How Cole Hamels has turned his season around with the Cubs

How Cole Hamels has turned his season around with the Cubs

Cole Hamels had the best game of his season last night, throwing 114 pitches in a complete game win. 

Cubs' fans will tell you this was the Cole Hamels they traded for, but there's not a soul on the North Side that could have predicted just how good he's been for them.  So what's changed? 

Let's start with a look at Hamels' rolling ERA over the 2018 season: 

It's not great! When the lowest benchmark on the ERA Y-axis is 3.50, you're having a bad season. What's interesting, though, is the sharp drop in ERA that starts right at Game 20. The date? July 23rd -- his last game as a member of the Texas Rangers. That day the Oakland Athletics slapped him around for seven runs on nine hits, and his day was done after five innings. His ERA when he left the mound was 4.72

In the five games since, his ERA has dropped almost a full run, now hovering at 3.82. In those five starts, Hamels has never allowed more than one run per game and has pitched into the sixth inning or better in four of them. When asked about his Cubs' success, here's what he had to say:

"Sometimes when you strive to get out of something, you make it worse. You kind of have to give in and get back to the basics," Hamels said. "When you’re able to execute pitches, you don't have to strike everybody out. I think that sometimes becomes a factor for a lot of us when things aren’t going right. You just want to strike out the world."

Platitudes aside, he's not wrong. He's throwing strikes again, which is about as basic as basic gets. Hamels has a career BB% at 6.7 percent. In three of his four All-Star seasons, he's kept his BB% under six percent. In Texas this season, he was walking batters at an eight percent clip. Since joining the Cubs? 6.4. It hasn't come at the sacrafice of strikeouts, either, as his K-rate has held steady at 23 percent. 

Why the better command? Look at how Hamels' pitch selection has changed over the course of the season: 

Since mid-June, he's almost doubled the rate at which he throws his four-seamer. And now look at how his four-seamer compares to the other fastballs he throws:

Essentially, this is a long-winded way of saying that his four-seamer is his most reliable fastball. He has better control of it than he does of his cutter or sinker. The latter two might be better strikeout pitches, but his four-seamer has always been a more dependable pitch. Plus, like previously mentioned, it's not like his strikeouts were suffering. His money pitch has always been and will always remain the change up, so going back to a four-seamer to get ahead early in the count makes a ton of sense. (It's also worth noting that his fastball velocity has risen almost a full mile-per-hour since coming to Chicago, which always helps.) 

His four-seamer location has changed dramatically since his arrival, too. Put side-by-side, you can see how drastic his zone approach has been since being traded. The top represents his time with Texas, and on the bottom, Chicago:

He's coming in *much* more frequently on right-handed hitters. That's significant because of the 629 batters he's face this season, 530 have been right handed. That's 84 percent. 

Of the 23 homers Hamels has allowed this year, 22 have come off a right-handed bat. He's yet to allow a right-handed (or any) home run as a Cub, and righties are hitting a paltry .215/.280/.231 against him since the trade. In Texas, that line was .251/.326/.486. 

So what's been different about Hamels? He's getting ahead in the count again. In Texas, Hamels was getting into a 0-1 count 40 percent of the time. In Chicago? The sample size is still small, but right now he's getting a first pitch strike 57 percent of the time. 

Getting ahead in the count, and locating your fastball. Like he said, it's all about getting back to the basics. 

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy


Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

The Cubs-Braves game on Wednesday got delayed due to a thunderstorm that blew through Chicago.

It made for a pretty scene with a pink and orange sky during sunset that made way to rain clouds, thunder and lightning. Fox Sports South captured the footage of the Wrigley sky and then caught Kris Bryant jumping and then running in the dugout at the sound of thunder.

Even former MVPs can be scared of thunder.


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Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs fans are understandably excited Craig Kimbrel is ready to make his debut with the team later this week.

He's a future Hall of Fame closer who is still in the midst of his prime and could very well be a shutdown reliever for the entire second half of the season.

But while the bullpen was a clear weakness of this team during tough times earlier in the season, the Cubs haven't slogged out to a 12-13 record in June because their back-end relievers have been blowing late leads.

So how much of a direct impact will Kimbrel have on the team's success? We don't know for sure, but let's look back at every loss this month and see if he would've been able to change the outcome in any ballgame:

June 1 — Cardinals 7, Cubs 4

Kimbrel probably wouldn't have pitched in a game that featured a three-hour rain delay, as Tyler Chatwood gave up 3 runs in the sixth inning in relief of Jose Quintana and the Cubs never even tied the game again.

