Today we find ourselves on the ass end of a Phillies loss in a game started by Cole Hamels. I’m just going to assume that, without reading a tweet or forum post or listening to 610 WIP, Hamels is taking the brunt of this loss on his shoulders.
Why? Why do Philly fans continue to be ignorant about Hamels and his tragically unlucky 2009 campaign to this date?
Here’s the low-down: your average baseball fan loves the basic, superfluous stats. Especially when it comes to pitchers. Win/loss record and ERA are canon and nothing else is better at encapsulating a player’s ability and performance to them when, in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Take the fine Mr. Hamels. He’s 7-8 after losing his last three decisions, including Friday night’s loss in New York to the Mets. People will point to the 10 hits he surrendered and the four earned runs in five innings as the downfall. While both aren’t exactly encouraging, they don’t tell the whole story. Such is a microcosm of his entire 2009 season.
Hamels had 17 swing-and-misses, a fantastic number. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced, a very respectable ratio. He outpaced his opponent, Mike Pelfrey, by a wide margin in both areas. Additionally, Hamels allowed zero walks while striking out six.
Here’s something you may not have realized about Hamels in your quest to leave him off the playoff roster: Hamels has an ERA of 4.91 which, while not great, is terribly deceptive. He currently sports a xFIP of 3.77, which is actually .01 better than the figure he put up in that category in 2008. What is xFIP?
Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. This is an experimental stat that adjusts FIP and “normalizes” the home run component. Research has shown that home runs allowed are pretty much a function of flyballs allowed and home park, so xFIP is based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly. Theoretically, this should be a better predicter [sic] of a pitcher’s future ERA. (Thanks to The Hardball Times)
The word “experimental” is noted, but so are the words “better predicter.” He’s actually getting more ground balls and fewer fly balls this season than during any other in his short career, but the fly balls he is getting are leaving the yard at a much greater rate: 13.8 percent of Hamels’s fly balls have been home runs this year, up from 11.2 percent in 2008 and his career average of 12.4 percent.
Hamels also has a difficult time stranding runners. He leaves only 71.8 percent of runners on after they reach, meaning nearly three of every 10 runners eventually score on Cole. Why is this so? No one can say for sure, as this sort of thing is difficult to pick apart. Heck, look at Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2008 as opposed to this year. Look at Philly’s own J.A. Happ, who continues to mystify with an 85.4 percent strand rate. That number for Happ is preposterously large, and considering the man strikes out fewer than six and a half batters per 9 IP, it’s certainly not because he has overpowering stuff on the hill. Hamels has the highest K/9 of any Phillies starter not named Cliff Lee – and, actually, has Lee beat by a large margin if you include his time with Cleveland earlier – yet there’s an incredible difference in stranding runners between Hamels and Happ.
The past three starts haven’t been kind for Hamels in the walk department, though, as he’d given free passes to 10 batters in 16.1 IP prior to last night’s walk-free outing against New York. Prior to that? Only 18 walks in 121 innings. I’ll take comfort in the larger sample size, thank you, and assert that control is not Hamels’s problem.
What’s left? Bad luck. And, yes, I mean that with sincerity.
Hamels’s batting average against on balls in play – or BABIP – currently sits at .330 this season. that’s an absurd .06 points above what it was in 2008, and .041 above his rate in 2007. A lot of that has to do with DER, or defensive efficiency rating. The Hardball Times has another blurb on this for us:
Defense Efficiency Ratio. The percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. The exact formula we use is (BFP-H-K-BB-HBP-Errors)/(BFP-HR-K-BB-HBP). This is similar to BABIP, but from the defensive team’s perspective. Please note that errors include only errors on batted balls.
The Phillies have an excellent defensive lineup, and I won’t dispute that, but they seem to be letting Cole down this year. A .675 DER for Hamels in ’09 – as opposed to .741 in 2008 and .721 in 2007 – is frighteningly low, whereas guys like Mr. Happ have a .757 DER, higher than any total Hamels has ever received in support for his career.
If it seems like I’m shoveling blame, your perception is only half-right. Yes, I’m redirecting anger away from Hamels, simply because he is not deserving of even half the outcry that his season has garnered. However, I’m not blaming the defense for bad timing with their less-than-perfect games or J.A. Happ for being ludicrously lucky (and continuing to be so). All of this comes with baseball.
Before you light your torch and sharpen your pitchfork to run the Big Bad World Series MVP Ogre out of town, get educated. Know that Hamels, essentially, is fine, but being taken to task by karma and luck for a great 2008. That’s all, and I mean it. Worry about other things.
Like how Eric Bruntlett still has a job here.