By: Chris Larson
Over the past couple of seasons, we have seen players traded mid-season that have basically gone from struggling with one team to becoming old, vintage versions of themselves with their new team. Last year, it was Justin Verlander, who was struggling with the Detroit Tigers and completely transformed himself into a whole new pitcher, with the Houston Astros. This season, it's Cole Hamels who has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Chicago Cubs.
Since the beginning of the season, the Chicago Cubs starting rotation always seemed to be missing something and a big reason why was because of the absence of, Yu Darvish, for much of the first half. Darvish was placed on the DL at the beginning of May with the flu and then had to be put back on the DL towards the end of May with right triceps tendinitis. Unfortunately, for Darvish and the Cubs, the news wasn't good, as it was announced this past week, that Darvish would be out for the remainder of the season.
Therefore, the Cubs knew that at the, July 31st Non-Waiver Trade Deadline, they had to go out and make some sort of upgrade to their starting rotation. Chicago was in on many of the available starting pitchers on the market, but it seems like they probably elected to trade for the right one, based on the results that Hamels has put up so far.
Through 5 games with the Cubs, Hamels has posted a 0.79 ERA over 34 innings of work with a 2.36 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP), a 0.94 WHIP, and 30 strikeouts. Basically, Hamels has returned to being a vintage version of himself during his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he would post an ERA somewhere in the 2-3 range and would record a boatload of strikeouts every year. Looking over Hamels big league career, by far his most effective season was in 2011, when the Phillies made the postseason. During that season, Cole Hamels posted a 2.79 ERA over 216 innings pitched with a 0.98 WHIP and 194 strikeouts. Depending on what happens with Hamels and the Cubs this offseason (Hamels has a team option for the 2019 season), it almost feels like he could potentially repeat that success next season.
So what has been working for Cole Hamels and how have the Chicago Cubs been able to transform him into a vintage version of himself? Let's dig into the numbers to see exactly what has been working and potentially put some reasoning behind the success, besides just saying that it's been a simple change of scenery.
One of the most notable changes for Hamels has been his reliance on his four-seam fastball, which he has thrown a lot more, and has been able to rely on it heavily for strikes. Hamels has been throwing it almost twice as much as he did with the Texas Rangers to both left and right-handed hitters. Through the five starts with the Cubs, Hamels has thrown his four-seamer to left-handed hitters around 28 percent, while relying on that same pitch 44% of the time with right-handed hitters. During his tenure with the Texas Rangers, Hamels threw his four-seamer 19% of the time to lefties and 23% of the time to righties. Furthermore, the velocity on his fastball has also increased, albeit in a small way, with an additional 1-2 MPH on average, per start.
In addition, another reason why Hamels has experienced a great amount of success with the Cubs, is because he is developing confidence in throwing his changeup again and using it to his advantage. The difference can really be noted in situations where there are two strikes. During his time with the Texas Rangers, he relied on his changeup 15 percent of the time in those situations. With the Cubs, through five starts, he has went to the changeup 33 percent of the time, especially against left-handed hitters, in the opposing team's lineup.
Beyond those two reasons and the overall idea of a change of scenery, another possible explanation is because of the improved defense behind, Cole Hamels, when he's on the mound. So far this season, the Chicago Cubs have had one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball and that certainly plays a significant role in how successful a pitching staff is. Overall, from a Defensive rating standpoint, the Cubs rank fourth in all of baseball with a 25.5 value, while the Texas Rangers rank 11th with a 14.9 value. The Cubs defenders nearly double what the Texas Rangers defenders have been able to do all season long.
Regardless of the numbers, the eye test is always reliable and a good way of measuring how effective Cole Hamels has been so far with the Chicago Cubs. Not only did the Cubs become stronger by adding Hamels at the deadline, they have put themselves in a position to once again be the NL World Series favorites and have a pitching staff that can compete with anyone else in the league. No one quite knows how long Hamels will be a Cub beyond this season, but the Cubs do know that they have, yet another established veteran within their starting rotation, and someone, who has the postseason pedigree, to help them accomplish what they want to do once again - that being to win another World Series title.