Texas Rangers: Cole Hamels regression is becoming worrisome

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 11: Cole Hamels
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 11: Cole Hamels /

Cole Hamels struggled in his return on Monday night. Could it be a sign of things to come for the Texas Rangers ‘second ace’?

Cole Hamels made his much-anticipated return Monday night after spending nearly two months on the disabled list with an oblique stain. The results were…not good.

He gave up seven runs in 4.1 innings allowing almost three base-runners per inning. According to game score, it was his second worst start as a Texas Ranger.

Of course, it’s irrational to jump to conclusions after his first start in months. His 3.03 ERA was one of the best in baseball before he hit the disabled list. But a deep dive into his stats show a consistent decrease in his productivity over the past two years.

A lucky start to 2017?

As mentioned earlier, Hamles 3.03 ERA in April was one of the best among starters. However, his 5.29 FIP indicates he was a benefactor of a tremendous amount of luck.

Opponents hit .219 on balls put in play against Hamels, the 20th lowest average in baseball. But this doesn’t always mean a pitcher is lucky. Pitchers like Dallas Keuchel, who had the 5th lowest BABIP in April, has had successful careers relying on inducing weak contact.

The problem is, Hamels wasn’t inducing weak contact. Among 20 pitchers with a BABIP under .219 Hamels had the fifth highest hard hit percentage, the fifth highest line drive percentage and the third lowest soft hit percentage.

His 2.42 run disparity between his ERA and FIP was one of the highest in baseball and his 5.45 FIP was fourth highest among pitchers with an ERA below 3.50.

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His current 5.31 FIP is the highest of his career by a wide margin. In fact, if it were to hold, it would be his first season with a FIP over four.

This continues a trend in the opposite direction for Hamels. His FIP has been on the rise every season since 2014 even setting a career high a season ago which he is on pace to shatter this year.

What’s the reasoning behind this? His hard hit percentage rose above 30 for the first time since 2007 a season ago. His 2017 percentage is 7 percent higher than his career average and nearly three percent higher than his previous career high.

To add to the problem, he’s simply not missing any bats.

Where have the swings and misses gone?

Hamels has never had the reputation of being an elite strikeout pitcher despite finishing top ten in strikeouts per nine four times and as recently as last year.

Perhaps it’s because he’s never featured a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball we’re accustomed to seeing from premier strikeout artists. But his ability to mix a hard fastball with an elite changeup has allowed him to rack up the strikeouts, even this late into his career.

With that being said, where have the strikeouts gone? He’s only striking out 3.89 batters per nine. That’s a whole five strikeouts lower than his career average and nearly four strikeouts lower than his previous career low.

He’s only struck out five batters once this season, and has struck out more than two batters one time since his second start.

In his start Monday against the Indians, Hamels produced only two swings and misses on 92 pitches. Two. For context, Cody Allen had triple that, six, on only 16 pitches.

Hamels’ 6.4 swing and miss percentage is nearly half of his career average and good for 10th lowest among starters with at least 20 innings pitched.

It’s apparent something is off with Cole Hamels. Since the start of September last year he has a 5.01 ERA, striking out 6.29 per nine and walking 3.90.

Could pitching 200 innings in seven consecutive seasons finally be catching up to him? He’s still a good pitcher, it would be absurd to say otherwise. But it’s clear he’s not the second ace he was when he originally  joined the Rangers. Furthermore, he’s not same ace he was when he won the World Series in 2008, where he was also named the World Series MVP.