Cole Hamels Is Back In Top Form

You wouldn’t know it by his 5-13 record, but Cole Hamels has been nothing short of dominant since the calendar turned from June to July. Over his last eight starts, the lefty has compiled a 1.98 ERA in 59 innings, the tenth-best ERA in that timespan among all Major League starters (fourth among NL SP). He lowered his overall ERA to 3.65, a respectable number considering it was teetering on 5.00 at the end of May.

There hasn’t been one overwhelming change that has led to Hamels’ recent hot streak; rather, it has been a combination of small improvements that collectively added up into the top-tier starting pitcher the Phillies signed to a six-year, $144 million contract extension on July 25 last year. Unfortunately, the changes don’t lend themselves to terribly in-depth analysis, so this will be quick to get through.

  • Fewer walks: In Hamels’ first 17 starts, he walked 7.3 percent of batters and threw only 48.5 percent of pitches in the strike zone. In his most recent eight starts, Hamels has cut his walk rate down to 3.5 percent and tossed 53.3 percent of pitches in the zone.
  • Fewer home runs: Hamels surrendered 13 home runs over his first 17 starts, but just three over his last eight. On a per-flyball basis, 11.1 percent of fly balls were home runs before, and only 4.5 percent after.
  • BABIP: There has been a 21-point drop in BABIP from .310 to .289. How much of that is improved luck and how much is due to better pitching is debatable. Nevertheless, it is a small but noticeable difference that has helped improve his numbers.

All of the other telltale signs of success have actually gone in the other direction or haven’t changed at all. He is getting slightly fewer strikeouts and swings-and-misses overall; his velocity has declined; and he has been locating more pitches over the middle of the plate. There have been no meaningful changes in pitch selection, nor has there been any change in his batted ball distribution.

Just by eyeballing his game logs, his season really started to turn around with his May 20 start against the Marlins. To that point, Hamels had struck out more than six batters in a game just twice in nine starts and he walked three or more batters in four of nine starts. Additionally, nine of the 16 home runs he allowed this season occurred in his first nine starts. Since then, he has struck out more than six batters in eight of 16 starts and walked fewer than three in 14 of 16.

Any way you slice it, Hamels has for a while been elite, it just wasn’t that obvious by traditional metrics. His 3.69 xFIP on the season is around his pre-2010 levels and if he continues to pitch well, he will find himself putting up the same numbers we got so comfortable with over the previous three seasons.

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17 comments

  1. GWB

    August 13, 2013 12:25 PM

    Great to see, kudos to Hamels for turning it around. We will need him big time during this transition the next few seasons

  2. Phillie697

    August 13, 2013 12:26 PM

    @Scott G,

    ROFL. That was my first thought :)

  3. Matt

    August 13, 2013 03:37 PM

    13 losses = not having the will to win

  4. NavyJoe

    August 13, 2013 09:18 PM

    Larry,

    Are you implying that Cole is pitching better because the pressure is off? Don’t you think that is a bit presumptuous given that throughout his entire career prior to this year, Cole has never pitched for a Phillies team that was truly out of playoff contention? It’s not as if the teams heis pitching against are suddenly going to decide to start hitting fewer HRs off Cole.

    Also, should we not apply the same logic to Darrin Ruf, Domonic Brown, and every other Phillie who performs well over the next few months?

    Of all the professional sports, baseball has to be the least likely to have stat-padding. Honestly, the only stat I can think of which can be unilaterally padded are steals and even those are dependent upon getting on base.

  5. Mark

    August 13, 2013 10:43 PM

    In what kind of fantasy world is Cole Hamels’ contract the reason for the Phillies financial woes??? Lets ignore the first baseman whose contract extension was a mistake before it. Despite a slow start, Hamels is just outside the NL top 10 WAR. And he’s still in his prime. He was a 28 year old former World Series MVP who averaged around 4.5 WAR for his career and was paid the market rate for that type of pitcher. It’s absolutely delusional to blame the Phillies’ issues on his contract. He still easily has a chance to earn his contract. Howard has no chance.

