Who was he?
Braves One Year Wonder AND Best Free Agent signing, Chris Hammond was 6th round draft pick by Cincinnati in the 1986 draft. Nobody ever predicted he would make the majors, much less have a productive and lucrative career. A lefty, Hammond never touched 90 in fastball velocity and spent the majority of his MLB career working 83-85 mph. His other pitches were a slow curve he loved to break out just for Terry Pendleton, a sloppy, slurvy slider that he only threw to lefties, and his out pitch — the “vulcan” change.
Called a “fosh” in many organizations, the vulcan pitch is choked between the middle and ring finger and held as deep in the palm as possible. This allows the ball to emerge much slower than a fastball while imparting a tumbling action to the arm side. I believe the last Brave to use the pitch was Chuck James over a decade ago.
After 2 modestly successful years with the Reds, Chris was traded to the Marlins for Hector Carrasco and Gary Scott. With a horrible organization and a worse infield defense behind him, Hammond actually thrived, putting up roughly league average production over his remaining 4 years of team control and briefly became the highest paid player in Marlin’s history after winning a $1.6M award in arbitration (and that may be the single saddest sentence I ever write).
1997 saw Hammond begin the year as a free agent ultimately signing with Boston. To this day he is adamant that the team lied to him in saying he would be used as a starter, but to be fair, he also lied to them when he said his shoulder was healthy. ESH as they say on Reddit. The next 4 years saw 2 retirements and a brief span of cr*aptastic pitching which was enough to get the whole world to forget he ever existed.
So, What happened?
One of Hammond’s friends accepted a job in Cleveland’s player development system in 2001 and convinced him to give baseball one more try, really just to fill in after the Indians AAA team had a slew of early season arm injuries. When the real prospects returned Hammond got released but was snagged by the perennially understaffed Braves minor league operation where he was unhittable for 2 months at Richmond (AAA). That got a spring NRI on a split majors/minors contract that would pay $450k if he made the team.
He made the team all right, and other than his 2nd appearance of the year where he was lit up by the Mets, he was lights out all season becoming only the 4th pitcher ever to post an ERA under 1 while pitching more than an inning per outing. He finished at 0.95 with a 2.85 FIP and at one point managed 29 consecutive scoreless innings.
By the advanced metrics, Hammond’s 2.7 WAR ranks as one of the 10 best reliever seasons in Braves History all for just $150k over the league minimum. What a year, even if he signed with the Yankees just after season’s end.
Thanks for reading on Braves One Year Wonder and Best Free Agent Signing, Chris Hammond. If you enjoyed this piece, check out our Wankers and Wonders series here.