Cole, Don’t Change A Thing

(Well, there’s a couple things you could change…)

Another day, another poor start for Cole Hamels. Following what seemed to be a turn-around performance against the Florida Marlins last Sunday, Cole allowed six runs on four home runs in six innings, despite striking out seven batters and walking only one last night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The first three innings went very smoothly. In the first inning, Cole retired the side in order on three ground ball outs. He then struck out the side in the second, allowing only a single. Cole retired the D-Backs 1-2-3 again in the third with one ground out, fly out, and strikeout apiece. In case you’re counting, that’s four ground outs, four strikeouts, and one fly out — a great distribution of outs.

Cole unraveled in the fourth inning, struggling with location. With a runner on first with one out and Mark Reynolds (a.k.a. the right-handed Adam Dunn) at the plate, Hamels threw a four-seam fastball that was letter-high right down the middle. Reynolds fouled it off. Hamels came right back to the same exact location with a cutter, which Reynolds promptly deposited well beyond the fence in left field.

Adam LaRoche then worked the count to 3-2 after six pitches and three foul balls. All six pitches were at least waist-high, and so was the seventh, a waist-high change-up right down the middle. It was not surprising to see LaRoche — who routinely hits Phillies pitching — hit a home run down the right field line.

Hamels allowed a single to Chris Young before striking out Cole Gillespie, bringing up the D-Backs’ #8 hitter in catcher Chris Snyder. Snyder only needed one pitch — a knee-high cutter right down the middle — to notch the Snakes’ third home run of the inning, capping a five-run fourth.

The batted balls in the fourth went: fly out, soft line drive single, fly ball home run, fly ball home run, line drive single, strikeout, home run, ground out. Two line drives, three fly balls, one ground out, and one strikeout.

Kelly Johnson led off the bottom of the fifth with a solo home run off of Hamels that increased the D-Backs’ lead to four runs at 6-2. It wasn’t really a bad pitch by Hamels and more so a good piece of hitting by Johnson.

The batted balls in the fifth went: fly ball home run, fly out, line drive single, fly out, fly out. Cole added another two strikeouts and a fly out in his sixth and final inning.

All told, Hamels allowed ten fly balls (including three line drives) and six ground outs (44% fly balls,  19% line drives, 38% ground balls) along with the seven strikeouts, giving him a SIERA of 2.74 for the game as opposed to the 9.00 ERA. Of the ten fly balls, four were home runs, giving him a HR/FB% of 40%. We know that pitchers can’t control how many home runs they allow other than by controlling their rate of fly balls. While Hamels clearly wasn’t at his best last night, it also will not be par for the course — he will not have a 40% HR/FB rate every game.

That said, Hamels’ pitch selection was peculiar, as the following graph will illustrate:

His fastball and curve use has increased and his change-up use has decreased in each start. In other words, between his first and most recent start, Hamels has decreased the use of his best pitch by over 26% in favor of lesser quality pitches. While he has utilized his cutter in his last three starts, he is doing so at the expense of his change-up and that is not a winning strategy.

Still, Hamels has been unlucky. His 5.11 ERA is much higher than his retrodicted 3.13 SIERA. While he has been more BABIP lucky (.275), his HR/FB% (30.4%) is about three times higher than it should be. Meanwhile, his strikeout and walk rates are great at 9.5 and 2.2 respectively — a better than four-to-one ratio.

If Cole wants to get back on the winning track, he doesn’t need to change much — he just needs to ride out yet another wave of bad luck, be a little more precise with his location, and to stop using his other pitches at the expense of his change-up. That’s really it. Based on events proven to be within a pitcher’s control — strikeouts, walks, and GB/FB rates — he has pitched very well. With a few minor tweaks, he can put himself in a better position where he won’t be resting his fate on rolls of the dice.

Leave a Reply

*

59 comments

  1. Ryan

    April 27, 2010 07:21 AM

    Mark,

    The difference that you are pointing to in hits per 9 has 0 to do with controlling the way the ball is put in play, and 100% to do with strikeouts.

    Both pitchers give up hits at almost EXACTLY the same rate when the ball is put in play (thus neither can control how the ball is put in play) – halladay .299, Eaton .305. The difference in Hits per 9 is that teams just put Eaton in play more often. Halladay misses more bats, fewer balls in play, fewer hits.

    In your 27 out scenario, both are giving up roughly 30% of the balls in play for hits. Only, in 2008, Doc k’ed 7.5 hitters/9 and Eaton K’ed 4.8. I difference of almost 3 balls per game being put into play.

