Braves: Cole Hamels’ changeup will help stabilize the rotation

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During his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, Cole Hamels — or Hollywood as many call him (is that really a thing?) — pitched in three All-Star games, finished within the top-10 in the NL Cy Young vote four times and managed seven seasons of 30+ starts (not counting the 20 outings he tallied with the Phils in 2015 before being traded to the Rangers, where he added 12 more). From age 22-31, Hamels was both dominant and consistent, notching 121 wins and a 3.71 ERA, all while averaging 201 innings per season with 8.6 K/9 and just 2.3 BB/9. He was undoubtedly the face of the Phillies’ starting rotation during that run and is currently ranked among the top-10 on several Phillies’ all-time lists, including pitching WAR (4th), total wins (6th) and strikeouts per nine (3rd).

This is supposed to be the part where I say “but”, considering Hamels is now 36-years-old and headed into his one-year, $18 million “prove-it” contract with the Braves. However, Hamels hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down over these last four seasons. Take a look at his numbers from above, and notice just how incredibly consistent he has been during his 14-year career:


Hamels (2006-15) 

Ages: 22-31

31 starts | 201 IP | 3.31 ERA | 1.0 HR/9 | 8.6 K/9 | 2.3 BB/9


Hamels (2016-19)

Ages: 32-35

29 starts | 170 IP | 3.74 ERA | 1.2 HR/9 | 8.4 K/9 | 3.3 BB/9


Since Hamels cracked the big leagues on May 12, 2006, he has thrown one of the major’s most dangerous pitches. — the changeup. Consider his standing on FanGraphs’ Pitch Value leaderboard since he cracked the bigs in 2006:

  1. Cole Hamels: 202.1
  2. Felix Hernandez: 127.5
  3. Jason Vargas: 85.8
  4. James Shield: 78.5
  5. Chris Sale: 72.6

Hamels hasn’t just thrown the best changeup in the last 14 years… he has thrown a changeup that has been essentially 60% better than anyone else’s in that span. You’ve heard of King Felix, right?

To give you an idea of just how ridiculous Hamels’ magical offspeed offering is, consider this: In Hamels’ 14 seasons as a big-league pitcher, all of his pitches have averaged a decent 23% strikeout rate and .237 batting-average-against overall; not too shabby. Though, with his changeup, that K rate jumps to 31.5%, with opponents hitting just .199. That’s very good. And remember, this is 14 seasons… not just some three-year sample. 

If you prefer wRC+, Hamels has allowed a 100+ wRC+ against his changeup only once in his career (a 118 in 2016), though even with that poor mark, batters have still posted just a 62 wRC+ overall. Baseball’s greatest closer, Mariano Rivera, is in the Hall of Fame because of his unhittable cutter, and he allowed a .196 AVG, a 48 wRC+ and struck out 26.7% of the batters he faced with the offering. Hamels’ changeup has been THAT good.

But make no mistake, Hamels is a pitcher in his late-30s. He may still post numbers that are amazingly similar to his prime years with the Phillies, but he’s certainly not the same guy, working much harder for those numbers now. 

Despite him mostly holding on to his velocity over the years, Hamels’ four-seam fastball has been getting hit at a much higher rate lately, especially in the last 2 seasons. In 2019, batters slashed .314/.413/.566 against Hamels’ heater, and .307/.402/.575 the year before that. In fact, it appears that starting around the 2015 season, Hamels’ results with his fastball started to quickly regress.

chart 3
(From Baseball Savant)

Hamels is no longer the three-pitch pitcher he once was as a 22-year-old, and the Braves won’t expect him to be in 2020. But luckily for him, that changeup is still an incredible weapon.







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