Braves One-Year Wonder and Best Free Agent Signings: Chris Hammond

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2m0HsS8ziI


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.

42 thoughts on “Braves One-Year Wonder and Best Free Agent Signings: Chris Hammond”

  1. I never quite knew what a fosh was, thank you for the explanation!

    I wrote about Hammond here: https://tht.fangraphs.com/josh-hader-chris-hammond-and-whats-his-name-the-incredible-case-of-the-middle-relief-ace/

    He ended the year with his ERA at 0.95. It was the first time since Eckersley in 1990 that a pitcher had thrown 50 innings and ended the year with an ERA under 1.00, and, per baseball-reference, just the eighth time since 1900 that a pitcher had done so.

  2. That’s a great idea Nate. BRef says the team got almost 10 WAR from the bullpen that yr. That’s got to be a team record or close to it. The Braves have had a few years where the entire staff didn’t have that much. Would be nice to have an article discussing the top 5 bullpens in team history or something like that.

  3. In the linked YT video, Chris says he may have had one of the best changeups in the history of baseball. Really?

  4. @3: So I used BRef to get the best bullpens (ranked by ERA+) since 1950. https://stathead.com/tiny/CY42h

    The 2002 Atlanta bullpen was best in history at the time, and is now 5th. What I really found interesting, though, was that of the top 12 on this list, 4 were Braves teams (2002, 1997, 1998, 1993), with two more in the top 26 (1996 and 2001) This is quite a tribute to Bobby, Leo and whomever else was responsible for bullpens in this period. I’m particularly inclined to credit Mazzone here, because when he left, the outstanding bullpens appear to have gone away as well. Other than the Leo years, the only Atlanta bullpens in the top 100 are 1974 and 2013. (Also in the top 100: 1999, 1995, 1994 and 1992.) Part of this of course is that when your starting pitching is sufficiently outstanding, the pressure on your bullpen is lower. But you’re still shuttling players in and out from year to year and knowing when to pitch guys. I’m not sure Leo’s bullpen management has been discussed that much… certainly not relative to these results.

  5. That’s amazing work JonathanF. So starting the 2nd year of the streak, the Braves had a top 100 bullpen in 10 of the next 11 yrs, looking back at all pens in baseball for 70 yrs. 2000 being the lone exception. You’re right that I’ve never read anything noting Mazzone’s relationship to superior bullpens like has been done with the starters under his tutelage.
    IRT the Braves dropping from #1 to #5 in the last 18 years; I would expect a drop like that if WAR was the measurement due to bullpens pitching more innings than before and therefore accumulating more WAR simply by being above replacement level for more innings pitched. But am surprised that there was that much movement in ERA+.
    Would be interesting to compare the effectiveness of that 2002 Braves pen in WAR, on a per inning pitched basis, WPAA, and various other metrics against the 4 pens that now outrank it in ERA+.

  6. Jonathan, those numbers are extraordinary, but I am forced to ask a question along the lines of the classic retort to any derogatory comment about Terry Bradshaw’s intelligence: “You don’t have to be smart to throw the ball to Lynn Swann.”

    If you’re a member of a bullpen that’s backing up the best rotation of the modern era, wouldn’t it be fair to conjecture that your tribulations are somewhat lessened?

  7. I think said that, Alex. But I still think there’s more to it than that. If you threw Cameron Loe out there a lot, he ain’t generating a 133 ERA+. More like a 133.0 WHIP.

  8. And note that the aLI (average Leverage Index) was indistinguishable for these teams from the nonBraves teams surrounding them. So it’s not like they were coming into games up 6 and could coast. Indeed the 2002 team have one of the highest number of high leverage appearance numbers on the list, exceeded in the top 40 only by the 2015 Cardinals. A lot of that, for example, is a quick hook, which makes more than one guy making a high leverage appearance. But you have to do it exceeding well to generate a 133 ERA+.

  9. Apologies… I’m still learning to use Stathead, BRef’s new stats tool. While all the columns other than the ERA+ column refer to relievers, that column is actually the team ERA+. There doesn’t seem to be a way to get the reliever’s experience alone. I may have to approach this another way, darn it.

  10. Good for Murph.

    I hadn’t looked into Stathead before! Looks like it’s an overhaul of Play Index, which was already basically my favorite thing on the internet.

  11. Stathead
    we can apparently now take it as read
    any sinful errors of the past eliminated
    romantic opposition in retreat, numerically decimated

    the individual as a new number
    no need to think, to feel – why encumber?
    art thou living at this hour, Mario Soto?
    what think you of your new appel – in toto?

    words we know are in retreat
    so difficult, so rarely neat
    a number, ah, now that we understand
    the simple life where everything is bland.

  12. @8 — rereading your comment, you’re absolutely right, you did say that. Sorry!

  13. Hey crew, I’m busy with closing out school year, moving out of house (into a new one) & prepping old house to be sold. Add 2 kids on top of that while wife works more than full time, and you can guess that I don’t have much time to write. Shoot me an email if you’ve got something to say. cothrjr at gmail dot com.

  14. The 96 World Series is the undisputed king of horrible playoff losses and the rug getting pulled out from under the dream season of 93 isn’t far behind, but I’ve always maintained the 02 NLDS is a sleeper pick for third or forth worst, depending on how you feel about the other World Series losses.

