2013 Phillies Report Card: Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels carried an ERA north of 4.00 into August. He was Jekyll & Hyde throughout most of the season, putting together a seven-inning, one-run start here, and a five-inning, four-run start there. He put it together in the final two months, though, allowing more than three runs in just one of his last 11 starts.

Unlike his 2009 struggles, Hamels was responsible for his misfortune this time. He finished with a .295 BABIP, per FanGraphs. Though his career average is .283, a 12-point difference wouldn’t explain why his ERA jumped 55 points over last year’s effort. He wasn’t even more prone to home runs — he allowed three fewer than he did last year in more or less the same amount of innings.

One problem was that he was worse at generating swings and misses. His strikeout rate declined by 2.6 percent and his overall swinging strike rate declined by 2.1 percent. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but consider that opposing hitters swung at 1,774 pitches during the 2013 season. A 2.1 percent decrease means 37 fewer swings and misses. That’s a combination of 37 more balls in play or foul balls prolonging an at-bat.

Combine that with poorer performance with runners in scoring position. It could be fluky — he had a 50-point BABIP increase with RISP — but opponents did slug over 100 points better against him in 2013 as opposed to 2012 with runners in scoring position. He was in the strike zone about six percent more often as well.

Hamels finished with a 3.60 ERA, just two-tenths of a run of ERA above his career average. By defense-independent measures, it was his worst performance since 2009. For example, xFIP put him at 3.44 in 2013, 3.23 in 2012, and 3.63 in 2009. No, it’s not the trend you want to see after signing Hamels to a six-year, $144 million extension as the Phillies did in July 2012, but it’s also not a substantial issue worth keeping yourself up at night worrying about. Hamels still ranks as one of the best left-handed starters in baseball — though Clayton Kershaw has created a gulf the size of a football field between himself and everyone else — and the Phillies should feel quite comfortable with a 1-2 punch in the rotation that includes Hamels and Cliff Lee.

Had Hamels not had a hell of a rebound in the final two months, I would have issued a much harsher grade, but I’m giving him an A-.

Michael Paul Eric Ryan
A- B- A- B-

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12 comments

  1. hk

    November 16, 2013 07:53 AM

    A+

    Cole would have had a lower ERA if the manager or general manager had asked him to.

  2. Major Malfunction

    November 16, 2013 07:58 AM

    Considering the defense behind him the majority of the time, any increased contact would result in higher ERA. Its amazing he finished where he did with a lower swing/miss rate.

  3. hk

    November 16, 2013 08:10 AM

    Good points, Major. It’s anecdotal, but my memory seems to tell me that Michael Young was especially horrific on defense when Cole was on the mound this year. It is worth noting that his wOBA against and BABIP were better in August and September (when Asche was getting the majority of the starts) than in April through July (when Young was the regular 3B).

  4. Larry

    November 16, 2013 11:11 AM

    2 of the reasons why Cole Hamels struggled so much in 2013:

    1. He has to work on his pick off move. He gave up the most stolen bases in the NL. (25)

    2. In all of baseball including the AL, he gave up more doubles than any other pitcher (62) which was 12 more than any NL pitcher.

    With all the steals and doubles, teams were always in scoring position, hence his ERA was 3.60. The bigger problem was obviously the doubles 18 more than his career high.

    On a side note he had a career high in HBP with 9 which didn’t help his cause either.

  5. hk

    November 16, 2013 12:29 PM

    Larry,

    That’s an interesting point about the doubles and it somewhat jives with my comment – the second one, not the first one – above. During March through July, 7.6% of the batters facing Hamels hit 2B’s. In August and September, that number dropped to 5.4% of the batters. Maybe going from a cigar store to an actual MLB level fielder at 3B made a lot of difference for Hamels.

  6. Larry

    November 16, 2013 01:03 PM

    HK,

    Yeah when I look at the defense of Michael Young, DY, Revere, and Brown the 1st half of the season, that can’t help any pitcher. Though if I calculated it right, Cole gave up the 2nd most extra base hits in baseball with 86. (HRs + Triples + Doubles). It’s amazing that his ERA was only 3.60.

    Cliff Lee was right in line with the doubles he gave up, 2 less than last year 41, with 11 more innings pitched this year. So I’m not sure what to think. My gut says it wasn’t all Cole’s fault with the eye test of the horrible defense. However, 62 doubles is a lot. In fact, it’s the 2nd most allowed by any pitcher in over a decade.

    It’s also the most ever in the NL East. This got me curious about the all time record which says Cole is now tied for 7th most in a single season in baseball history. The other guy who is 7th, pitched 74.2 more innings his season than Cole did this year. This information blew my mind. I would like to see a chart where these doubles went. Did Michael Young have a lot to do with this?

  7. Pencilfish

    November 16, 2013 02:45 PM

    hk,

    A+ for Hamels in 2013? So this is his best season ever? If you imply Hamels inflated numbers are mostly due to the bad defense behind him (and you get no argument from me on this point), what about Lee? The same defense played behind him, too. Btw, what grade would you give Lee then?

  8. hk

    November 16, 2013 03:09 PM

    Pencilfish,

    It was a joke. Google “Jack Morris says” and you’ll get the reference.

  9. Major Malfunction

    November 16, 2013 04:08 PM

    Pencilfish
    Without even looking it up, Lee probably benefitted by leading the league in first pitch strikes and high swing/miss numbers. Lee would rarely induce solid contact and certainly not at the rate Hamel’s did. Getting 1st pitch strikes significantly tilts the outcome in the pitcher’s favor.

    I did not look up these stats but I watched enough to feel confident in that summarization.

  10. GB

    November 17, 2013 11:29 AM

    “Unlike in 2009, Hamels was responsible for his misfortune”…while I agree with the points you made and agree Hamels needs to work on those things, some other elements cannot be ignored…the bad offense and defense…I do not have the numbers, but it seemed Hamels was the victim of poor offensive run production in at least a group of his starts and the defense let him down as well. Its hard for a pitcher to consistently overcome the opponent and his own team issues at the same time…

  11. smitty

    November 17, 2013 12:05 PM

    Without the benefit of statistical data which the writer seems to have – it seemed evident to me in watching 15 – 20 of his starts that he was constantly befuddled by foul balls. His pitch counts were invariably run up by fouls and he would get into favorable strike/ball situations only to give up 3-5 foul balls.

  12. Rellis

    November 17, 2013 12:56 PM

    My brother lives in Baltimore and Cole Hamels name is always brought up. They would love to have Cole in Baltimore. Perhaps RAJ should listen since Hamels will never be appreciated in this town.

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