Cole Hamels

Dave · May 11, 2006 at 11:43 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Tomorrow, the Philadelphia Phillies fans (this means you, Deanna) get their first look at their version of King Felix. He’s not quite as good, so perhaps they’ll call him Prince Cole. But he’s a pretty fun pitcher to watch in his own right.

So, while it doesn’t have anything to do with the M’s, really, I’ve decided to re-run an article I originally wrote for Baseball Prospectus almost three years ago. Cole Hamels debuts tomorrow, and he’ll finally get to show off that vicious, evil change-up that we’ve been raving about for years.

If you have a chance, watch him pitch tomorrow. You won’t regret it.

July 31, 2003
Cole Hamels

by David Cameron

Fourteen months ago, the Philadelphia Phillies selected Cole Hamels with the 17th pick in the first round, though he was rated between the seventh- and 12th-best prospect going into the draft. As a high school pitcher, he was already lumped into the high-risk category. The fractured humerus he suffered during an off-field incident his junior year didn’t help, as several teams refused to invest several million dollars in the health of his left arm. However, his injury was much less severe than the ones to Dave Dravecky and Tony Saunders, who snapped their humerus bones while pitching. Hamels suffered a small crack after colliding with a car mirror during a game of football, and was back on the mound for his senior year.

The Phillies cleared him with their team doctors, along with the ones who originally worked on Hamels’ arm, then signed him at the end of the summer for $2 million, the 13th-largest bonus given to anyone from last year’s class. His arm was not in game shape when he arrived for the Fall Instructional League, and he made his only appearance in the last game of camp. Due to his inexperience, the Phillies held him back in extended Spring Training for the first two months of 2003, in order to “let him get the teaching he would receive at a summer league,” according to Mike Arbuckle, the Phillies’ assistant general manager and director of player development.

He was worth the wait. Hamels’ stint in the South Atlantic League was one of the most impressive performances the minor leagues have seen since Rick Ankiel opened eyes in 1998. What Cole Hamels accomplished in his first 13 trips to the mound as a professional ballplayer is simply astounding.

Starts Innings Hits Home Runs Walks Strikeouts ERA
13 74 2/3 32 0 25 115 0.84

He faced 268 batters and retired all but 60 of them. No less than 43% of the plate appearances by opposing hitters ended with the umpire yelling strike three. His rate of 13.86 strikeouts-per-nine-innings is a remarkable 95% above the league average and the best of any full-season starter in the game. There’s no question that Hamels earned his promotion to the Florida State League.

How does his run compare to other dominating performances in recent history? Below is a list of pitchers who threw a minimum of 100 innings with a strikeout rate at least 60% above league average in the past 10 years:

Name Year Level Age Innings K/9 Ratio ERA
Ryan Anderson 2000 Triple-A 20 104 12.6 89% 3.98
A.J. Burnett 1998 Low-A 21 119 14.0 83% 1.98
Nick Neugebauer 2001 Double-A 20 106.2 14.9 69% 3.46
Rick Ankiel 1998 High-A 18 126 18.1 67% 2.79
Brad Pennington 1998 Triple-A 29 100 12.5 66% 4.86
Joel Bennett 1997 Double-A 27 113.1 14.6 66% 3.18
Ben Howard 2000 High-A 21 107.1 15.0 64% 6.37
Mo Sanford 1994 Triple-A 28 125.2 14.1 63% 5.15
Tim Redding 1999 Low-A 21 105 14.1 61% 4.97
Ryan Anderson 1998 Low-A 18 111.1 15.2 60% 3.23

Sanford, Bennett, and Pennington were minor league veterans, so we won’t bother with them for this comparison. That leaves six pitching prospects who have dominated the league strikeout totals like few before them or since. There are two similarities between the six that stand out above the rest; velocity and injury. Anderson, Burnett, Ankiel, Neugebauer, and Howard consistently threw in the high 90s before their arms fell apart. Redding was the softy of the group, regularly clocking at “only” 95. Perhaps not coincidentally, each member of the group has missed at least one full season due to injuries, as Redding has been the only member to succeed in the major leagues. The dangers of betting the farm on young pitchers’ arms has been well noted, and the above list reminds us that Hamels still has to avoid the doctor in order to live up to his promise. We’ll leave the medical analysis to Will Carroll, however, and get back to the subject at hand.

