If the Braves have an ace, it’s him. Ortiz was probably the Braves’ most valuable starter last year, but Hampton’s ERA was just a tick higher and came down as the season progressed. In his final 17 starts, he was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA. His control’s not great, but it’s better than Ortiz, and he’s more of a ground-ball pitcher so homers aren’t as much of a concern. (The house of horrors at third base, however, might be. I almost miss Vinny.) Before going to Colorado, he was basically a better pitcher than Ortiz (even taking the Astrodome into account) and his last three years pre-Coors were far superior to anything Ortiz has done.
One thing to remember about Hampton is that his peripheral numbers weren’t great even when he was one of the best pitchers in the league. He walks a lot of guys (though not as many as Ortiz) and his strikeout numbers aren’t great either. But lefthanders who can get ground balls — and play Gold Glove defense — can make up some for extra baserunners with double plays. Hampton’s not worth his contract (and wasn’t even before the current “market correction” in player salaries) but he’s a good pitcher and the Braves’ best hope on the mound for one of those must-win games.