Saturday, October 31, 2009
Even Phillies underestimate Hamels
Cole Hamels is perfectly capable of going out tonight and getting hammered. He's human, plus the Yankees probably have the best lineup in our solar system. But he's also perfectly capable of going out tonight and holding the Yankees to just a few runs, because he's actually a pretty good pitcher.
You'd hardly know that, though, the way everybody's talking. And writing. From Philly.com on the eve of Game 4:
Hamels is 1-1 in three starts this postseason. His ERA is an unsightly 6.75. He has allowed 20 hits, including six homers, in 142/3 innings. Opponents have batted a whopping .328. Lefthanded batters are hitting .600 (9 for 15) with a 1.267 slugging percentage.
These ugly numbers came on the heels of a season in which last year's World Series MVP was inconsistent from start to finish. In his final three regular-season starts, Hamels was 0-2 with a 7.02 ERA. That makes his ERA 6.89 over his last six starts.
Though tonight's game is foremost on the minds of everyone in the Phils' organization, manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee have already begun to think toward the future and how they can help Hamels rebound from this year's disappointing season.
Hamels has struggled with his third pitch, the curveball, and that has made his mostly fastball-change-up repertoire too predictable.
A starting pitcher can win with two pitches -- look at what A.J. Burnett did with a fastball and curveball in Game 2 - but he can't do it consistently. In an era when teams play each other within their division up to 18 times, a reality that can lead to familiarity, it is imperative that a starter have a deep arsenal of pitches to keep hitters off balance.
After nearly four full seasons in the majors, Hamels, 25, is experiencing something all pitchers go through. The league has gotten to know him and his patterns. He must stay a step ahead.
"I don't know if the league has figured him out," Manuel said. "I think the league knows more about him and sits on his fastball or change-up. They can spend a whole at-bat totally looking for that pitch."
I wouldn't dare suggest that learning a fourth pitch -- or replacing his curveball with something better -- isn't worth trying. Hamels is young, and it would be foolish to assume that he'll be the same pitcher, or should be the same pitcher, in five years that he is today.
But the notion there is something wrong with Hamels is simply preposterous.
We know there are three things the great majority of pitchers can control: the number of home runs he gives up, the number of batters he walks, and the number of batters he strikes out. We can talk about knuckleballers and extreme ground-ball pitchers and whatnot, but that Rule of Three holds true for nearly every pitcher, including Cole Hamels.
If you like, you can take a shortcut and combine the walks and the strikeouts into one nifty statistic: strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Here are Hamels' strikeout-to-walk ratio in each of the last three seasons: 4.1, 3.7, 3.9.
Here are Hamels' home runs allowed per nine innings in each of those seasons: 1.2, 1.1, 1.1.
In the most meaningful measures of a pitcher's performance, independent of luck and defense, Hamels' performance in each of the last three seasons has been practically identical. And everybody would know this if not for the sick, 20th century obsession with wins and losses and ERA.
We know better, though. I just hope Hamels does, too. I'd hate to see him throw away a great career in the pursuit of a new pitch that he doesn't particularly need.