Mike Hampton as an Astro: Not good, but why?

Remember those heady days of yore when Mike Hampton was signed, and most people thought it may actually work out for the Astros? Count me as one of those people. Most of the concern that I had over Hampton was whether or not he could stay healthy enough to contribute positively for this team. So far, he has been healthy. So far, he has not been a good starting pitcher for the Astros.

His was a low risk signing, and one the Astros probably needed to make. Our cupboards are infamously bare, and beyond Wandy and Roy, we have no above average major league starting pitchers. Not to say that Mike Hampton was expected to come in and pitch gang busters, but what he's showed so far in 2009 is that he most likely isn't going to improve on his injury shortened 2008. Age is a factor, but Hampton hasn't relied on throwing the hard stuff recently, rather, his ground ball inducing ways has been his calling card. He's still doing this pretty well, but nowhere near at 2008 levels or his career average:

Season GB/FB Ratio
2008 2.06
2009 1.26
Career 1.82

 

His K/9 rate has improved this season vs. last (6.19 to 4.38), and his higher walk rate hasn't stunted his increased K/BB ratio either. What's more, he is by and large throwing a similar proportion of fastballs, curveballs, sliders and changeups as he did last year. There has been no decrease in velocity either. The biggest difference in the speed of his pitches has been that Hampton is actually throwing his curveball three miles an hour faster in 2009 as compared to 2008. This is not necessarily a good thing, however, as pitchers usually like their fastball and curveball to look the same coming out of their hands, but to have a large disparity in velocity. Finally, hitters are swinging and making less contact against Hampton than they did in 2008:

Season O Contact % Z Contact % Swing %
2008 65.4 93.7 45.3
2009 61.5 87.9 43.1

 

Based on his stats for 2009, Mike Hampton has suffered mainly from his inability to induce his normal extremely high percentage of groundballs, his lack of control and a slightly higher than average BABIP (.315) which has lead to a .285 BAA. Throw in a lower LOB% (65%) this season compared to last (68%), and those increased fly balls means more runs and shorter outings for Hampton. He isn't far off from what the Braves saw out of him in 2008, but if the Astros are to get even close to what they expected out of Mike Hampton, he's going to have to do his best to stay grounded.

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