Cole Hamels has been among the finest starting pitchers going on six seasons now. In fantasy baseball terms, during that time span, Hamels has been a beast in most formats. He’s 7th overall in wins with 82, second in WHIP with a stingy 1.13, and 6th in strikeouts with well over 1100. And in the last two seasons, he’s seemingly taken his game to a new level, compiling 9 wins over replacement between 2011-2012. But so far this year, his results haven’t been what owners have been looking for. A 4.40 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and a 7.49 K/9 rate are all well behind his career averages.
Is he hurt? Is he on the path to mediocrity? Did he fake his birth certificate?
I can’t speak to his health, but owners need not panic. And if you’re not an owner, try to be one. My money is on good times for Hamels from here on out, and it’s probably so obvious that it hardly even needs to be pointed out. But despite that, here goes.
So far, Hamels looks like a mirror image of his career figures relative to plate discipline with the exception of one key area, that being the number of pitches in the strike zone. Now, before you go running into the streets, pitchfork and torch in hand, realize that Hamels has been successful with such a zone% as recent as last season where it was just 43.8%. One concern, however, is the research by Jeff Zimmerman which points to a greater risk of injury for pitchers under a 47% zone rate — but if you look at his game log thus far, it’s really just the one stinker vs. Kansas City that pulls his zone% down. And heck, it’s been cold out.
Go to his hit trajectory, and there’s still a lack of red flags:
So he’s giving up more home runs than he has in his career. Otherwise, it’s the same old Cole. If you had to bet your life savings on it (if you had life savings, dear readers), do you think that 13.2% will go up or down by the end of the year?
What about his velocity?!
Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament.
Overall, it’s really just an issue with walks so far this season. His career BB% is 6.3% and in 2013, it’s 10.1%. If you think that’s likely to continue, then maybe you should be concerned about your ace. But I just don’t see an inexplicable disappearance of his control from here on out. He’s had two games where he really struggled to spot the ball, but other than that he’s been pretty much as advertised. An in fact, if you look at his last six starts, he’s held opposing batters to a .186/.274/.331 slash line and posted a 2.41 ERA and a 22% strikeout rate.
It might just be my intuition, but my experience tells me that people panic more with starting pitchers because here we are in mid-May with a fifth of the season over. But it’s just eight starts for a starter, and the sample still is far too small to draw anything in the way of conclusions. You don’t have to dig very deep to realize that Cole Hamels will probably be just fine as long as he starts to cut down on the walks. There’s really little evidence to suggest otherwise.
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