When Jason Hammel takes the mound tonight against the A’s, he’ll be visualizing the shape of his pitches. He’ll also be throwing a lot of two-seamers and sliders. Last season the Baltimore Orioles right-hander threw his signature offerings 34.5% and 22.2% of the time. This year – according to PITCHf/x — those numbers have merged somewhat to 27.8% and 23.7%, respectively.
Originally with Tampa Bay, Hammel spent three years with Colorado before being traded to Baltimore — in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie — in 2012. Last year he went 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA, and 8.6 strikeouts-per-nine-innings, in 20 starts. Hammel talked about his development as a pitcher when the Orioles visited Fenway Park earlier this month.
David Laurila: How have you evolved as a pitcher?
Jason Hammel: First of all, I throw harder. I’ve basically grown into my body. I probably have a sounder delivery. There’s also the idea of just knowing how to pitch.
Out of high school, I was 89 [mph], then I went to college and got up around 91-92. As I started getting a little deeper into the minors, my velocity began to show up more. I got into the mid-90s.Velocity opens up more room for error. If you make a bad pitch you can maybe get away with it because you’re throwing harder. I’ve always been a max-effort guy.
DL: What is the history behind your two-seamer?
JH: I experimented with it in Denver, in my first year out there , but it wasn’t successful for me. I wasn’t getting any movement, so… well, I was, but it was too inconsistent. I wasn’t about to keep working on it in the middle of the season. I got traded to the Rockies right after spring training, from the Rays, and started working with Bob Apodaca, their pitching coach. I worked on it for maybe the first two months of the season.
DL: When did it become a quality pitch for you?
JH: Last year, with Rick [Adair]. I was staying on top of the ball more, and staying behind it. I was allowing my finger placement on the ball to do the work, instead of trying to manipulate it with my arm. Basically, I had been trying to make it a two-seam instead of just throwing it like a regular fastball and letting the seams do the work.
I think it was more or less just trial and error. Everybody throws differently. I’m sure there are guys who throw two-seamers completely different than I do. It’s kind of finding the fit for your arm slot — what’s actually comfortable for you to command it.
DL: Is there anything unique about the grip?
JH: I call it a Little League two-seamer. I basically just hold it across the seams, and then, for more movement, I come up on the side with my thumb. Or, if I want it to go down, I go underneath the ball. Overall, it’s a very basic grip.
DL: How were you throwing it in Colorado?
JH: I experimented with so many different things. I was here on the ball; I was over there. I tried to go with a one-seam. It just wasn’t doing too much in Denver. Maybe I was holding onto it a little too hard. But, like I said, I was also trying to make it sink without actually throwing it the way it was meant to be thrown. You have to trust it to do its thing.
The two-seamer really opened up the door for me to lefties. The slider has always been something I can throw for strikes to righties and lefties to get a ground ball.
DL: What about your curveball and changeup?
JH: I throw it with less a strike-percentage than my slider. It’s kind of become secondary to my slider, but I still throw it. The velocity on my curveball is about 77 — sometimes up to 80 — and my slider is in the mid-80s. The shapes are obviously a lot different.
My change is a two-seam circle. I go across the seams, so it’s similar to my two-seamer — the Little League grip. I used to throw a four-seam circle, which was actually slower — there was more differential from my fastball. The two-seamer I kind of throw harder, and it sinks like a two-seamer.
DL: Have the pitching coaches you’ve worked with had similar approaches?
JH: They obviously want you to go out there and get outs, but everybody has a different approach. I’ve learned that from being with so many pitching coaches over the years. That includes the minor leagues. Some guys are more big mechanical changes. I’ve had some guys who were basically trying to create a robot — doing the same thing with everybody — and that just doesn’t work. And then I’ve had guys like Rick and Bob, who were both about small mechanical adjustments.
Rick was the most profound mechanical difference, because it was more or less starting a rhythm before I actually pitched. It was more moving my hands than anything else.
DL: Your bio in the Orioles media guide says you plan to study graphic design someday.
JH: Yes, something of that nature. I was always big into drawing, whether it was cartoons, painting or computer-generated design. I was always interested in that and was going into it if not for baseball.
On the mound, I kind of visualize the strike zone, as well as the shape of the pitch I’m throwing. I simulate in my mind’s eye what I’m trying to do with the pitch. I’m visualizing that.