The Curious Case of Cole Hamels

May 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Fan News

When Cole Hamels won the World Series MVP award at the tender age of 24, few doubted that he had a very promising career ahead of him. 

He was the toast of Philadelphia, the unquestioned staff ace, and the heir to Steve “Lefty” Carlton. 

The only problem was that reality intervened, and the last two years have been riddled with speed bumps for the young Hamels.

In 2009 he was plagued by injuries, bad luck, and the occasional verbal gaffe. He went from dominating postseason ace to struggling third starter behind the rejuvenated Pedro Martinez and the cutter-throwing, Southern-talking, easygoing, dyed-in-the-wool season savior, Cliff Lee.

When Lee was traded in the following offseason, the scrutiny of Hamels only grew. 

During the 2010 preseason, the Phillies camp was filled with stories of Hamels’ work ethic. He had improved his arm strength, solidified his curveball, and added a new cutter.

The ace was back.

But so far, the early results from the 2010 season have been inconclusive. 

He has continued to struggle, and Phillies fans have become increasingly restless. 

Hamels’ latest outing, last night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, seems to be a pretty good representation of his young career as a whole.

Through eight innings, Hamels was dealing. 

He had given up only six hits and allowed no runs while striking out eight. But then, in the top of the ninth inning, after an ill-timed distraction by a fan, Hamels allowed two straight doubles to tie the game. 

The effort was solid and looked pretty good on paper, but the end result left you wanting just a little bit more. 

But if you take a closer look, there is little reason to doubt that Hamels will figure it out this season and at the very least remain a very solid No. 2 starter behind Roy Halladay.

Hamels currently has a 4.42 ERA, good for 34th among National League starters.

Now if you see that number alone, you are understandably very worried. 

But if there is one thing that the new era of baseball has taught us, it is that some statistics can be very misleading.

Instead of using ERA to condemn Hamels, we should instead look into exactly why that number is so high.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, or xFIP, attempts to quantify only the things that pitcher himself can control. It ignores park factors and defense while accounting for strikeouts and walks. It normalizes a pitcher’s HR/fly ball rate and quantifies this on an ERA scale. 

Hamels’ xFIP is 3.31, good for seventh among National League starters.

Now this does not mean that Cole Hamels is the seventh best pitcher in the NL, but what it does show us is that Hamels has actually pitched quite solidly. His biggest weakness is that the majority of the fly balls he has given up have turned into home runs.

If you look at his Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP, which is an unusually high .356, it shows that Hamels has also been unlucky on ground balls and line drives that have come from his hits allowed.

These two numbers suggest that Hamels has actually pitched much better than his ERA reveals, and that number should decline significantly over the course of the year. 

Factor in his very solid K/9 rate of 10.24, and it is not inconceivable that Hamels could turn out to be one of the best No. 2 starters in MLB this year.

So do not fret, Phillies fans. The numbers show that although the utterly dominating Cole Hamels of the 2008 postseason might not be back, the 2010 version should be more than serviceable. 

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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