June 2 — Cardinals 2, Cubs 1 

This was at least a close game, but the Cubs actually trailed 2-0 heading to the top of the ninth inning, when they mounted a comeback against the St. Louis bullpen that fell just short. Either way, it's almost assuredly not a game Kimbrel would have even made it into.

June 6 — Rockies 3, Cubs 1

Quintana gave up all 3 runs before the seventh inning ended and the Cubs offense could do nothing against a rookie making his first MLB start (Peter Lambert).

June 10 — Rockies 6, Cubs 5

Here's one where having Kimbrel could've had an indirect impact. The Cubs never had a save situation, but they did lose the game because the bullpen gave up solo runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. If Kimbrel is in the 'pen, the trickle down effect comes into play, which means Joe Maddon has more options at his disposal — including Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop earlier in the game. However, it was Cishek that was saddled with the loss by allowing a run in the eighth inning. The only way it would've set up any differently with Kimbrel is if the Cubs used Cishek in the seventh inning and slotted Strop in for the eighth, and the result may have been different. So we'll say Kimbrel could've had an impact on this one, albeit indirectly.

June 11 — Rockies 10, Cubs 3

When you're losing 9-1 going into the seventh inning, what does it matter who your closer is?

June 13 — Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

This one was all about the Dodgers being good and Jon Lester struggling and had nothing to do with the bullpen. The Cubs mounted a 3-0 lead, but their ace gave it all back and then some — allowing 3 homers and 6 runs over 5 innings. The bullpen would not have done much in this game.

June 14 — Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Rinse and repeat. The Cubs once again jumped out to an early lead, but starting pitching couldn't hold it as Kyle Hendricks was touched up for 5 runs in 4.1 innings in his final appearance before hitting the injured list. The Cubs bullpen actually pitched admirably in the contest, throwing 3.2 shutout innings against a very good lineup.

June 16 — Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

It's certainly possible this one would've been different if Kimbrel were around. With something of a limited bullpen and Brandon Kintzler already pitching earlier in the contest, Cishek was forced to throw multiple innings and gave up the winning run in the eighth — his second inning of work — to break a 2-2 tie. Again, Kimbrel likely would not have been pitching in that spot, but if he was around and available, maybe Maddon could've gone with Strop or somebody else instead of utilizing Cishek for a second inning.

June 18 — White Sox 3, Cubs 1

Ahh, the Eloy Game. Also a game that it's very possible we would've seen Kimbrel, but you can't really fault Maddon with how this one played out. Cubs had a fresh bullpen coming off a rare off-day and watched Cole Hamels throw a gem, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings. Kintzler pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a tie ballgame and then Maddon called on Strop to throw the ninth inning — when Eloy Jimenez had his signature moment. Maybe Maddon would've gone to Kimbrel to pitch the top of the ninth inning, but you can't really lament losing when one of your best relievers is pitching late in a tie game and it doesn't work out.

June 21 — Mets 5, Cubs 4

Cubs jumped out to a 4-3 lead on Addison Russell's 2-run homer, but Yu Darvish couldn't hold it, giving the lead right back the following inning. The Cubs then lost the game when embattled reliever Brad Brach came into a 4-4 tie and gave up a single that eventually came around to score the winning run. Maybe Kimbrel's presence would've changed that outcome, as it could've been another reliever in the game besides Brach, but the Cubs still didn't hit much (Darvish accounted for half their runs) and it was a couple of groundball basehits that led to the winning run scoring, so it's not like Brach and Mike Montgomery got lit up.

June 22 — Mets 10, Cubs 2

This was a clunker of a game that was over well before either team's bullpen figured into things.

June 25 — Braves 3, Cubs 2

Hard to win many games scoring only 2 runs. Maybe Montgomery would not have been pitching in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead if Kimbrel were around, but the Cubs also needed/wanted some length after Adbert Alzolay's 4.2-inning start and Montgomery had retired five of the six batters he faced before allowing the game-winning homer. 

June 26 — Braves 5, Cubs 3

Well, Yu Darvish ended his no-decision streak before setting a new MLB record, but it ended with an "L" flag flying high over Wrigley Field. The right-hander put the Cubs in a 5-0 hole early — before the rain delay hit — and even though the bullpen pitched well, the lineup couldn't quite climb all the way back. But not for a lack of trying from Darvish's battery-mate Willson Contreras:

So in total, we're looking at maybe three games this month in which Kimbrel could've played a role and potentially changed the outcome for the Cubs. But even those three games are a stretch — who knows if they would've still lost each one of those contests anyways.

This serves as just another reminder that Kimbrel isn't the Cubs' savior. While he will be a very nice piece in the bullpen and help create a positive trickle down effect on the pitching staff, he can't do anything to impact the Cubs' offense or starting pitching and those are the biggest issues plaguing the team at the moment.