Hamels’ work in the South Atlantic League outshines all of them. He not only posted the best strikeout rate relative to league average, but his ERA’s in a class by itself as well. More impressive than his performance, though, is how he has attained such lofty heights. Hamels does not possess the extraordinary velocity or intimidation of his predecessors, but has surpassed their accomplishments with a different means of domination.

Hamels is listed at 6’3″ and 175 pounds and he looks every bit the 19-year-old kid that he is. That is, until he steps on the mound. His mechanics are good by major league standards and nearly unheard of for a pitcher with his experience. He drives with his legs, has a clean arm action, and repeats his delivery well. “We don’t feel the need to change his delivery at all,” Arbuckle told me.

Hamels spent most of Friday night pitching between 87-90 with his fastball. He has enough movement to make it a solid pitch, but he won’t rack up a lot of strikeouts with it. Occasionally, he would hit 92 when he got it up in the zone and put a little extra effort into the pitch. As he adds some muscle to his legs, he may be able to add a few miles per hour to his fastball, though he’ll likely always pitch in the low 90s.

Hamels’ slow curveball is an out pitch with good break that also tails away from left-handers. He threw it regularly between 76-78 and kept it down in the strike zone most of the game. He hung a couple up in the zone, but Greensboro’s offense failed to take advantage. He spins the ball well and does not telegraph his curve, but simply needs to locate it more consistently.

His combination of fastball and curve would make him an interesting prospect, but there is a sizeable list of pitchers who could match his stuff on those two pitches alone. It is his change-up that sets him apart and makes him one of the premier southpaws in the game. If you put Hamels on the Phillies right now, he’d have the best change-up on the team. It would be a struggle for me to name 10 major league pitchers who have a better one. His change-up is easily the best off-speed pitch I have seen this year. His arm speed is nearly identical to his fastball, making it impossible to pick up before the ball leaves his hand. He gets great fade on the pitch, making it equally tough on right-handed batters. When he threw it at the lower end of his 77-80 range, he would get some additional sink on the ball, making it a groundball waiting to happen.

Hamels’ command of the strike zone is above average, but could still use some improvement. He isn’t a pure strike-throwing machine like Zack Greinke, but he will keep his walk totals at acceptable levels. The fact that he can induce a swing-and-a-miss with his change-up and still keep the ball in the strike zone is a definite plus. If the hitter won’t get himself out by swinging, the umpire will simply call strike three.

The other fundamentals that go into making a good pitcher are too difficult to analyze in one outing. But Arbuckle noted that “his pitchability, work ethic, and make-up are all plus tools as well. We’re going to send him to the Florida State League to give him a challenge for the rest of the year.” While management will almost always say good things about the club’s own players, the Phillies are backing up their comments with Hamels’ promotion to Clearwater.

History hasn’t been kind to high school pitchers selected in the first round. The standard caveats of risk still apply, though Hamels’ mechanics should alleviate some of the concern about his future health. While the risk is high, the reward with Hamels is higher. It is clear that the Phillies are impressed with their young southpaw, and after watching Cole Hamels in person, so am I.


49 Responses to “Cole Hamels”

  1. PositivePaul on May 11th, 2006 11:53 am

    Excellent balance of stathead stuff and scout stuff, Dave!

    He sounds like a pretty good prospect.

    (Jumps over to Yahoo to see if he’s available…)

  2. Mat on May 11th, 2006 12:11 pm

    I love a good change-up. I like the section in the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers that discusses change-ups, where Rob (I think it was his section) talks about how throughout time the biggest wish most pitchers have is for a better change-up.

    So right now, I’m thinking about lefties with a really good change-up and the first one that comes to mind is Johan Santana. It sounds like Santana has a better fastball than Hamels, how would you rate Hamels’ curve against Santana’s slider, Dave?

