Hamels’ consequences

This is part two of a look at Cole Hamels. Part one took a look at Hamels’ pitch mix and is overall performance. In short, we compared Hamels using only three pitches to Hamels using four (or more) and found his best performance came during the three-pitch periods. We also wondered if his newest pitch—a cut fastball—was already on the way out.

In his last game, which happened before the first article went to press (sic), Hamels threw 14 percent cutters, no sinkers, 16 percent change-ups, 8 percent curveballs and 62 percent fastballs. So the cutter is back two games in a row after taking nearly two full games off. The two-seam fastball remained on the shelf. Looks like we can stick with the same four stretches of play for Hamels:

Pre-Sinker: 4/2/2008 – 9/7/2008
Sinker’s Peak: 9/13/2008 – 8/15/2009
Fewer Sinkers: 8/21/2009 – 10/31/2009
With Cutters: 2010

Let’s try and answer the questions that came up last time.

1. Was the new pitch effective?

This one is pretty easy. Hamels’ sinker is about one run per nine innings worse than the average sinker. So “no”, it was not effective. His cutter has been hit hard, but if we throw away Hamels’ actual batted-ball outcomes and use league average outcomes for each type (line drive etc.), the cutter appears to be above average. It’s too early to tell, but there is cause for both optimism and concern. We’ll get more into the nitty gritty of effectiveness in the fourth and final question.

2. Were the original three less effective with or without it?

Here the results are mixed, and really vary based on how you measure effectiveness. If you take batted-ball control out of the equation (rv100e) you get one answer, leave them in (rv100a) and you get another. As with the cutter above in question one, it’s hard to draw a firm conclusion.

Hamels’ bread-and-butter pitch is certainly his four-seam fastball. It’s actually done a bit better when paired with the cutter, but rv100e improved when paired with the sinker while rv100a ballooned. His best pitch is his change-up, and it was basically flat in rv100e when Hamels added a sinker or cutter to his mix. Unfortunately, expected outcomes did not mirror reality, as change-up rv100a spiked during both four-pitch phases. The curveball’s relationship with the sinker mirrored the fastballs, an improved rv100e but an increase in rv100a. The curve, paired with the cutter, is as bad as it has been.

If you’re thirsty for numbers, question four will bring a quencher of an answer. Three’s no slouch.

3. Did he stop or reduce use of an original-three pitch in certain situations (counts)?

Things certainly changed by situation when Hamels changed his pitch mix. Our baseline is the pre-sinker era of 2008. Each section going down the left side is compared to the baseline, as shown in the right column.

pre-sinkers # Fastball Change-up Curveball
first 816 55% 27% 18%
ahead 951 56% 27% 17%
even 516 49% 36% 15%
behind 619 59% 37% 4%
full 115 47% 50% 3%
3017 55% 32% 14%

There’s your baseline. The empty columns to the right will be filled below. Red numbers indicate a decline from baseline, and the value is relative to the baseline (so a .091 is a 9.1 percent increase relative to baseline; you can see the raw values on the left).

sinker’s peak # Fastball Change-up Curveball Sinker sinker’s peak Fastball Change-up Curveball
first 646 54% 27% 11% 8% first (0.012) (0.010) (0.373)
ahead 751 46% 26% 14% 14% ahead (0.179) (0.032) (0.184)
even 450 47% 30% 15% 8% even (0.036) (0.168) (0.027)
behind 539 53% 33% 5% 9% behind (0.103) (0.101) 0.106
full 125 44% 35% 6% 14% full (0.063) (0.302) 1.452
2511 50% 29% 11% 10% (0.092) (0.080) (0.198)

All pitches, in all situations, were used less during this period with the notable exception of the curveball. Overall, the curveball took the biggest hit by sharing time with the sinker. Full-count change-ups were also dramatically impacted.

Now Hamels all but drops the sinker, but things don’t all go back to where they were before.

fewer sinkers # Fastball Change-up Curveball Sinker fewer sinkers Fastball Change-up Curveball
first 241 57% 32% 10% 1% first 0.038 0.190 (0.455)
ahead 288 58% 30% 13% 0% ahead 0.036 0.084 (0.271)
even 166 48% 39% 11% 1% even (0.009) 0.086 (0.252)
behind 174 51% 43% 5% 2% behind (0.135) 0.165 0.055
full 30 40% 60% 0% 0% full (0.148) 0.190 (1.000)
899 54% 36% 10% 1% (0.014) 0.129 (0.304)

The change-up came back with a vengeance, and the curveball’s decline accelerated.