    Let’s continue your fantasy Larry where the Phillies don’t “waste” so much money on Hamels. What should they have done instead?

    By the way, Domonic Brown currently has a higher WAR than Pence according to Baseball Reference. Maybe if Amaro never traded for Pence, who’s 5 years older than Brown and at best his equal of a player, the Phillies would be in a much better place right now.

  6. pedro3131

    August 13, 2013 11:35 PM

    Phillies 2012 record w/ Pence, 49-56.
    Phillies 2012 record w/o Pence, 32-25

    I think the opportunity cost to consider is how could the Phillies have better spent Pence’s salary, and what better cost or direct production could they have gotten for the prospects they traded for him.

  7. GWB

    August 14, 2013 03:02 AM

    One, wins are a TEAM stat, not a individual stat which is why they are largely meaningless for evaluating pitchers…Hamels is a good example of why this season since for more than 2 months he has been quite good, but the pen, defense and/or offense have lapsed and he gets a ND or loss.

    Another example: Lee did not get his first win until July 4th last season and had 6 wins total for the year…Lee pitched pretty well all year but again the other team facets failed over and over

    Two, Pence and Vic were poor at plate discipline and hackers by nature…the offense would have been better off without them IF Amaro did not bring in/bring back even worse players in that regard (Revere, DYoung, Nix etc.). Pence was also poor defensively and Vic, while having a decent season this year, was overpaid and Boston will see the darkside of that contract soon.

    Three, Amaro also sacrified defense (DYoung, MYoung, Nix) and pitching (Lannan, relying on Halladay off injury, Adams the same, Durbin etc.) with his off-season moves, all of which put tremendous pressure on Lee, Hamels, Kendrick, the young pen arms and the same old injury prone guys like Howard, Utley, Ruiz that it could be expected would not carry us.

    Four, there is little question that the Phils were tight in payroll, did not want to even smell the luxury tax and thus decided to paper machie around the core for one more run this season…predictably it failed, but what I see no evidence for is that Hamel’s contract was the main reason payroll was tight…Howard was already a sunk cost as was Lee/Halladay/Utley, Rollins was extended too long, Papelbon was give the largest reliever contract in history etc. are bigger reasons than Hamels for their woes.

  8. Mark

    August 14, 2013 07:35 AM

    Try to use your imagination just a bit, Larry. If the Phillies don’t trade for Pence, they still have Cosart who’s in the majors now. Plus they would still have Jonathan Singleton who’s most likely coming up next year. Not to mention Brown’s development wouldn’t have been slowed down. He was playing at replacement level that year at the league minimum. They team was 6 games up in the division. They risked so much all for a right handed bat that still didn’t get them a championship. This isn’t hindsight. Others made these exact same arguments at the time.

    If you want to talk about the Phillies’ problems, you have to start with the Howard extension and Pence trade. To throw Hamels’ contract above those two (not to mention Papelbon’s contract) is laughable.

    By the way, I love the proposed outfield of Vic, Brown and Pence. I guess your rotation is Lee, Kendrick, Worley, Lannan and Martin? That rotation will get you far.

  9. rellis

    August 14, 2013 09:47 AM

    I’m confused. The Phillies offered the fair market contract to Cole Hamels and he signed it. What should he have done? Tell the team, “no, I don’t think I am worth that much money and you need to spend it on hitting, fielding whatever. I think I will take my talents elsewhere”. If they couldn’t afford it or needed it for other positions, they wouldn’t have tendered it, correct? Did someone threaten them to sign Cole Hamels? Was there a law that they had to sign Cole Hamels? How in God’s earth is his contract responsible for hindering the team in other areas? Dave Montgomery said without hesitation last year that the team could afford 3 pitchers making 20 million. Why is Hamels being blamed for signing a contract with the team that drafted him and the only team he has ever played for?

    That being said, I was never worried about Cole Hamels as a pitcher even with a shaky start. All pitchers go through tough stretches and to apply any other meaning to it is absurd. Cole’s body of work speaks for itself.

  10. Scott G

    August 14, 2013 10:37 AM

    Larry, you’re a troll.

