Scouting report on Cole Hamels

Prior to Game One of the World Series, I brought you my scouting report on Rays’ starter Scott Kazmir. I intended to bring you my scouting report on the Phillies starter at the same time, but I ran into a little wrinkle because I realized at the last moment that Cole Hamels had added a new pitch in September, so I had to redo my analysis with that in mind.

Hamels and Kazmir are slated to start Game Five on Monday night with the Series on the line for the Rays, who are down three games to one to the Phillies. Hamels has had a great postseason, allowing only five runs in four starts.

Cole Hamels is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, but unlike Kazmir, deception is the name of the game for Hamels. He features a 90-mph four-seam fastball and a 79-mph change-up as his two primary pitches, with a curveball and a two-seam fastball added occasionally to mix things up.

Against left-handed hitters, Hamels threw his four-seam fastball about 42 percent of the time late in the year, 57 percent of the time earlier in the year. (I’ll explain in a moment.) Although he worked both sides of the plate with the four-seamer, he tended to keep the ball up and away. He was always around the zone with this pitch, throwing it for strikes 69 percent of the time. Left-handed hitters were able to get the fastball in the air when they made contact. When Hamels came inside, they were able to pull the ball with power, hitting six of 18 fly balls over the right field wall. When Hamels threw the four-seamer down and away from lefties, they drove it into the left-center field gap, hitting three doubles and one home run on six balls in the air to the outfield. When putting the fastball in play, lefthanders hit .294, which compares favorably for Hamels to the National League average of .327 on balls in play (including home runs). However, he allowed a .651 slugging percentage on the four-seamer to lefthanders, which is poor compared to the league slugging of .519 on balls in play.

To right-handed hitters, Hamels threw his four-seam fastball 47 percent of the time late in the year (54 percent earlier in the year). He worked roughly equally across the plate, but he tended to keep the fastball up in the zone more often than down. He wasn’t in the zone to righthanders quite as much as to lefthanders, but he still displayed good control, throwing 67 percent strikes. He was still somewhat home-run prone with the four-seamer to righties, but not as badly as he was to lefties. He got some swings and misses when he kept the ball up and away, but that was also where he was most vulnerable to the home run. He got his best results along the inside edge, generating a lot of popups and ground balls. Overall, Hamels got good results with the four-seamer on balls in play, with righthanders hitting for a .264 average and .486 slugging.

His big weapon is a change-up, his strikeout pitch against both righthanders and lefthanders. Against left-handed hitters Hamels used the change-up about 24 percent of the time throughout most of the year. From his September 13 start onward, when he added a two-seam fastball, he used the change-up a little more often–28 percent of the time. He was in the zone a lot, throwing an outstanding 75 percent strikes with the change, pounding the zone but concentrating low and away. He got a swing and miss on 18 percent of the change-ups he threw to lefthanders. When the change-up was put in play by a left-handed hitter, however, Hamels didn’t get very good results, allowing a .383 average and .596 slugging percentage. He did get 24 ground balls out of 45 balls in play, but he had some poor luck, allowing four infield singles among seven hits on those 24 ground balls (a .291 average). He also allowed eight singles on nine line drives and a single, a double, and three home runs on 10 fly balls. It seems that he had bad luck on balls in play off the change-up; however, most of those balls were pulled, as is typical for change-ups, and batters do hit significantly better for both average and power on pitches that they pull.

Against righthanders, the change-up is a killer pitch. Hamels used the change 34 percent of the time most of the year and 40 percent of the time in September and October after adding the two-seamer. He threw it for strikes 73 percent of the time, and batter swung and missed at 23 percent of the change-ups he saw, particularly when he located it anywhere from thigh-high down to the shoe tops. He tended to throw the change-up down and away but wasn’t afraid to come inside with it, either. Even when right-handed hitters made contact, they didn’t have much luck. They pounded the ball into the ground to the left side of the infield. The pitcher, catcher, shortstop, and third baseman fielded 77 ground balls out of 202 change-ups put in play. Righthanders managed only a .277 average and .403 slugging when they put the change-up in play (including three home runs).

His third pitch is a 75-mph curveball, which he threw to lefthanders 19 percent of the time April-August and 15 percent of the time thereafter. He doesn’t have particularly good command of the curve, missing the zone 46 percent of the time. He did get some swings and misses down and away, but if he got it across the middle of the plate, the left-handed hitters feasted on it, the tune of a .400 average and .840 slugging on balls in play. The curveball is not a plus pitch for Hamels against hitters from the same side.

To righties, he threw the curveball 12 percent of the time most of the year and 10 percent of the time in September-October. He had poor control, throwing only 51 percent strikes and often missing way up out of the zone. He didn’t get many swings and misses–only six percent of curves, but he had better results on balls in play. He didn’t allow a home run on 16 fly balls hit off the curve, and 15 of 16 ground balls were turned into outs. That probably shows a little bit of good luck on balls in play, which contributed to a nice .213 average and .255 slugging allowed on the curveball to right-handed hitters.

Finally, we come to his fourth pitch. What, you didn’t know Cole Hamels had four pitches? I didn’t either, until I noticed something peculiar in the data from September and October as I was double-checking to make sure I had correctly differentiated all the fastballs from change-ups. Beginning September 13 against the Brewers, Hamels introduced a two-seam fastball, a 89-mph pitch that tails by half a foot more and drops a couple inches more compared to his four-seamer. He might have thrown it once or twice before September 13, but it’s been a regular offering since then. If he could or would throw the pitch for strikes more often, I suspect it would be a fairly effective weapon for him against lefties.

Against lefthanders, he has used the new two-seamer 15 percent of the time. However, he has mostly stayed off the plate inside with the pitch, throwing it for strikes only 47 percent of the time. Balls in play comprise a pretty small sample size, but he’s gotten four ground ball outs and allowed one line drive double to left-handed hitters on the two-seam fastball. Two of those ground ball outs were by Carlos Pena and Prince Fielder into the right-side infield overshift.

Against righthanders, he has only used the two-seam fastball 16 times, or 3 percent of his pitches since adding the new pitch to his game-day arsenal. Half of those missed as balls, and three were put in play: a double, a fly out, and a ground out.

So that’s the short story on Phillies ace Cole Hamels–pretty good fastball, killer change-up, mediocre curveball, somewhat prone to the home run, and trying out a new two-seamer.

P.S. For a great article on Cole Hamels, try this one by Michael Bamberger at SI.

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