(Originally posted Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 4:05 pm.)
Cole Hamels’s bouncing back from a rough 2009 was one of many welcomed surprises in 2010. While a few different things were to blame for Cole’s rough ’09 – be it his slow, injured start to the year or plain old bad luck at times – there seems to have been a noticeable change in his approach and, consequently, a change in his pitches’ locations.
That’s a statement that seems sort of obvious in its elemental nature; Cole had a better season and, at its core, that was because he made better pitches. That’s something we saw throughout the 2010 season, but not something we could tangibly see in detail. Well, until now, anyway.
After the jump, let’s take a look at two of Cole’s pitches and how they differed in 2009 and 2010.
Fastball vs. LHB
A big part of Hamels’s 2010 success was his improved performance against left-handed batters. Back in 2009, lefties hit Cole at a .242/.295/.416 clip, for an about-average .711 OPS. In 2010, that line changed across the board (.196/.305/.340), showing an increased propensity for walks, but more restraint on hits and damaging extra-base hits in nearly identical sets of plate appearances.
One factor for this improvement is Hamels’s supercharged fastball. Fangraphs says Cole averaged nearly two extra MPH on his fastball for the season, a large bump up from ’09. Add to that the refinement on his cutter, and Hamels had two plus (or near-plus; the cutter improved, but isn’t quite as good yet) pitches to use against same-handed batters.
The most immediately noticeable difference is Cole’s extended plate coverage. Instead of simply relying on painting the outside corner – with the occasional jammer – Cole used his heater and cutter across the breadth of the plate, and trusting his stuff enough to throw out of the zone and have hitters chase.*
* And chase they did. Hitters swung at 29.7 percent of Cole’s out-of-zone pitches, a large increase from 2009’s 26.8 percent figure in that department
Changeup vs. RHB
Cole’s best pitch has always been just that, and rarely in his career has it let him down. While the change to RHB wasn’t exactly ineffective in 2009, Cole nevertheless changed its use when dealing with opposite-handed batters.
In 2009, opposing righties hit .256/.275/.405 against the change, with that line changing to .244/.280/.383 in 2010. Again, we see a pattern similar to that of the fastball, where Cole limited had reduced hits against, but also saw his walk tendency rise a bit in the meantime. The positive to that is that the walk rate never got to a damaging point, and a .280 opposing OBP is quite tidy.
These two alterations in approach – compounded with whatever intangible changes in attitude may or may not have occurred – Cole Hamels was able to return to his true form in 2010.
Thanks as always to BaseballAnalytics for their wonderful analytical tool.