  3. Deanna on May 11th, 2006 12:15 pm

    Oh, believe me, I’ve been paying more attention to Cole Hamels in the last few weeks than I have to most of the Mariners.

    He’s not on Yahoo yet. Considering I’m in a fantasy league with other Phillies bloggers (we’re such dorks that Chase Utley went with the 6th pick overall and Ryan Howard was a second-rounder, and I picked up Felix Hernandez in the 4th round), the league commissioner had to extend the waiver claim period to 2 days instead of one, knowing we were all going to jump on Hamels. I’m #2 in the waiver queue. Sigh.

    Anyway, for those that didn’t follow Hamels’s three starts in AAA this year, they went something like this:

    7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 K
    9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K
    7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 10 K

    Which basically puts his entire AAA line at an ungodly 23 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 36 K, 0.47 WHIP, 0.39 ERA.

    They’re moving Ryan Madson back to the bullpen to put Hamels in the rotation, which is good because it means Gavin Floyd may finally stop being a headcase worrying about his job and just start pitching, and Madson will get to be the knockout bullpen guy he was last year again, and everything is happy. Except for Ryan Franklin, maybe.

    And if you want a good laugh, check out Cole Hamels Facts. Hee.

    I’ve been getting Phloggers to call him “King Cole” only because it sounds so much like “Nat King Cole”. Which means he’s going to totally reign over the Nats in a few weeks.

  4. Dave on May 11th, 2006 12:24 pm

    There isn’t a good comparison for Hamels, really. He’s kinda sorta got Tom Glavine’s fastball, but his change blows Glavine out of the water. He kinda sorta has Mark Buerhle’s command, but Hamels misses bats. He has a Keith Foulke/Trevor Hoffman type change-up, but he’s left-handed and a starting pitcher.

    Honestly, the best comparison I can find is probably the current version of Pedro Martinez, just as a southpaw. Not a dominating fastball, but excellent command, a devastating change-up, and a lot of injury concerns.

  5. Gregor on May 11th, 2006 12:24 pm

    And if you want a good laugh, check out Cole Hamels Facts. Hee.

    That’s hilarious, however, they forgot to mention that Cole Hamels also beat up Kublai Khan while building the pyramids.

  6. stripesjr on May 11th, 2006 12:31 pm

    So if he’s dubbed King Cole, will he be a merry old soul by the end of his career?

  7. Mat on May 11th, 2006 12:41 pm

    Thanks Dave. I actually like it when pitchers don’t have a good comp. This way, he can be Cole Hamels, rather than “the next …”

  8. D. James Corcoran on May 11th, 2006 12:43 pm

    I’ve never seen a man eat so many chicken wings.

  9. JMB on May 11th, 2006 1:04 pm

    My favorite is that Cole Hamels expected the Spanish Inquisition.

  10. dw on May 11th, 2006 1:11 pm

    So if he’s dubbed King Cole, will he be a merry old soul by the end of his career?

    So long as when he calls for his pipe and calls for his bowl Freddy Garcia lends him his.

  11. Deanna on May 11th, 2006 1:11 pm

    My favorite is “Cole Hamels once struck a man out looking. Literally. Cole just gazed at him and the batter was retired on strikes.”

  12. dw on May 11th, 2006 1:11 pm

    ARRGH. Killed the joke.

    So long as when he calls for his pipe and calls for his bowl Freddy Garcia DOESN’T lend him his.

    Actually, it’s funnier the first time around. Never mind.

  13. msb on May 11th, 2006 1:13 pm

    do teams normally hold press conferences before they promote a player?

  14. Dave on May 11th, 2006 1:14 pm


  15. vj on May 11th, 2006 1:19 pm

    Re the link Deanna posted: And I thought some of us had a serious mancrush on Felix or Doyle…

  16. ChrisK on May 11th, 2006 1:23 pm

    #3 – I love crooked stats like that because they are just so ungodly. Btw, I have Utley, Howard, Felix and Hamels on my fantasy team, with Kenji as my catcher. Should be fun following these guys this summer.

  17. dw on May 11th, 2006 1:31 pm

    Philly has a weird relationship with the Phillies. They love them and despise them at the same time, but they’re still the root team of support. So, a press conference to announce that the Savior Of The Franchise is heading for the Wilkes-Barre airport? Not that surprising.