    So, again, in 27 outs – doc is k’ing 7 or 8, only leaving 19 or 20 outs to be recorded in play – Given his BABIP – that would mean he’d give up roughly 8 hits in the 28 ab’s that are put in play (8 for 28 works out to a .286 babip). So in a typical 27 out performance for doc, he’s recording 7 k’s, 20 outs in play, and surrendering 8 hits – an average against of .228 (right on his season number)

    Eaton on the other hand, doesn’t k as man, gives up more balls in play, and because of the babip rate, more hits. 27 outs, he’s only recording 4 or 5 k’s. Even at 5 k’s, that’s still 22 outs in play, and if he surrenders his typical babip – 10 hits in 32 ab’s on balls in play (babip of .310) – and a 10 for 37 for the game – 10 hits, 5 k’s, 22 outs in play – for an avg against of about .270.

    So again, at their fairly normal rates – the difference between the two isn’t controlling the quality of contact, its the fact that Halladay just flat out allows fewer balls in play. If you get outside of one game (numbers move to much with one hit either way), it gets even closer – in the above scenario, it was 2 hits, over 37 and 35 ab’s, that separates them, but if you bring the babip to their career numbers (.299 for halladay and .305 for eaton) it becomes much much closer to one hit.

    So again, you are looking at 2 pitchers – one who was second in cy young voting, and by many accounts is the best in the game, and one who was shut down that year and run out of the game a year later.

    And with that VAST GAP IN ABILITY, over the course of the season, Doc can MAYBE give up one less hit per game if the put the same number of balls in play.

    Now PLEASE explain to me how pitching ability dictates how a ball is hit – because YOUR example does nothing but show over 27 outs, if you remove strike outs, the best in the game only gives up 1 less hit than the worst in the game.

    The difference, from pitcher to pitcher isn’t controlling quality contact. It’s impossible. If you look at the rates, the best in the game BARELY give up fewer hits on contact than the worst. The thing that separates the good from the bad is minimalizing walks, and missing bats (strike outs).

  2. Richard

    April 27, 2010 07:51 AM

    I’d like to thank Ryan for his contributions to this thread. I’ve been on board with the “unlucky” argument since the beginning, but Ryan has handled very well the various niggling questions I had.

    I do want to point out that it’s not quite true to say it’s *impossible* that pitchers have some control over the quality of contact. The truth is pitchers have *little* control over this, but those pitchers who are the best at making batters miss (striking them out) are also slightly better at getting poor contact. The classic example is Nolan Ryan, whose BABIP was rather low by comparison to other pitchers.

    Anyway, thanks again guys.

  3. Ryan

    April 27, 2010 07:53 AM

    Chareth,

    In case you are still reading, I charted Sanchez last night, just to give some comparison to our beef with Cole and the “to many meatballs” theory.

    This is the link to the gameday data on mlb.com in case you want to compare my chart to what they have registered in their ab’s, but…

    mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2010_04_26_phimlb_sfnmlb_1&mode=gameday

    Sanchez threw 107 pitches, and I used the following criteria, in order for it to be classified as a “Meatball” it had to be at least mid thigh or higher, and in the middle of the plate. he did throw other pitches up on the inside or outside third (not corner, but I was picky) that I didn’t count, and other pitches down the middle at the knees that I didn’t count.

    He threw a total of 107 pitches, and I counted 12 meatballs. His meatballs varied in velo between 87 mph and topping out at 90 or 91. If I’m not mistaken only 2 of those 12 pitches were put in play for hits, 1 2b and 1 1b (both by Vic). The remaining 10 were either fouled off, taken for a strike, or put in play for an out.

    So.. 11% of his total pitches for the day were thigh high (or higher) and down the middle – he only threw 62 strikes, so roughly 19% of his strikes were of the “meatball” variety.

    And despite 1 of every 5 pitches being in the happy zone, the phillies were 2 for 12 on those pitches, for a .166 avg, and not only did not hit an hr, but only produced one double on those pitches.

    I encourage everyone who doesn’t believe me to chart a game… any game, with any pitcher. Sanchez’s line – 5ip, 3 hit, 1er, suggests he was pretty good, but the data shows he was in the middle of the plate ALOT.

    It was the perfect example of the opposite end of the spectrum from cole. Sanchez walked 5 (death to a pitcher), threw 12 legit middle of the plate meatballs (not even counting the hanger he threw howard in the 1st, or some of the belt high inside half pitches he threw) and he gets away smelling like roses.

    Cole on the other hand doesn’t walk anyone, yet, his mistakes in that game (I didn’t count them, but I could if anyone wanted me to) all ended up over the fence.

    It’s right back to reality of the situation – there is very little control over batted balls. Over time a certain number of fly balls end up over the fence and pitchers have little control over it. Sanchez made as many mistakes as a pitcher possibly could over 5 innings last night, and he got away with all of them. Cole hasn’t been so fortunate.

  4. Bill Baer

    April 27, 2010 07:59 AM

    Richard, I second your thoughts on Ryan’s contributions. Additionally, hopefully no one walks away from these discussions thinking pitchers have absolutely zero effect on BABIP — they have a very small ability to control it and high-strikeout pitchers tend to have slightly lower BABIP.

  5. Ryan

    April 27, 2010 08:05 AM

    Richard,

    You are very correct. Some can do it on a regular basis, and Ryan is a GREAT example but those who can significantly improve upon the babip numbers are few and far between.

