Cole Hamels’ Early Struggles


Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The opening week of the 2013 Major League Baseball season is now officially in the books. While most contemporary fans of the game are savvy enough to understand that one week sample sizes aren’t generally the most reliable representation of a player’s performance, the temptation to overreact to early returns often times still exists. Take a player who pitches in one of the most notoriously harsh sports towns in the country, slap a big new contract on him, add in a couple of poor outings, and you have yourself a solid candidate for some good-ole-fashioned overreaction.

Enter: Cole Hamels.

So far this season, Hamels has thrown 10.2 innings, and they haven’t been very good (13 earned runs, 5 walks, 4 home runs). The early results have been bad, but there is bound to be a lot of noise in the statistics when dealing with such a small sample size. Therefore, rather than looking at Hamels’ outcomes so far this season, it will likely be more enlightening to examine the process that led to them. How is his velocity? How is the movement on his pitches? Answering these questions, rather than simply looking at an extremely small sample of outcomes, will provide some insight as to whether there is anything potentially wrong with Hamels.

Through two starts, Hamels’ velocity has not been a problem. In fact, his average fastball velocity so far, 92 mph, is actually higher than it was last year, 91.2 mph. Typically, a pitcher’s velocity is lower in April than it is at any other point in the season, so the increase is a very encouraging sign. Higher velocity directly correlates with higher strikeout rates, so it’s fairly safe to assume the early lack in strikeouts is probably a result of the variance that occurs in such small sample sizes.

In addition to increased velocity, Hamels has actually had more movement on his pitches so far this season as well. According to pitch-fx data, each pitch in Hamels’ repertoire has been moving more this year than the averages for his career. His fastball, changeup, and curveball all have increased horizontal and vertical movement, while his cutter has increased vertical movement despite moving slightly less horizontally. Therefore, as far as movement goes, Hamels also appears to be okay.

Cole Hamels has not had a great start to his 2013 campaign, but it’s important to remember that strange things happen over one week samples. Batters get lucky on balls in play, fly balls sneak over for homeruns (see: Billy Butler grandslam off Hamels last Sunday), and a whole host of other factors come into play. What is important at this stage of the season is that there has been no drop in velocity or drastic change in pitch selection/movement to cause any red flags. In all likelihood, Cole Hamels is just fine.