    Not only was it the last ride of the Big Three, but the best bullpen they ever had was squandered by two shockingly bad Tom Glavine starts. After years of losing close playoff games due bullpen meltdowns, 02 really felt different.

    To me, the losses in 91 and 92 were softened by the 95 title; the struggle made the victory sweeter.

    The Marlins and Padres were objectivity great teams in those two years and the 99 team was so beat up by the time they got to the Yankees it’s hard to get mad.

    There’s something way more infuriating about having the league’s best team but losing in the first round.

  15. Today is June 5th. There is no agreement between the owners and players. The season would hypothetically start in 25 days.

    Will there be a season?

  16. Same as @19. Hard to believe that they won’t eventually come to their senses, but it’s clear that the two sides have no mutual trust and I suspect they may not be able to see eye to eye even if they wanted to.

    It’s so embarrassing that the NBA came to agreement and they can’t.

  17. @20 Agreed. The lack of seemingly any mutual trust whatsoever that seems to border on complete animosity towards each other scares the hell out of me. And the longer this goes, the longer I wonder if either 2020 and 2022 won’t happen. That we’re headed towards a work stoppage, and the only question is whether it’s 2020 or 2022. Not sure they would do both, but man, they really seem to not like each other right now.

  18. I think the MLBPA is too worried about posturing and keeping the faith and the owners have a big group within that figure if you have to fight the contract that quick anyway (after 2021), fight it now.

    I expect an owner demand to report and a player response by filing suit. The only thing that will keep owners from doing that is not wanting to get “Sotomayor’d.”

  19. That would be the nuclear option. It’s stunning and sad that it’s come to this.

  20. @17 – I agree, the ’02 loss to the Giants was underratedley terrible. Undone by a pair of bad Tom Glavine starts and the complete and total inability to get ANY kind of big hit in Game 5. We left 12 men on base in that game and were 2-for-freaking-10 with runners in scoring position with only one of the hits driving in a run. One of the most frustrating games in Braves history.

    There’s very little chance (it was us, I know) that that team would have lost to a very bleh Cardinals team in the NLCS (one that San Francisco ran past like the Cardinals were standing still, I might add), and I honestly think that team was better than the Angels, who were not exactly one of the great teams in baseball history in any case.

    On the subject of the labor issues, I still think the owners are more to blame than the players, but the players are quickly giving back the high ground. The proposal they sent back to the owners early in the week wasn’t the least bit helpful, and the letter they sent to the league/owners today was even less so. It’s tough to bridge a gap when neither side is willing to put out a serious proposal. And when both sides steadfastly refuse to put out a serious proposal because that may give up some leverage, you know you’re in trouble.

  21. @22 the perfect comment!

    Marcell
    don’t ask, don’t tell
    that she clocked you on the kisser
    suggests you need look for yet another embarrassing fissure.

    Someone used the word disgusting to sum up no-play baseball. So it just is.

  22. I’m with Jeff Schultz:

    Suck it up, Thurston.

    Propose an acceptable plan to the players. Get it done. Play ball. Because if this season gets shut down because owners were worried about losing a few relative nickels, it will be the single dumbest decision ever made in the history of collective bargaining talks, and that’s saying a lot. The damage will be irreparable.

    https://theathletic.com/1854246/2020/06/04/schultz-if-theres-no-baseball-season-blame-the-owners-not-the-players/

  23. You guys, sorry there’s been no new posts. I’m swamped. Our school just ended and grades, reflections, and post-planning has been dominating my time, not to mention that we’ve moved houses, staged a house, and are building a house, all the while working from home with a 2 and a 5 year old.

    Prayers are appreciated, but beer would be better.

  24. @29 Don’t worry about it, Ryan C.
    2020 has been terrible for pretty much everything and everyone. It’s been a big blur for me with stuff that I have to do and keep putting off.
    Be safe out there, everyone.

  25. Being in my dotage, social distancing is pretty much how I live anyway. The Missus and I are among the least affected.

    Prayers to all upon whom the world still intrudes. There is a better tomorrow.

    Play ball.

  26. The players offered to play 114 games, and the owners countered with 50, so I don’t think it’s too hard to pick a side in this particular dispute.

  27. @35

    False IMO, but it’s certainly not a good enough thing to where it’s worth just settling for it and not trying to get an 82-game season.

  28. @35,36

    It’s just that baseball is better than no baseball. Like, you don’t have to recognize the World Series champion of a 50-game season as a true champion if you don’t want, but I don’t know why you’d rather just not have baseball.

  29. For any positive integer n:

    n games of baseball > 0 games of baseball.

  30. https://deadspin.com/baseball-will-survive-even-with-no-2020-season-1843968009

    There are worse things that can happen than having no 2020 baseball season. To call that possibility an existential threat to the game is nonsense.

    The problem is some of us are conflicted! For some time now the ‘very old’ here have faced the possibility of never being able to see another Braves baseball game. No 2020 season makes that more likely, not less if you refuse to accept possible artificial constructs of the real thing .

    With the Virus and horrible labor relations has that thought ever struck YOU? So here’s a song that says it all, what we must do… for us!

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