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-.