The Philadelphia Phillies have been disappointing and the consensus among some pundits and fans is that Cole Hamels deserves a similar label for his 2013 performance fresh off nine innings of one-run ball against the Atlanta Braves.
In some ways, both statements are true, the former obviously has much, much more credence than the latter.
Without delving too far into the Phillies’ woes, they’re 53-66, 19.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. That deficit has dramatically increased over the past month due to a not-so-great 10-20 stretch that has all but dusted off this message: no postseason baseball in Philadelphia, again.
But amid Philadelphia’s woes, Hamels’ supposed “struggles” have become a central point of focus. After all, we are talking about the future of the Phillies’ rotation, so a rough season is obviously going to cause some concern. He’s locked up through 2019 with a massive annual salary.
Consider these three stats: 5-13, 3.65 ERA, 165 innings pitched
Those are the basic of basic stats, and, well, they’re not overly impressive, especially the record. But with that said, they can also be a bit deceiving, thus making the concern a bit overstated.
We’re not going to look too far into the lefty’s record, because that specific stat doesn’t prove much on an individual-success level. And given that the Phillies’ supply Hamels with a grand total of 3.2 runs per game (sixth-least amount of run support in baseball), it’s wise to completely discount his win-loss record.
Meanwhile, Hamels’ ERA is his highest mark since 2009. That’s some regression. As for his innings pitched total, that’s right in line with previous seasons, if not slightly better. In fact, if ZiPS’ projections hold true, Hamels’ projected total for 2013 would be 222, which would be his second-greatest total over his eight-year career. So, no worries on that front.
The casual observer is struck by his dreadful win-loss record. It just doesn’t look good, and technically, it’s not. Digging deeper, however, is the key here.
And when we dig deeper… the lefty’s peripherals aren’t so bad. He sports a solid 3.43 FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage). His career FIP sits at 3.57, so his 2013 total is by no means a bloated figure. FIP, in a nutshell, measures only what a pitcher has control over, such as strikeouts, walks and home runs.
This should sap up some of the confusion (measured in FIP):
FIP is especially handy when valuing someone like Hamels, who has a shoddy defense behind him. The Phillies’ defense ranks third-to-last in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and it’s only better than the Mariners’ defense in the DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) department. A couple of worn-down veterans and a shuffled outfield sans the speedy Ben Revere will do that to a team.
For those have followed Hamels’ career closely, the next question would probably be along the lines of: how about his changeup, aka, his best weapon in battle?
Well, it’s just fine. Very good, in fact. Per FanGraphs’, his change has yielded a .429 OPS (second-lowest mark of his career). That’s pretty much nothing, at least in terms of power.
For reference, ISO (Isolated Power) measures a hitter’s sheer power. Remember when I said that Hamels’ changeup wasn’t giving up many extra-base hits? I wasn’t lying.
The nastiness of Hamels’ changeup hasn’t faded either, as the pitch’s O-Swing% (52.7 percent) surpasses a previous career high of 50.9 percent set in 2009. His overall O-Swing%, factoring in his entire arsenal, also earns career-high honors. Although, that’s largely due to the increased nastiness of his changeup.
To simplify things, let’s just say it’s been baseball’s most effective changeup. By FanGraphs’ pitch values, that’s a true statement. Only Felix Hernandez can sniff Hamels’ changeup, while Tim Lincecum’s equalizer is a distant third. Really, it’s been that way since 2008, except the gap between Hernandez and Hamels only increases over a larger sample size.
Translation: his changeup has been and remains excellent.
How about his fastball?
The short answer is that his heater hasn’t very good. Specifically, it’s been baseball’s fourth-least effective heater, per FanGraphs’ pitch values, only better than CC Sabathia’s, Edwin Jackson’s and Ryan Dempster’s.
The standard stats prove the same point. Opponents are hitting a whopping .325 against it with an ISO of .211 and OPS of .902, all of which fall in the “good” category.
Considering the unordinary bad stats listed above, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Hamels‘ fastball is no longer serviceable. That’s a bit premature, though. He hasn’t lost any velocity, and more telling, his heater has generated a lofty .352 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). That mark screams “unlucky,” at least for Hamels, and it’s bound to come down.
I’m not going to argue that the southpaw has been as good as he was last year, or in previous years. His K/9 is down about a full strikeout from 2012, he’s allowing about one more hit per nine and his ERA+ (park-adjusted measurement) is also down.
It’s obvious that he’s taken a step or two back, but not enough to brew up a storm. Bearing in mind the fact that he has run into some bad luck/bad defensive performances, his fastball velocity hasn’t slipped and his changeup is still very effective, I’m convinced that Hamels is not having that bad of a season.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs