Everyone knows that Cole Hamels did not pitch well last night. But there appears to be a growing debate on whether anything is "wrong" with Hamels. Recently, Baseball Prospectus's Matt Swartz presented a thorough and interesting study of Hamels' performance, and concluded that the pitcher's regular season was not significantly different from 2008. He cited many stats like BABIP that are more useful than wins and earned run average. He made many valid points, as BP writers usually do, and I learned a lot while reading it. And he was right: In some ways, Hamels' issues have been overstated.
Yesterday morning, smart baseball man Rob Neyer made an argument similar to Swartz's, but used hyperbole to misrepresent an Inquirer story. He cited Jim Salisbury's report that Hamels planned to learn a new pitch next year, then mocked the idea that something is wrong with Hamels as "simply preposterous."
Neyer went on to present a tired caricature--the equivalent of labeling bloggers as losers in their mothers' basement--of baseball writers as having a "sick, 20th century obsession with wins and losses and ERA."
I think you readers would agree that no Philly sportswriter has argued this year that wins and ERA represent what has been wrong with Hamels. Salisbury cited wins and ERA, but only as a small part of a nuanced argument. So let's cast aside petty stereotypes--isn't it so, like, 2004 to say that newspaper writers don't care about statistical analysis?--and look at the facts. Here is a partial list of what was wrong with Hamels in 2009:
--He had a sore elbow in March, April and May. I know that because he told me later in the summer.
--He did not begin training until later than usual, because he took on too many post-World Series commitments.
--Even on days when his pitches were working, he responded poorly to adverse circumstances, and allowed bad innings to snowball. He admits this, and his manager, GM and coach agree. It is also obvious from watching his body language.
--Though his velocity was as good as last year, he has to overthrow to get his fastball in the low-90s. That sometimes resulted in poor location and home runs allowed.
--The lack of a quality third pitch allowed hitters to guess what was coming. Take A-Rod last night: Hamels started him off with a change-up for strike one, so the hitter figured he would see a fastball within the next few pitches. When one arrived on the next pitch, A-Rod was ready, and clocked it into the Jeffrey Maier camera.
It is factually incorrect to say that nothing was wrong with Hamels this year; at the very least, his elbow hurt. I'm not writing this to rip the pitcher, or pile on after a bad night--I actually admire his self-awareness and find his struggle for maturity fascinating and his honesty refreshing. I just felt a responsibility to correct the record on a point important to the Phillies, and hopefully to restore a more reasonable tone to the debate.