    You said,

    “The Phillies gave up a lot for Cole, having to dump other salaries which hurt the team. They also spent very little in the off season, because of his contract. We were left with a lot of mediocre players who were under average defenders, that’s being generous actually. Hence, we didn’t take a step forward with Cole, we took 3-5 steps back. The opportunity cost severely hurt the present and future.”

    Mark said,
    “In what kind of fantasy world is Cole Hamels’ contract the reason for the Phillies financial woes???”, which is an accurate response to your saying that the Phillies gave up a lot for Cole, and that signing him put the Phillies 3-5 steps back instead of forward.

    You then call him out for lack of reading comprehension. Stop being a troll, please.

  11. DB9

    August 14, 2013 11:50 AM

    Larry, your drunk. Go home.

  12. Scott G

    August 14, 2013 02:12 PM

    Considering I haven’t updated my blog since June 25th, I’d love for you to tell me when “right now” is that I’m advocating batting Jimmy 3rd.

    Oh, and BTW lineup optimization suggests that best hitters should bat 2,4,1,5,3. So if I ever suggesting batting Jimmy 3rd (which I know I did in the past), it’s not a stretch to think he was the 5th most valuable hitter in the lineup. It also breaks up Utley and Howard when you properly bat Utley 2nd.

  13. Phillie697

    August 15, 2013 09:52 AM

    I would like to point out the person who is blaming Cole Hamels’ contract as being the reason we have to be thrifty is also the same person who defended and is defending Ryan Howard’s contract, which has done FAR MORE damage to this team than Cole Hamels’ contract ever will.

    Cherry-picking is bad. EVERY big contract we sign hinders our ability to sign future FAs. Big contracts themselves are not good or bad in that respect. It’s what we get out of the big contracts that should usually be the focus. Just because Cole Hamels’ contract is the last big contract signed by us does not make it any more or less culpable than Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard, or even Chase Utley. Just that some of those contracts, we feel like we are getting our money’s worth, while others, we feel like it was a waste of money and we could have spent that money elsewhere. Like, you know, signing future FAs.

    It remains to be seen if Cole Hamels will live up to his contract. I think we overpaid for him (due to a variety of reasons, most of which I’ve already waxed poetically about in these comment sections), but in the end, when all is said and done, I would be fine with it, and chalk up the “overpay” as just the cost of doing business, as I feel he’ll be quite productive for the majority of his contract. In fact, he’s more likely to live up to the contract than turning into a bust.

  14. Steve

    August 15, 2013 10:31 AM

    I have to laugh that we are all upset at the CH contract, shouldn’t we be more upset at the Roy Halladay Contract. In retrospect, the disaster that was Roy of the past 18 months was more damaging than the signing of CH or CL as they are both pitching where we are paying Roy for 18 months of garbage. I love what Roy did, I hate what happened to him but it was a contract which was inherently risky.

    Any FA contract is fraught with risk as FA contracts, by their nature, tend to be an overpayment for past deeds.

    Hamels will earn his contract by the metrics out there (5mil/WAR) as signing a 27/28 year old elite lefty to 5 years was a good move. Signing a 31 year old Howard to an early extension for extraordinary money was a poor move. Signing Papelbon to a ridiculous contract and bidding against yourself at the same time while giving up a 1st round draft pick was a poor move.

    The teams problems are numerous but CH isn’t one of them in the long run. Can RAJ fix his mess, no freaking way. We need a new GM/Coach and Bullpen.

  15. Phillie697

    August 15, 2013 04:50 PM

    “You’ve probably read enough about the Ryan Howard contract by now. It’s been a running joke for years, and is probably going to go down as one of the least productive contracts in sports history. While other deals have turned bad after getting signed, this is maybe the last contract to be an obvious disaster from the minute of conception.”

    Dave Cameron has the Howard contract at #3; by the virtue of “this is maybe the last contract to be an obvious disaster from the minute of conception,” it should be ranked the Worst Contract in MLB Ever; not only was it bad value-wise, it was so utterly predictable AT THE TIME it was comical.

    Granted, it was a trade-value analysis. But taking all things into consideration, it was that much worse.

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