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Spotlight On Hampton

With the major league season only ten days old, you’re bound to see some things that make you sit up and say “how is that possible?” Endy Chavex has more home runs than Manny Ramirez. Ian Kinsler got more hits last night than Brian Giles has in 39 plate appearances. The Mariners, Marlins, and Padres are in first place.

But nothing has surprised me more than looking at Mike Hampton‘s pitching line so far – 11 innings pitched, 13 strikeouts. Thirteen strikeouts. For Mike Hampton. In 46 batters faced.

Hampton has a career K/9 of 5.50, which is inflated by his early career performances. In 2005, he struck out 3.5 batters per nine innings, then proceeded to miss two years with various problems. He returned last year to pitch half a season, striking our 4.38 batters per nine. Through his first two starts of ’09, he’s got a 10.64 K/9 – 10th highest in baseball, right behind Tim Lincecum.

Seriously, the major league K/9 leaderboard goes Lincecum-Hampton-Peavy. Which of these is not like the others?

Now, this isn’t to disparage Hampton. I liked the signing when it occurred, and when healthy, he’s a pretty decent pitcher. But he’s not a strikeout guy, by any means. So when he strikes out 28% of the batters he faces over two starts, it gets noticed.

Curious, I decided to look at the Pitch F/x numbers on Hampton’s start yesterday. Thanks to the remarkably awesome tool developed by Dan Brooks, I don’t even have to do any work. Take a look at these graphs.




Hampton throws five distinct pitches – a four seam fastball, a two seam fastball/cut fastball, a curve, a slider, and a change-up. He mixes them extremely well, alternating speeds and keeping hitters off balance. His two seam fastball and change-up have similar movements, adding to the deception. His curve and slider are distinctly different, and he’ll use the slider more against right-handed batters. The change-up is almost exclusively used against right-handed bats, and is the main reason that he’s actually been better against RH batters than LH batters throughout his career.

There’s not much velocity in there, but in terms of being able to vary his arsenal and keep hitters guessing, Hampton has a really good repertoire of pitches. He’s not going to keep striking hitters out at this rate, but for as long as he can avoid the Disabled List, he’s going to be a solid starting pitcher for the Astros.