In 2009, when Cole Hamels had the worst season of his career and was partially to blame for his team’s World Series loss, many fans were ready to bail on the young lefty. But a deeper analysis showed he was really just the victim of bad luck, that his performance didn’t speak to his results and that he would bounce back soon enough. He more than bounced back thanks to refinement of his curve and the addition of a cut fastball. Between 2010-12, Hamels established himself as one of the top-three left-handed starters in baseball.
It has been a different story in 2013. Hamels is struggling again but this time, he is not the victim of bad luck; his misfortune falls squarely on his shoulders. To get a broad sense of his problems, he is carrying a 4.02 xFIP and 4.04 SIERA, just a shade below his 4.34 ERA. His 21 percent strikeout rate is his lowest since 2009 and his nine percent walk rate is a career-high. He is averaging 1.4 home runs per nine innings, also a career-high. Overall, it is difficult to find a culprit — he hasn’t lost velocity and he is using his pitches more or less at the same rates. He is pitching in the same proportion of hitter-friendly and pitcher-friendly counts as well.
The real issue is how Hamels is using his pitches. Let’s break it down pitch-by-pitch.