The KC Royals would never have signed free-agent Jason Hammel without the death of 25-year-old starting pitcher Yordano Ventura. Can Jason Hammel really replace Ventura’s production in 2017?
In some ways, the above question is easy to answer. No, Jason Hammel can’t replace Yordano Ventura because the emotional impact of his death far exceeds his stat line from last season. He was a friend, confidant, and teammate to many players on the Kansas City Royals. How can a new guy replace that?
Even if you reduce the inquiry to sheer on-field performance, Hammel still can’t really replace Ventura. Yes, Ventura’s results weren’t exactly great the last two seasons. His 4.08 ERA in 2015 was only slightly above league average (103 ERA+), and his 4.45 ERA in 2016 was slightly below average in 2016 (98 ERA+). Hammel certainly can produce results within that range. He posted a 102 ERA+ in 2015 and a 105 ERA+ in 2016, which were both slightly above league average.
Yet, Ventura possessed the potential for so much more. He had clear “ace” stuff if he could put it all together. Plus, the KC Royals controlled Ventura through the 2019 season on a team-friendly contract. Ventura could become that most valuable of all assets: a player who could produce star-level results at a bargain rate.
Of course, we’ll never know if Ventura would have ever realized his potential. But, the possibility was there. On the other hand, with the 34-year-old Hammel, it’s pretty much what you see is what you get. He’s not very likely to reveal untapped upside like 37-year-old Dodgers starter Rich Hill did last season.