Quick Notes on Cole Hamels’ First Two Starts

Cole Hamels‘ second start of 2011 was better than his first start, to say the least. He made it past the third inning, struck out more batters (8 to 3), and walked fewer (1 to 2). His first start induced boos from Phillies fans at home; his second start induced boos from Braves fans on the road.

There are quite a few differences in his two starts, to say the least, and they go beyond surface comparisons. From perusing Pitch F/X data, here are some notable differences I could spot:

  • Velocity: Hamels hit 94 MPH or greater just once in 68 pitches (two percent) against the New York Mets. He did so 15 times in 102 pitches (15 percent) against the Atlanta Braves.
  • Strikes vs. Balls: Hamels threw 37 strikes (54 percent) against the Mets; 62 strikes (61 percent) against the Braves.
  • Swinging strikes: Hamels induced six swinging strikes (nine percent) against the Mets; 13 swinging strikes (13 percent) against the Braves.
  • Cut fastball: Hamels threw 17 cutters (25 percent) against the Mets; eight cutters (eight percent) against the Braves.
  • Change-up: The change accounted for under 20 percent of Hamels’ pitches against the Mets; over 30 percent against the Braves. It induced only one swinging strike against the Mets (eight percent); nine against the Braves (29 percent).

If you’d like to peruse the information, check out Brooks Baseball. (Hamels vs. Mets — Hamels vs. Braves)

Just from watching the game, I thought his change-up looked phenomenal, probably because he was locating it so well and inducing a bunch of swings-and-misses. I’m banking on a lot more of Hamels from Game Two rather than Hamels from Game One.

Early Season Surprises

Just because the samples are small and the season is young doesn’t mean we can’t be surprised by what we’ve seen so far. The 7-2 start by the Phillies is just about what everyone expected, but the Phillies took an unexpected road to get there.

Jimmy Rollins

With many expecting the veteran shortstop to continue on the downward spiral, Rollins has started 2011 with a bang. No, he has not hit a home run nor driven in a run hitting out of the #3 spot in the lineup, but he is hitting more balls on the ground and he is continuing to draw walks, a trend that started during his injury-plagued campaign last year. Rollins’ walk rate is at 9.8 percent, just a hair behind last year’s 10.2%, and he has hit only five fly balls — just 16 percent of his total batted balls. He has also stolen three bases in as many attempts, and looked quite nimble in doing so.

Antonio Bastardo

We all knew Bastardo had stuff, but we have yet to see it on display at the Major League level. In the Minors, Bastardo struck out hitters with reckless abandon, but his control was always in question. In four and two-thirds innings so far this year, he has struck out nine hitters (17.4 K/9) and has yet to allow a run, or even walk a batter. If he continues to pitch well, he could hop over J.C. Romero on Charlie Manuel’s bullpen depth chart.

Wilson Valdez

Valdez filled in admirably for the Phillies’ infielders as they seemed to drop like flies last year. He was about replacement level with the bat, but played above-average defense up the middle. Filling in exclusively for Chase Utley in 2011, Valdez has a hot bat through nine games. He’s hitting .333 with three doubles and five RBI hitting out of the #8 spot. While I and many others are skeptical of his ability to maintain his level of production going forward, it is nice to see yet another scrap heap pick-up panning out quite well for the Phillies.

The Bench

Phillies’ substitutes are hitting .462 so far. That’s 12-for-26, which includes one home run and seven RBI (to be fair, most of that was Carlos Ruiz‘s grand slam). John Mayberry has been the most successful bench bat so far, notching four hits in seven at-bats, including a walk-off RBI single on Opening Day against the Houston Astros. The bench was believed to be a big weakness for the Phillies, partially a result of injuries to Utley and Domonic Brown, but the pine-riding crew has looked quite capable through nine games.

Danys Baez

If I told you that Baez had pitched five innings without yielding a single run, you would call me a liar. But that’s been the case in 2011, despite allowing a hit in each of his five outings. Charlie Manuel has been using him mostly in low leverage situations: with an 8-3 lead against the Astros on April 2, a 7-1 lead against the New York Mets on the 5th, a 10-0 lead against the Mets on the 7th, and a 10-2 lead against the Atlanta Braves on the 9th. I am most skeptical about Baez’s success going forward, and it appears that even Manuel knows that when you play with fire, you get burned. He is using Baez such that when he gets burnt, it is in as low-leverage a situation as possible.