon had a quick hook (4 IP or fewer), his starter had allowed 6, 2, 5, 4, and 3 earned runs. Okay, so there is some precedent here.

Even so, the Cubs are in a vastly different situation right now than they were last year when every win mattered. It stands to reason that you’d just let Hammel stay out there and either right the ship or wear one. I mean, they kept it together in the face of Mike Montgomery’s subpar start Friday night, so they were kind of playing with house money Saturday. Then again, it could be that very buffer that spurred Maddon to make the early change. Maybe he just wanted to get a longer look at Rob Zastryzny in a new scenario.

We can slice it and dice it any way we like, only Maddon knows why he made the move. I’m really interested in hearing what he has to say in the postgame breakdown on this one, though I suspect he’ll say something along the lines of what I’ve written. Unless he comes out and just says that he doesn’t see Hammel as part of the playoff rotation and wants to get him used to shorter outings. Can you imagine?

That obviously won’t happen, but you do have to wonder what’s going through Hammel’s mind at this point and how he’ll choose to react publicly. I have no doubt some of his visible frustration will have worn off by game’s end, though there’ll certainly be some residual salt there.


Sounds like Hammel was indeed displeased with his manager’s decision to remove him from the game.

And here’s some video (via Jesse Rogers) of Hammel discussing his side session Saturday. Might just be a blip on the radar, might be something to monitor moving forward.

Hey, anyone wanna put on tinfoil hats for a minute? Cool, let’s do it. Hammel’s contract with the Cubs is for two years and $18 million with a team option for a third year at $10 million that includes a $2 million buyout. That option becomes mutual should Hammel reach 200 innings pitched in 2016. So could Maddon be getting pressure from above to limit Hammel’s innings in order to prevent that conversion?

As fun as it can be to chase conspiracy theories as they dart down rabbit trails, the idea that this is financially motivated falls apart pretty quickly. Hammel had racked up 137.2 innings in 24 starts heading into Saturday’s game, an average of 5.74 innings per start. Assuming a five-man rotation (unlikely) over the remainder of the season, Hammel would get six more starts. Now at 140 innings, he’d need to make every start and average 10 IP the rest of the way to activate the mutual option.

Even if he had thrown 9 innings Saturday, Hammel would have needed six more complete games down the stretch to hit 200. So, yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. Now that the conspiracy has been squashed, what about Hammel’s mental state and motivation?

I have no doubt he’ll be carrying a chip on his shoulder for the next month or so, which might not be a bad thing. Hammel won’t be pitching to activate a mutual option in his Cubs contract, but the market for starting pitchers is such that he’ll want to preserve his value in the eyes of other suitors. Though he’ll turn 34 on September 2, it’s not at all a stretch to think he could command more than $10 million in free agency. I mean, John Lackey was 37 when he signed a two-year deal for $16 million AAV with the Cubs. Hammel’s younger and doesn’t share Lackey’s crusty exterior.

Of course, the idea of Hammel’s value cuts both ways. By that, I mean that the Cubs might look around at a relative weak SP crop and decide that exercising the club option for 2017 makes more sense than overpaying in years and money for someone not far superior to Hammel. He and Lackey would then come off the books together, freeing up payroll for a bigger target or an extension for Jake Arrieta.

Or perhaps the Cubs would pick up the option for the express purpose of trading Hammel. Whether it’s due to a burned bridge or the aforementioned soft SP market, the Cubs might believe they could extract greater value by dealing him. Judging from Maddon’s usage of Hammel and the presence of lefty Mike Montgomery, among others, a buyout or trade seems more likely than keeping Hammel aboard for 2017. I don’t know about you, but it makes way more sense to me to get something back in a trade than to pay a passable starter $2M to go away.

This certainly doesn’t conjure the warm fuzzies we got from the stories of Theo Epstein letting Hammel know after the trade that sent him to Oakland that he’d be Epstein’s first call when 2015 free agency opened, does it? Baseball is a business, though, and the business is winning. And Maddon and the Cubs will do everything they must to win, even if it means pissing off one of their starting pitchers in the process.

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