Cole Hamels: Still the Same Pitcher?

by Eno Sarris //

By traditional statistics, Cole Hamels has oscillated some in his short time in the major leagues:

2006: 4.08 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2007: 3.39 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
2008: 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
2009: 4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2010: 3.98 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

One
could safely say that he’s been an elite pitcher, a good pitcher, and a league-average pitcher if you use the old statistics. Since we do use
the old stats in fantasy baseball, it’s worth noting Hamels’
depreciated value, represented here by spider graphs from the Bloomberg
Sports Fantasy Tools.
Looks like a mediocre year, especially for a “former” top starter.HamelsGrab.jpg

Coming as it does on the heels of his poor
postseason play last year, his performance in 2010 might seem to show
an early decline for the 27-year-old pitcher, at a time when most are
peaking. Then again, less traditional stats have something quite
different to say about Cole Hamels:

2006: 3.98 FIP, 3.68 xFIP
2007: 3.83 FIP, 3.51 xFIP
2008: 3.72 FIP, 3.63 xFIP
2009: 3.72 FIP, 3.69 xFIP
2010: 4.63 FIP, 3.69 xFIP

FIP
is fielding independing pitching, a number that runs on a scale similar to ERA, while stripping out factors such as batted ball luck and bullpen support to get at the underlying ability of a
pitcher to strike batters out and reduce walks. Meanwhile, xFIP is similar but
corrects for home run rates. For example, Hamels this year has a 1.62
HR/9 rate, (1.21 career), but is giving up the fewest flyballs of his
career (36.1% this year, 39.2% career). For some reason, 17.6% of his
fly balls are leaving the park, when it’s usually only 10% that do so across baseball.
By regressing his home run rate towards where it might be if his flyballs acted more like the average flyball, we find
that Hamels has been pretty much the same guy all five years he’s been
in the big leagues. In fact, his xFIP has been remarkably steady.

Then there’s the fact that, in some ways, he’s been better
this year. He’s sporting the second-best strikeout rate of his career,
and the best groundball rate. Those are the two best outcomes a pitcher
can have, so this is not some insignificant change. His fundamental skills are getting
better.

Looking at his pitching mix, one thing does stand out
as being a little different this year. Hamels is using his changeup at
a career-low level (23.7%, vs. 30.6% career). Considering that the pitch is
his best in his arsenal (+68.7 runs career by linear weights, and the
only positive pitch he owns), it seems a bit strange to back off the
changeup. By some systems, he may be tinkering with a cutter, and most
pitching coaches would want their star starters to own more than a
fastball and a changeup. But Hamels’ cutter has been, to date, a negative
(-3.9 runs). The changeup is his major weapon, and he needs to
throw it more often. ESPN’s TMI blog (pay link) even reported that when Cole Hamels
throws 22% or more of his pitches as changeups, his ERA is 3.67
and the Phillies are 6-1. His ERA this year is 4.50 and the team is 1-4 when he doesn’t reach 22% changeups.

Hamels
has basically been the same pitcher his whole career. While he’s
striking out a few more batters this year, and keeping the ball on the
ground a little better, he’s also walking a few too many. Moreover, he needs to
throw his changeup more.

The full picture is one of a pitcher
that has a put-away pitch and a good idea of what he is doing. If you
can acquire Hamels on the cheap, now is the time to do it. Once the
home runs start to normalize, he will push his ERA down towards the mid-3s, improve his WHIP
and be a valuable, front-line fantasy pitcher.

For more on Cole Hamels and other good buy-low pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits

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