Analyzing Cole Hamels’ Struggles

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.

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We Are All Mortal

In the hysteria of Roy Halladay‘s regular season perfect game against the then-Florida Marlins and post-season no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, it was easy to view the right-hander as atypical, superhuman even. The consistency of nine consecutive years at the pinnacle of Major League pitching, the clean mechanics, the businesslike attitude and yeoman work ethic, what flaws did he actually have?

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Michael Young’s Historic GIDP Pace

Michael Young grounded into two more double plays last night against the Marlins, bringing his Major League-leading total to nine. He finished second in baseball with 26 of them last year, finishing two shy of Miguel Cabrera‘s 28. That Young is grounding into so many double plays is not surprising. What is surprising is his pace.

The Phillies third baseman has logged 23  plate appearances in which a runner is on first base with less than two outs, meaning that Young is grounding into a double play once for every 2.5 opportunities. Additionally, he has logged 114 PA, giving him a pace of 12.7 PA per double play.

A player has crossed the 30+ GIDP plateau just 16 times in baseball history. None of them have had such a high rate of GIDP on a PA basis and few have even come close as you can see in this table:

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Crash Bag, Vol. 52: Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged

I’m three weeks into my first experience as a national baseball columnist of sorts, and I have to admit that I underrated the trolling possibilities that come with such a position.

With my second post, I went after the San Francisco Giants for being an organization of nincompoops that lucked into two World Series titles in three years, and I went after their fans for being almost as obnoxious on the internet as Phillies fans.

And those fans came back at me. The most common refrain: “You’re just bitter after the 2010 NLCS.”

To which I say: You’re goddamn right I’m bitter about the 2010 NLCS. The 2010 NLCS in which a vastly superior Phillies team couldn’t get out of its own way against a team that had about two position players who were worth a crap, who, to their credit, capitalized on one kind of crappy Roy Halladay start and the fact that the Phillies failed to score in Game 6 while Jonathan Sanchez was going round and round in his own mind.

Am I bitter? Absolutely. Do I hate the Giants? Absolutely. I also hate, for the record, the Braves, Cardinals, Rockies, Mets, Yankees and Red Sox. In case anyone wanted to keep track of my biases.

Anyway, I think the only way to cope with that is to just go out of your way to insult everyone, like the real-life sports blogging manifestation of Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. So while it’s nice when real journalists try to be unbiased, I admire the intellectual honesty in laying one’s allegiances out there and letting the reader make his own judgments. Not because it gives the reader credit, because most people are too stupid to deserve much credit, but because it’s really tough to be completely objective, particularly about something like sports, and we need to stop lying about it.

@Phrontiersman: “If every member of the Phillies competed on GUTS as a kid, who would perform the best at what event? #crashcrag

I see what you did there. You’re a funny person, Paul Boye. Continue reading…

Jeremy Horst’s Bad Luck Continues

We discussed Jeremy Horst‘s bad luck two and a half weeks ago and it looked like things were starting to turn around. In his next four appearances, he allowed just one earned run over five innings and held the opposition to a .176 average on balls in play. Last night against the Indians, Horst’s bad luck returned. The lefty allowed one run, which was considered fortunate since he allowed four base runners, three of which were infield singles and the other was a bloop into shallow left field.

When people talk about a pitcher’s bad luck on balls in play, we are referring essentially to anything that happens after contact. So many variables come into play beyond the pitcher’s ability to hit his location and fool the opposing hitter. The ball may be hit hard, but right at a fielder. Or it may be hit three feet to his side for a hit. The ball may be hit softly, but slowly enough down the line that the third baseman can’t make a play on it. Or it can be hit softly but right to the pitcher, who throws to first for an easy out. The batter can pop the ball right over the shortstop’s head, or it can go a few feet further out where a play is unable to be made. Despite the pitcher’s lack of control, a run of bad luck on balls in play still gets counted against his ERA and thus he is judged for it throughout the year, long after the circumstances have been forgotten.

Let’s take a look at the hits Horst allowed last night after the jump.

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Phillies April Report Card

The Phillies are hovering around .500, third place in the NL East, which is about where most of us thought they would be throughout the season. There haven’t been many surprises. The schedule will start to get tougher now that the calendar has flipped to May and many players will be looking to build upon what they accomplished in April. Let’s go through the roster and mark down some grades.

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