    Speaking of young arms, this little tidbit from BP today:

    At this point, everybody knows the rumor: The Royals, picking first in next months draft, will allegedly bypass Andrew Miller, the lefthander from North Carolina, and instead go in a northwesterly direction to select University of Washington righthander Tim Lincecum.

    I’m hoping this happens, even if it dooms KC for another year. One less “local pick” for the M’s management to be attracted to like a moth to a bug zapper.

  18. msb on May 11th, 2006 1:43 pm

    that’ll make Dave happy 🙂

  19. Matthew Carruth on May 11th, 2006 1:46 pm

    I’d take Lincecum in a second if he was available. Local ties or not, the guy has filthy with a capital F stuff and the maturity to be in the bigs soon. He’s number 2 on my board and I don’t see anyway Miller drops to 5 no matter how much money he wants.

  20. msb on May 11th, 2006 1:54 pm

    FWIW, as of tues., Jonathan Mayo has Brad Lincoln or Daniel Bard going 5th…

  21. Jeff Sullivan on May 11th, 2006 1:54 pm

    Incidentally, Burnett is the only guy on the list who actually panned out. Huh.

    I, too, like Hamels’ mechanics. If he ends up breaking down, it won’t be due to a messy delivery.

  22. PositivePaul on May 11th, 2006 2:01 pm

    My favorite is that Cole Hamels expected the Spanish Inquisition.

    Heh. I must have a great mind, as it’s thinking like Jason’s. I can make a pretty mean Schwäbische Rostbraten — and I used a mean Coq au Vin with Garlic Lemon Butter Orzo meal to entice both my future wife and future boss, so maybe there is hope for me yet 😉

    Here’s to hoping Miller drops down to 5. Or Lincecum. There certainly ain’t much near-MLB-ready hitting from what I’ve read, and we probably need near-MLB-ready pitching a little more than we need near-MLB-ready hitting anyway.

  23. Gregor on May 11th, 2006 2:09 pm

    #19, #23 – The consensus here (in a thread a few days ago) appeared to be that given Lincecum’s history of overuse (146 pitches in a game the other day) and poor mechanics, he is a TJ surgery waiting to happen.

  24. ChrisK on May 11th, 2006 2:29 pm

    My favorite Hamels stat: In 195 minor league innings, he’s given up 2 home runs. Two!

  25. Jeff Sullivan on May 11th, 2006 3:42 pm

    I don’t think Lincecum’s mechanics are as bad as they’re made out to be. They’re certainly not clean, but at the same time, I don’t think they make him a ticking time bomb.

  26. DMZ on May 11th, 2006 4:01 pm

    They’d better be perfect if he’s throwing 140+ pitches a game.

  27. Jeff Sullivan on May 11th, 2006 4:22 pm

    Yeah, well, hopefully he survives long enough to join an organization that won’t let that happen anymore.

    Didn’t he throw 165 pitches in a game a year ago?

  28. Jim Thomsen on May 11th, 2006 4:32 pm

    What’s Lincecum’s projected draft position?

  29. Dave on May 11th, 2006 4:41 pm

    Between #1 and #10.

  30. Dave on May 11th, 2006 4:42 pm

    And yea, Lincecum’s workload has been crazy. The Dawgs have used him regularly on three days rest when needed.

  31. dw on May 11th, 2006 4:55 pm

    Lincecum could be a great pitcher, but he’ll likely break down as early as this year, then miss a year-plus due to the TJS. Or, it could be his labrum that goes.

    Just the idea that he’s being run out every three days and may be throwing as much as 140+/game should be a big, big red flag for any team drafting him. And you know that if UW makes the tournament they’ll be sending him out there every chance they get.

  32. Matthew Carruth on May 11th, 2006 5:03 pm

    welcome to college pitching.

    anyways, by all reports, TL has something of a rubber arm and frequently does long toss the day after starts. Maybe he can handle it. And it’s not like 140 in Pac-10 == 140 in MLB anyways. Its probably more like 110-120 if that.

