Explaining the Cole Hamels Resurgence: Tweaks, Texas, Velocity, and More

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Explaining the Cole Hamels Resurgence: Tweaks, Texas, Velocity, and More

Chicago Cubs

Cole Hamels’ success since joining the Cubs is a secret to exactly nobody in Chicago (ditto Milwaukee and St. Louis, I reckon). Indeed, we’ve discussed it about a thousand times here already – most recently, after he delivered the first complete game of the Cubs’ season. Rest assured, I don’t intend on putting you through another love-fest today – not that it isn’t enjoyable.

That’s because we’ve not really dug in on how/why he’s been so much better since leaving Texas, and I want to go a little deeper on that today, particularly in light of comments from Hamels himself on that front.

Joining a younger, more competitive, better defensive team in a less hitter-friendly ballpark are obviously going to among the factors in his resurgence, but I don’t think anyone really believes they are the only factors, as none of them actually touch on Hamels’ individual performance. Given how good he’s been, that has to have improved, too.

So what does Hamels think about his time in Texas before coming to the Cubs?

“I was brutal,” Hamels told USA TODAY Sports. “Absolutely brutal. I was fighting a lot of mechanical issues, just opening up, not using my lower half and pulling my pitches. … I started relying on cutters because that was the one thing that was missing bats. So you tend to go into protect mode when you get behind in the count, and I was going more protective mode trying to get more swings and misses.”

Hamels may be onto something here with his cutter usage, though it’s worth pointing out that things might’ve changed just before he actually got to Chicago. From the start of the season through July 1st, Hamels threw his cutter 27.9% of the time, despite a career average of 13.2%. Since then, however, Hamels has used his cutter 18.3% of the time. His cutter usage is up about a tick more than that since joining the Cubs, but clearly it’s WELL below where he was at the beginning of the season.

And whaddaya know … since joining the Cubs, that cutter has been a 5.0 value pitch, but it was just a 1.0 value pitch before that. Sometimes, less is more.

But that’s only scratching the surface. Pitchers tinker with their mix all season long, and clearly this was something Hamels began just before joining the Cubs. Instead, let’s talk about some of his mechanical tweaks. Speaking to 670 the Score, Hamels discussed how his mechanics got completely out of whack in Texas after he tried to rush back from an injury last season.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

And from the sound of it, that had a direct effect on his velocity: “I was landing open with my front side, and when you land open with your front side, it basically disallows you to hide the ball. Your velocity does decrease. It’s everything.”

After Hamels’ debut at Wrigley Field (his third start with the Cubs – a beauty against the Nationals, which was, at the time, the Cubs’ best start of the year), we discussed how his four-seam velocity was back at the top of its game:

For just the second time this year, Hamels was averaging over 94 MPH on his fastball, something he’s never actually done over the course of an entire season, and it paid off big time. While that fastball, alone, generated just two swings and misses, his changeup, which plays off of it, accumulated seven whiffs! All together, Hamels got 16(!) swings and misses on the evening, leading to his second 9K game for the Cubs this season.

Perhaps we didn’t know it at the time, but it sounds like that rise in velocity might not’ve been adrenaline-at-Wrigley-induced, and instead was the result of a mechanical shift making way for more natural, easy velocity. As a matter of fact, it may have actually been a mechanical shift that occurred just before he was traded to the Cubs.

According to Hamels, he and the Rangers identified went back and watched video of his best seasons (2014-2016) to notice what was different. After that was identified, he worked on putting it together on the field and only started realizing results once he was traded to the Cubs. Perhaps the front office knew about these tweaks ahead of time, and/or perhaps the extra adrenaline really did put him over the top, but it sure seems like the Cubs hit the lottery, and I’m beginning not to care who originally purchased the ticket.

Neither is Hamels: “The moment I come over here, the results start happening. So I’m going to stick with what’s going on.”

Sahadev Sharma went even deeper with Hamels at The Athletic on the mechanical adjustments he’s been making, if you want an extremely involved discussion. It’s a fantastic read.

With all of this said and while I TOTALLY expect Hamels to continue his streak of excellence throughout the rest of the season nudge nudge baseball gods no jinx nudge, I’d be cautious to expect a repeat of his Reds performance tonight. The Mets may be one of the bottom five teams in baseball against southpaws (by wRC+), but Hamels threw a whole lot of pitches last time out, and that can be difficult to bounce back from, especially for an older guy.

At a minimum, the matchup between Hamels and Jacob deGrom should be an exciting one to keep an eye on. Anyone got an extra ticket?

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami