The Real Explanation for Cole Hamels’ Mets-Related Woes

At CSN Philly, Corey Seidman examines the struggles Cole Hamels has had against the New York Mets throughout the years. It was highlighted by Tuesday’s rain-soaked, walks-riddled start in which Hamels issued five free passes along with eight hits. He did not escape the fifth inning.

Seidman writes:

But the main issue seems to be the Mets’ approach to Hamels. They wait him out. They make him throw pitches. GM Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins have preached plate discipline since Day 1 and it especially shows against Hamels.

On Tuesday, Eric Young Jr. began the game with a six-pitch at-bat. In the fourth inning, when Hamels walked four batters, he threw six pitches to four different Mets. In this particular game, it was a case of Hamels simply not locating. It was a cold, wet night and his pitches were all over the place.

But more often than not, the Mets make him work and let him beat himself.

Seidman adds that of the seven instances in which Hamels has walked five or more in a game, three of them have come against the Mets.

But, shockingly enough, Hamels has a higher career walk rate — than his 6.3 percent unintentional walk rate in 164 2/3 innings against the Mets — against seven other opponents. Of course, he’s racked up fewer than 15 innings against five of them, but the other two are the Cincinnati Reds (7.4% unintentional walk rate in 68 2/3 innings) and the Atlanta Braves (7.1% in 190 2/3 innings).

So why does Hamels have a 4.65 ERA against the Mets, but 1.70 against the Reds and 3.54 against the Braves? The Mets have by far the highest BABIP against Hamels than any other team he’s faced more than three times.

Hamels Opponent G PA Babip
New York Mets 27 726 .367
Houston Astros 10 274 .319
Colorado Rockies 7 192 .311
San Francisco Giants 12 353 .310
Los Angeles Dodgers 8 218 .284
Washington Nationals 28 748 .284
Miami Marlins 29 775 .279
Atlanta Braves 31 773 .278
St. Louis Cardinals 10 241 .274
Arizona Diamondbacks 9 244 .273
Milwaukee Brewers 11 295 .269
Chicago Cubs 7 180 .256
Pittsburgh Pirates 7 198 .254
Boston Red Sox 5 123 .218
San Diego Padres 14 363 .218
Cincinnati Reds 10 267 .203

Hamels’ career average BABIP is .288, so hits are falling in about eight percent more often than they normally do. Since the start of 2010, Hamels has averaged 19 balls put in play per start, so an eight percent difference accounts for about 1.5 hits, or between one and two hits per game, which is not all that meaningful.

What we have here is using a narrative to explain, post hoc, a statistical outlier. That an item is a statistical outlier is not interesting, so we have to come up with other explanations. We would find outliers looking at any pitcher’s stats against various opponents. Cliff Lee, for example, has a career .300 BABIP. Two opponents, the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, are way above at .369 and .360, respectively. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are way below, at .238 and .227, respectively. It’s less interesting to highlight symmetric good and bad fortune against NL West opponents, however, because it doesn’t lend itself to a reasonable narrative.

Even if we look at walk rate, we find similar outliers in Lee’s history. Lee’s career average walk rate is five percent. Among teams he’s faced at least ten times, the Twins and Athletics are way above at 7.5 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively. The Braves are way below at 1.8 percent.

The explanation’s for any player’s abnormal performance against a single opponent could be simple randomness. Or it could be any of a number of variables adding up — poor game conditions, certain players getting more playing time and affecting the defense, jet lag, an organizational directive (e.g. the Athletics’ appreciation for drawing walks), etc. Or a mix of both randomness and other influences.

If we were to create a narrative for every outlier, the narratives would lose our interest just as quickly. Think of it as “the boy who cried wolf” of sportswriting. So we pick and choose which outliers make for the best stories and run with it. We should expect outliers for almost every set of baseball data. It would be way more shocking if there were no outliers at all — that would be worth writing about.

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3 comments

  1. Tomg

    May 01, 2014 05:31 AM

    Thanks to Ron Darling on the Mets’ broadcast the other night, we know why Cole does poorly against the Mets. In ’08, Cole called them “choke artists” and ever since then, something something, and now, years of losing to the Mets and a poor ERA later, they’re in his head and so he goes out and tries to pitch well every time he faces them and, as always happens when pitchers try to pitch well, he “tries to do too much” – in Cole’s case, according to RD, he tries to pitch a no hitter every time – and inevitably, by trying to pitch well, he pitches poorly because in Ron Darling’s universe, dropped objects fall up.

    Need further proof? Glad you asked. Years ago, according to Darling, Doc Gooden called the Pirates a bunch of little leaguers and then he never beat them again! (If your site allowed the embedding of dramatic music, I would soooooo embed some here.)

    Ladies and gentlemen … The Prestige!

    More proof from building on The Darling Principle: In 2007, JRoll pissed the Mets off by saying the Phils were the team to beat in the NL East, and we all know how that ended: The Mets beat the Rays in 6 in the ’08 series and JRoll went on to a career of popping up every single pitch he faced and never hustling to first, which was a shame, because before that, it truly looked as tho he had a chance of becoming an all-time leader in multiple offensive categories for the Phillies franchise but now? Pffft! We all know that’s a pipe dream.

    Okay, now that I have demonstrated my full grasp of sabermetric principles above, when do I start my new high-powered, non-paying career as a Crashburn Alley columnist?

    • Mike E

      May 01, 2014 10:36 AM

      Life’s what you make it.

  2. mark66

    May 02, 2014 10:45 AM

    The above article is the reason why Hamels should have been pulled earlier in the game. Apparently Sandberg sacrificed the game.

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