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. 

'Cubs by the letter'


'Cubs by the letter'

Chris Kamka goes through his Cubs version of the alphabet in a poem inspired by Ogden Nash's "A Lineup for Yesterday" from 1949.

A: Arrieta

Respected and feared

He tossed two no-hitters

And grew a large beard


B is for Billy

A sweet-swingin' lefty

Was rather soft spoken

His hittin' was hefty


C is for Catcher

Mike Barrett’s right fist

Contreras, Girardi

And others I missed


D is for Dawson

His contract was blank

He won MVP

Then went to the bank


E is for Ernie

He bled Cubbie Blue

a beautiful day

So why not play two


F is for Fergie

He could do it all

Played hockey, played hoops

Pitched into the Hall


G was for Goat

But not anymore

That nonsense of "curses"

We choose to ignore


H is for Harry

His trademark black frames

He’d yell “Holy Cow”

And mispronounce names


I is for Ivy

Along Wrigley's Walls

Responsible for

Many vanishing balls


J is for Javy

He goes by El Mago

The flashiest glove

In all of Chicago


K is for Strikeout

And also for Kerry

His 20-K game

Was quite legendary


L is for Lester

He just needs one run

He'll make 30 starts

And then start Game 1


M is for Maddon

Had plenty of luck

Used hundreds of lineups

And tried not to suck


N is November

Of 2016

One hundred eight years

They wiped the slate clean


O is for Orie

And countless others

Who'd be superstars

If we had our druthers


P is for Pappas

Was one pitch away

The ump called ball four

Which ruined Milt's day


Q for Quintana

Colombian pride

Has hurled for both

The South and North side


R is for Ryno

Out at second base

He turned double plays

With Dunston & Grace


S is for Sammy

Into the abyss

Goes dozens of baseballs

Heart tap and a kiss


T is for Tony

You know who it is

Regarding first base

No one beats The Rizz


U for Uehara

With Cubs for one year

Not many to choose from

To fill the spot here


V is for Vegas

A wonderful place

Hometown of the player

Who covers third base


W for Wrigley

And Waveland too

Also the white flag

With a W in blue


X is for X

Roman Numeral Ten

Was worn by Ron Santo

Won’t be worn again


Y is for Yu

He had a tough year

In 2019

Yu'll be glad he's here


Z is for Zobrist

A solid teammate

You'll hear his wife sing

As he walks to the plate


Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

Well, it sure looks like the Bryce Harper-to-the-Cubs ship has sailed once and for all

It sure seems like we can pronounce the Cubs' courtship of Bryce Harper DOA. 

Though there was never much doubt left after manager Joe Maddon bluntly said it wasn't going to happen, news of the Cubs' disinterest in Harper continues to trickle in: 

Take every single tweet ever with a grain of salt -- because that's all any of them are worth -- but this seems mighty cut and dry. Granted, this is the same Jim Bowden that spent a not insignificant amount of time trying to convince White Sox fans that their team was the FRONTRUNNER for Bryce Harper, but Bowden is admittedly more well-connected than other baseball tweeters. 

Maybe it's just posturing, and if the reports of Manny Machado's $175 million contract are to be believed, it's almost definitely posturing. The more important thing to take away from this, however, is that Hot Stove season is insufferable and would everyone please just sign players so we don't have to Sherlock Homes 16 tweets a day.