Cole Hamels Steadily Working Sinker Back into Mix This Season
Colbert Michael Hamels has been like a whole new pitcher since the time he arrived in Chicago, displaying improved velocity and results from the moment he escaped the Rangers’ Globe Life Park. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Hamels has been like a whole old pitcher, by which I mean his old self and not just that he’s old.
But he is old by baseball standards, having turned 35 in late December, so he’s not exactly at the point where you’d expect him to suddenly learn new tricks or throw harder. Which is why it was interesting to see that the southpaw has been steadily increasing his sinker usage with each successive start this season.
The chart below shows percentages, but Hamels’ pure volume has also increased. In terms of actual pitches thrown, it looks like this: 3, 9, 11, 13, 17.
The velocity of those sinkers has increased as well, though not in nearly as linear a manner. The scale of the chart makes things look more significant than they really are, but the general trend is upward in nature.
Things really get interesting when we look back at Hamels’ previous sinker usage to see that he actually threw the pitch with great frequency at one point. From 2015 (when he was traded from Philly at the deadline) through his last full season in Texas, Hamels used the sinker as much as any secondary pitch (~23%).
But something changed in 2018 as he really cut back on it.
A look at sinker velocity by season reveals what looks like a precipitous drop following the 2016 season, though the scale again obscures things. Still, losing 1.3 mph may have been enough to sink the pitch, metaphorically speaking. While Hamels had put up a career-best 6.0 pitch value (a measure of runs saved) with the sinker in 2016, he dropped to -5.3 the following season.
Given the hitter-friendly confines in which he was pitching, it’s easy to see how the decrease in effectiveness could impact Hamels’ confidence in the pitch. He lost even more velocity in 2018, though he was throwing the sinker so little that it wasn’t as scary an option that season. And despite other obvious improvements during his time with the Cubs, Hamels threw fewer sinkers in Chicago than he had in Texas.
That has clearly changed this year, though, as his confidence in the pitch is rebuilt a little at a time. And while no one’s going to write glowingly about two-tenths of a run saved, that positive value is a big change from the past two seasons.
So as you’re watching the game Tuesday night and trying to find ways to stay awake, consider paying attention to how many times you see Hamels throw a two-seam fastball (which I’ve not called it until just now for some reason). Even better, pay attention to what the Mariners do to those pitches.
Pitch usage and velocity data, including charts, via Baseball Savant.