Through the first 10 days of the season, we’ve started to recondition ourselves to deal with the ups and downs of the 162 game grind. We are reminded that patience is an absolute must and that you shouldn’t overreact to small sample sizes, even though we usually can’t help ourselves. As the season continues to settle in, we begin to realize which players we can count on to regularly produce and be the cornerstones of this roster. We find out which players will right the ship when things go wheels off and help restore confidence when it’s waning. In a game of highs and lows, there’s a lot to be said for consistency. When it comes to pitching, Cole Hamels is certainly that player.
Hamels is a true ace that has been an incredibly consistent player throughout his career. He’s the guy you want to give the ball to with everything on the line and the stopper you count on to end a losing streak. Despite never finishing higher than 5th in Cy Young voting, he’s been an elite pitcher during his 11 seasons in the majors. He’s been a somewhat under the radar ace in recent years while the team he played for was rebuilding, which limited his ability to produce the outlier type of season that tends to garner national attention. It’s also been quite a while since his biggest accomplishment, World Series MVP in 2008.
The real value in Hamels is in his overall consistency and reliability. He’s been exactly the player that Philly sold to us. If JD and the Rangers had to rate the Phillies as sellers like this was baseball EBay, they would no doubt give Philly 5 out of 5 stars for the quality product and overall experience from last year’s deal. Let’s take a look and what Hamels has done so far in Texas compared to what he did in his time in Philly:
Even though the sample size is still fairly small with him not exceeding 100 innings in a Rangers uniform, he’s been right on par with his career numbers in Philly. The very slight increase in his averages can easily be attributed to a move from the NL to the AL. He’s completely delivered on expectations so far and should help calm your nerves when we get a sketchy start from one of the back-end guys.
Should we feel good about Hamels going forward? Absolutely. He’s a player that has aged very well and his continued success will likely be attributed to a consistent arsenal of pitches. Unlike aging power arms, Hamels didn’t have to reinvent himself when he was suddenly on the wrong side of 30. He’s always been a finesse pitcher that uses the deception of the fastball and changeup to keep the hitters off balance. When I first saw Hamels pitch nearly 10 years ago, he struck me as a bootleg Johan Santana. Not quite as explosive as Johan but a similar repertoire. In many ways, that initial comparison turned out to be accurate but it’s possible that having less explosive stuff led to superior longevity and consistency for Hamels.
The difference in velocity from the fastball and changeup is absolutely critical for pitchers like Hamels and Santana. It’s the key to keeping hitters off balance and can be the difference between being an ace and being a spare. The chart below sums up what has made Cole Hamels a reliable major league ace for over 10 years. First, notice the average velocity of his fastball from 2007 to this year. He’s practically throwing the same fastball now at age 32 as he did during his first full season at age 23. The same can be said for the changeup as well.
|Fangraphs PITCHf/x||2007 (23)||2008 (24)||2009 (25)||2010 (26)||2011 (27)||2012 (28)||2013 (29)||2014 (30)||2015 (31)||2016 (32)|
Hamels has maintained at least a 7 mph difference throughout his career and will continue to be a very effective pitcher as long as he can do so. It’s worth noting that the listed numbers for 2016 are based on just two starts and very likely to improve as the weather warms up.
While the fastball and changeup have been Hamels bread and butter, he does throw other pitches. He’s featured a curve throughout his career but has never thrown more than 20% of the time in any season. He’s dabbled with a slider in the past but rarely used it in game situations. His current repertoire includes his 4-seam fastball, changeup, and curve along with a cutter and two-seamer. It’s very possible the lack of breaking pitches have contributed to his overall durability.
The consistent stuff from Hamels has led to results that you can set your watch to. He’s almost always in the mix for 200 IP/200 K, which is something that we haven’t regularly seen in Arlington. I took a look at Hamels season high/low totals in both IP and K’s, the numbers are just what you’d expect. To further show how consistent he’s been, I removed his highest and lowest totals to eliminate any potential outliers.
|RANGE||CAREER LOW||CAREER HIGH||NEXT LOWEST||NEXT HIGHEST|
These numbers cover 2007-2015, which are his full major league seasons from start to finish. I didn’t include his 2006 rookie season in when he came up in May and delivered 145K in 132.1 IP.
On top of being a great pitcher, Hamels is a guy you want to have around the clubhouse. He really seemed to fit in well from day one and appears to be a player that gets it. He exudes confidence and garners respect from the other players on the team not only because of his previous track record but also what he currently brings to the table. His value as a role model to younger pitchers can’t be underestimated either. He’s a professional that can lead just by being himself at this point.
We look forward to more of the same from Cole Hamels. He’s the ace we’ve never had (under contract) but always wanted. Cliff Lee was certainly an ace but didn’t want to be here. Yu Darvish has ace stuff but hasn’t given us ace type consistency. Hamels delivers both and then some. I expect him to keep giving us that extra inning when the bullpen needs it and to keep making that critical pitch when the game hangs in the balance. He takes his 9-1 career mark as a Ranger to the mound tonight at home against Baltimore and I really hope I didn’t jinx him.