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What Clicked For Hamels?

You know the story by this point in the season: Cole Hamels had himself a bumpy ride through April and May, limping into the summer with a 4.86 ERA, a five- and six-walk game to his name and four starts of five earned runs or more. There were a couple good starts thrown in to mitigate the pain, but you won’t hear too many apologies about that collection of 12 starts from me.

The assumption, though, was always that Hamels would rebound. And rebound he has! With an 18-start stretch of a 2.62 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 127 innings, Cole has comfortably put his out-the-gate stumbles behind him. And that’s good, because Hamels Complainers are the worst.

What’s the deal, though? What was wrong in April and May that has been corrected since? Let’s find out together.

My first turn is to our handy TruMedia tool, which can neatly aggregate some numbers of Cole’s across different stretches of the season. So, here’s a peek at the Jekyll (“Bottom,” June-present) and Hyde (“Top,” April-May) of Hamels in 2013.

Notable observations:

One of the starkest improvements, though, has come from Hamels’s fastball. It’s not a velocity thing; Cole’s FB velo has been consistent all year in the 92 MPH neighborhood (cheers to BrooksBaseball for the table to the right).

Static velocity is alright if you can locate, though, and Hamels has improved his fastball spots manifold since June (not that they were really all THAT terrible to begin with). Hamels has thrown his fastball for strikes more than 72 percent of the time in the last four months, more than Cliff Lee (71.3 percent) and second in baseball only to R.A. Dickey (76.4 percent) and he’s, uh, not throwing as many fastballs as Cole. Lee, for what it’s worth, is fifth in the league in this selection.

Better location has also translated to fewer free passes, as Hamels has only had five walks end on fastballs since the start of June, as opposed to an unsightly 17 in the season’s first two months.

Ponder these differing opponent slash lines:

April-May: .341/.408/.616, 20 K to 17 BB in 138 AB (623 pitches)
June-September 8: .273/.295/.436, 34 K to 5 BB in 227 AB (951 pitches)

The fly ball and line drive rates have ticked up, which help explain some of the still-somewhat-high SLG despite a more modest AVG. The moral of the story, though, is that Cole has refined his heater and turned it from a liability back into a weapon in and of itself, not just a set-up for the change.

The cutter is still a weakness, but its damage has been limited by less use and, when it is thrown, Hamels throwing it out of the zone when he does offer it.

And that out-of-zone location is clearly by design. Hitters are still posting an .816 OPS against the cutter, but that’s still a fair deal better than the .923 eyesore from earlier in the year. This is what’s meant by “making adjustments.”

Maybe it took a little longer for him to get righted than we’d expect in a perfect world scenario, but Hamels did get right. Flaws were found and corrected, and Hamels has reclaimed his spot among the very best starters in the league.