Now look what happens with the cutter in the mix.

with cutter # Fastball Change-up Curveball Sinker Cutter with cutter Fastball Change-up Curveball
first 415 59% 19% 9% 2% 11% first 0.071 (0.291) (0.477)
ahead 458 48% 21% 12% 1% 17% ahead (0.140) (0.222) (0.274)
even 315 52% 25% 7% 2% 15% even 0.070 (0.304) (0.564)
behind 346 64% 25% 1% 1% 8% behind 0.090 (0.319) (0.667)
full 77 56% 31% 0% 1% 12% full 0.189 (0.382) (1.000)
1611 55% 23% 8% 1% 13% 0.015 (0.279) (0.454)

Some return of fastballs, but the change-up and curveball have been sent to the back of the queue to a greater degree than we saw with the sinker’s full-time presence.

4. Of the original three, has the fastball been impacted less than the curveball and change-up by the absence or presence of a new pitch?

Yes. Here are some key metrics grouped by season and by “three” or “more”, in reference to the “peak sinker and “with cutter” periods.

Type Segment # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Change-up three 1271 0.31 0.92 0.603 0.416 1.7 0.597 0.441 49% 5.5%
Change-up more 1092 3.14 1.12 0.580 0.414 1.5 0.584 0.432 48% 14.9%

The change-up is outstanding, but seems to fly over the wall more when there’s a fourth pitch in the mix. That’s not something pitchers have control over, or is that too much of a coincidence?

Type Year # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Change-up 2008 1065 0.68 1.22 0.593 0.388 1.8 0.601 0.416 48% 6.1%
Change-up 2009 934 2.00 0.79 0.595 0.426 1.3 0.608 0.451 49% 11.0%
Change-up 2010 364 3.40 0.99 0.582 0.467 2.4 0.519 0.457 50% 20.0%

Over time, the change-up is seeing less of the zone and taking more trips over the fence.

Let’s look at the other victim of change, the curveball.

Type Segment # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Curveball three 501 4.34 6.15 0.329 0.194 2.6 0.419 0.203 37% 2.6%
Curveball more 398 6.59 5.88 0.276 0.200 3.2 0.387 0.139 54% 10.5%

Now that’s a strange one. More ground balls (yea!) and more gopher balls (boo!). Not really a great pitch however you cut it.

Type Year # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Curveball 2008 452 4.52 6.07 0.336 0.211 2.6 0.427 0.205 35% 5.4%
Curveball 2009 326 5.88 5.66 0.273 0.191 3.4 0.374 0.147 57% 0.0%
Curveball 2010 121 6.90 6.91 0.281 0.147 2.8 0.405 0.139 46% 14.3%

A bit of a yo-you ride for the ground ball rate. As you can see, the curveball is a bit of a mixed bag. A bag of not-so-good-stuff, but too mixed to say what happens when it has a new friend.

Last, but not least, the fastball. For whatever reason, changes in repertoire aren’t associated with big swings in fastball effectiveness. There’s still reason to believe the fastball is better in 2010, whether or not the cutter is to thank.

Type Segment # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Fastball three 2135 3.34 4.14 0.478 0.148 1.7 0.538 0.318 32% 9.0%
Fastball more 2130 4.19 3.87 0.454 0.161 1.7 0.570 0.269 36% 9.0%

If anything, as noted above, the fastball doesn’t like the sinker but likes the cutter. The latter being more clear, or less muddy as it were.

Type Year # rvERAa rvERAe Swing Whiff B:CS IWZ Chase GB% HR/FL%
Fastball 2008 1805 3.27 3.94 0.484 0.141 1.8 0.537 0.326 35% 10.4%
Fastball 2009 1577 4.64 4.04 0.465 0.161 1.8 0.544 0.291 32% 8.9%
Fastball 2010 883 3.22 4.09 0.430 0.174 1.4 0.607 0.228 35% 6.2%

What have we learned?

That things are complicated. Other than that, we can say a few things about Hamels.
{exp:list_maker}An increased rate of flies and liners turning into home runs is observed when Hamels adds a fourth pitch heavily to the mix. Coincidence?
While the fastball and sinker may or may not have been compatible, the cutter and the fastball may be
The jury is still out on the cutter, but the sinker is welcome to stay away
His change-up is very good, it’s a shame it’s used less and less
His curveball I can take or leave. As a commentor noted in part one, it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything {/exp:list_maker}

My vote: keep working on the cutter, but have some more faith in the change-up.

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision. Batted ball data from MLBAM. Pitch classifications by the author.

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