    The reluctance to believe the numbers is simply human nature. We don’t like to think things are luck – we want to have control, and it changes the game when you watch it to think that “hey, Mark DeRosa really had no control over if that ball rolled through the hole or two the 3rd baseman, that was essentially a weakly hit ball that got lucky to find a hole”. People don’t like to make that leap, they would rather say “DeRosa knew he had room over there and he rolled it through the left side”… only, if he had to do it 10 times, he could MAYBE hit the ball in the same spot…once… That’s the part that frustrates most fans. They want to believe that it’s talent (which it is, just to make contact) and not luck.

  6. Mark

    April 27, 2010 03:13 PM

    Ok, I got it now; I was way off on the BABIP argument… and I now concede my “meatball” theory (although I will still use the terminology while viewing games)

    This is an interesting read I thought. It shows home run rates by pitch location. The rates do increase slightly for some locations, but not nearly enough to reinforce my original stance. Here’s the link if anyone is interested… it’s a quick read:

    baseballanalysts.com/archives/2009/03/home_run_rate_b.php

    take care

  7. Ryan

    April 28, 2010 07:17 AM

    I wish I had access and time to compile that type of information. Instead I have to rely on things like “it’s just bad luck” bc I don’t have rates or graphs to prove my point.

    I think this was a really really good discussion, and good points made by all. Mark – may the meatball theory live on and live strong!

  8. Falesi

    April 29, 2010 02:33 AM

    Ryan,

    Re: “The difference that you are pointing to in hits per 9 has 0 to do with controlling the way the ball is put in play, and 100% to do with strikeouts.”

    What about sinkerballers? They will put more balls in play than strikeout pitchers, but a higher percentage of their balls-in-play will be ground balls as opposed to line drives or flyballs. If hits per 9 depended 100% on strikeouts, then there would be no place in the game for anything but strikeout pitchers.

    Sure, the best case scenario for the pitcher is to miss bats, but those without Halliday/Hamels type stuff (i.e. most of the league) will take a ground ball to an infield full of – well, infielders.

  9. Ryan

    April 29, 2010 08:53 AM

    Falesi,

    I’m with you, and obviously groundballs are desirable, but I have 2 issues with your comments.

    1- what says a sinkerballer gives up a lower ld% than a guy who isn’t a considered a sinkerballer? I know he’s giving up (in theory) fewer fly balls, but just because he’s throwing sinkers, what says his line drive % is going to be lower?

    2- a guy throwing sinkers, getting ground balls is obviously desirable, they can’t leave the park, but they find holes and some times at wildly varying rates. Take a guy like Mark Burhle… he’s a 2 seam, change up, cutter kind of guy – he’s a groundball pitcher, he has a career babip of .292, but in 2006 that number jumps to .309 – and he posts a 4.99 era. Now some of the era jump is a jump in hr’s, but he’s still getting just about his typical amount of gb’s, and his era jumps a full run over his career mark, and just for one season, because of some goofy babip number.

    Kyle Kendrick is the extreme example of your point about k’s. He gets ground balls, for his career, at roughly the same rate as Buehrle (46%) and in 2007, his numbers are great – He only k’s 3.6 per 9 – but posts a .271 babip – and a 3.87 era.

    In ’08, he gets roughly the same number of groundballs (2% less), same k rate, but his babip jumps to .316, and his era jumps to a bazillion, and he’s back in the minors.

    Now, most of the guys we think of as sinkerball pitchers (with success) are ALSO striking guys out. Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe – these guys, for their career, are k’ing 6 or more hitters per 9 innings, and thus limiting the effect of luck.

    But guys like Kendrick, who don’t k batters, they can put together good stretches. But even as a ground ball pitcher, babip dictates that just because you give up more balls on the ground, that doesn’t mean fewer hits, typically it just means fewer hr’s because of a lower fly ball rate.

    Now, you ask, if this is true how would there be room for anything but strike out pitchers, the answer is – that is EXACTLY what every organization wants. If they could fill their teams with guys who k 10 per 9, they would. There just aren’t that many out there.

    You don’t hear teams passing up power arms with dominant out pitches for guys who throw 90 with movement and get groundballs. Scouts, GM’s, and managers, they put a premium on finding guys who can strike people out. That’s the focus of every draft, that’s the focus of every pitcher in the minors, and it’s the focus of every talent evaluator – “does he miss enough bats”. Because, over the long haul, if you aren’t missing bats, the numbers say that just about 3 of every 10 balls put in play are going to be hits.

    Sinkerballers control those 3 hits by keeping them out of the air, in the stadium, so if you aren’t k’ing 10 per inning, the desire would be to have a guy getting big gb rates, and still k’ing their fair share (hello Doc Halladay). But if a manager had a choice, he’d take the power arm k’ing 10 per 9 every day over the groundball pitcher k’ing 4 per 9.

Next ArticleGraph of the Intermittent Time Period