The Enigma. Hampton’s career can be basically divided into three phases:
Phase one is from 1993 to 1998 with the Mariners (the first season) and the Astros, in which he was basically an average pitcher, though the Astrodome made him look better than that. He posted ERAs in the mid-to-high threes and won slightly more than he lost. He was a valuable commodity — every year, teams miss the playoffs because they can’t find a reliably average pitcher — but not a star.
Phase two is 1999 and 2000, with the Astros and Mets, in which he was a star. (Actually, this arguably carried over into early 2001.) In 1999, he was 22-4 with an ERA 50 percent better than league and finished second in the Cy Young voting to Randy Johnson. In 2000, he was only 15-10, but the Mets’ offense wasn’t very good, and he was still one of the best pitchers in the league.
Phase three is the Colorado years. After a promising start — people forget that he made the All-Star team in 2001, and seemed to be doing well enough that he was a viable Cy Young candidate — he fell apart in the second half of 2001 and hasn’t been even a useful pitcher since. Last season, he was 7-15, walked more people than he struck out, and allowed almost 1.8 baserunners an inning. It wasn’t just Coors Field, mind you; he was beaten even worse on the road.
The question is which Hampton shows up. The hope is that the pitcher from 1999/2000 will make an appearance, in which case the Braves won’t miss Tom Glavine at all. However, I think that (at least at first) the Braves would be happy if Leo Mazzone could at least dig up the Hampton of the early Astros years.
Pitching characteristics of the useful Hampton… He always walked a lot of people, including 101 in his 1999 star turn. Allows a fair number of hits as well, but pitches around this by getting double plays and controlling the running game. Before being introduced to Coors Field, he always got two or more ground balls to every fly ball, few home runs. Arguably, if Vinny Castilla is really that great of a third baseman (I have my doubts) the Braves would be smart to use him when Hampton is on the mound, and generally to get their best infield defense out there… Hampton is probably the best hitting pitcher in the game today. He’s a career .254 hitter, has hit better than .300 three of the last four years, and in 2001 slugged .582 with seven homers. Last year, he slacked off to hitting three and slugging .516, but batted .344. If Henry Blanco is catching, Hampton should hit eighth. Heck, if Vinny’s playing too, seventh.