Don't freak out about Cole Hamels

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hamels_cole_091022.jpgUPDATE: Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley comes to a similar conclusion, if you are looking for a more in-depth analysis.

1:45 PM: Facts are facts. Cole Hamels was knocked around pretty good by the Diamondbacks on Friday night, giving up a career-high four home runs, including three in the fourth inning. Hamels has allowed seven home runs over his first 24 2/3 innings this season, and according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he has served up 14 home runs over his last 40 2/3 innings if we include the 2009 postseason.

Pretty ugly numbers, but certainly nothing to panic about quite yet. Despite a 5.11 ERA, Hamels still has a very healthy 26/6 K/BB ratio over his first four starts and isn’t allowing any more flyballs than he usually does (37 percent flyball rate as opposed to 39.4 percent for his career). What has changed is his HR/FB rate, which currently sits at 25.9 percent. That simply won’t continue. xFIP (a statistic that attempts to normalize a pitcher’s home run rate) currently has Hamels at a much more palatable 3.26.

I realize these are just statistics and Hamels still has to go out there and actually execute a complete gameplan — oddly, he only threw 16 changeups last night, largely abandoning his best pitch — but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest he’s just riding out a period of very bad luck. We’ll see.
 

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.