    I think his mechanics and usage patterns warrant about half the concern they’ve actually raised. If he’s there at 5 (and I doubt he is) I’d take him w/o a second thought.

  33. Brian Rust on May 11th, 2006 5:17 pm

    OK, so “Cole Hamels expected the Spanish Inquisition” went over my head. Help, anyone?

  34. Bender on May 11th, 2006 5:35 pm
  35. Bender on May 11th, 2006 5:36 pm
  36. Steve T on May 11th, 2006 5:43 pm

    In a Monty Python sketch, some elaborately costumed characters burst into a completely unrelated scene shouting “no one EXPECTS the Spanish Inquisition”. It derives from a play on the commonplace phrase, when you’re being grilled too closely about something, “what is this, the Spanish Inquisition?”.

  37. ConorGlassey on May 11th, 2006 5:51 pm

    Not only does Lincecum throw tons of pitches…he doesn’t ice his arm after games!

  38. DMZ on May 11th, 2006 5:56 pm

    The list of players who had high workloads and were seen as having rubber arms only to later have those arms fall off is long and distinguished.

  39. Bender on May 11th, 2006 5:58 pm

    Doc Gooden never used Ice till he was in the majors. I played competitive college sports and never used ice. I was just dumb.

  40. Mat on May 11th, 2006 6:07 pm

    You’re all missing the biggest red flag of all…the Royals are interested!

  41. Fett42 on May 11th, 2006 6:38 pm

    So is Felix really much better than Hamels at all,looking at the minor league numbers?

  42. msb on May 11th, 2006 7:34 pm

    The Spanish Inquisition is actually a great Halloween costume, because, well, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  43. BelaXadux on May 11th, 2006 8:31 pm

    Cole Hamels: “Surprise, _ju-sssst_ SURPRISE!” *hee-hee* [Bought the routine on vinyl when just a lad.]

    ” . . . Velocity and injury.” That list is heartbreaking, to see those names. Burnett is the only one to have consistent success at the ML level, around a T-J surgery, with continuing elbow problems as we now see. Redding’s gone backwards for years now. That should be a caution to anyone looking at guys like Lincecum, and all the others. There guys just blow up so often it’s enough to give you angina. That said, Greg Miller, in a heartbeat. He’s a lefty, and one that good just doesn’t come down the pike every year.

    Zach Greinke, anybody know whether he’s on any kind of track to get back to pitching? To pitching effectively??

    BTW, the Ms took a couple of T-J guys the last two years in lower draft slots, cut-and-follow guys, so to speak; just read a short squib on them last night on one of the affiliate websites. Anybody know how Varvaro is doing? Gonna pitch this year??

  44. joser on May 11th, 2006 8:40 pm

    So High School pitchers are risky because they’re so young and you don’t know how they’ll develop. And college pitchers are risky because they’re frequently overworked. No wonder scouts are turning over rocks in Latin America looking for talent. Pitching is just plain risky.

  45. aws on May 11th, 2006 10:50 pm

    While talking about the fantasy implications of hamels Eric Karabel had this to say about the Phillies calling him up. “A Phillies faithful in the office asked me why the team doesn’t just put Ryan Franklin in the rotation instead. Because, I said, MLB would run out of baseballs to give to the umpire in his starts, and it would endanger the lives of fans sitting in the left field stands. It’s all about the safety.”

    I had a good long laugh.

  46. doorbot on May 12th, 2006 12:41 pm

    And he has arrived on Yahoo, heh.

  47. Deanna on May 12th, 2006 4:25 pm

    Hamels just struck out Felipe Lopez and Ken Griffey Jr in the first inning of the Reds-Phillies game. Whoosh!

  48. Mat on May 12th, 2006 5:35 pm

    It’s too bad Rowand isn’t playing today, Hamels might still have a no-hitter going. He’s probably thrown too many pitches for him to have finished it anyway, so it might be one of those times when it’s good to have the no-hitter broken up.

  49. JG on May 12th, 2006 7:25 pm

    Hamels – 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K, GB-FB 4-4

    Not bad, not bad at all.

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