When I was doing my usual perusing around the FanGraphs leaderboards earlier this morning, I noticed something particularly awesome about a certain 35-year-old Cubs southpaw that had somehow otherwise eluded me – even as a possibility.
Cole Hamels has a sub-3.00 ERA!
SURPRISE! After his 7.0 scoreless innings yesterday, Cole Hamels now has a 2.98 ERA. That's the 16th best ERA in all of MLB! And 8th best in the NL! pic.twitter.com/pAEwl30ZLI
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) June 13, 2019
After laying back-to-back stinkers against the Phillies (May 22nd) and Astros (May 27th), Cole Hamels has now turned in three straight brilliant outings, against the Cardinals, Cardinals, and Rockies:
@StL: 7.0 IP, 2H, 0ER, 2BB, 4Ks
v. StL: 8.0 IP, 3H, 0ER, 1BB, 10Ks
@COL: 7.0 IP, 6H, 0ER, 1BB, 9Ks
Together, Hamels has gone threestraight starts (22.0 IP)* without allowing an earned run, with a COMBINED 11 hits, 4 walks and 23 strikeouts. That is one hell of a stretch that certainly helps to explain how he’s rocketed up the ERA leaderboards among his peers.
*It’s actually 23.1 IP if you include the last inning and a third of his otherwise rough start in Houston, but that feels less important.
And yesterday’s dominance (at Coors Field, no less) was just the cherry on top of these three very good outings:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 12, 2019
A quick peak behind the curtain will show Hamels getting a ton of weak contact during these three games (21.6% soft-hit rate), as well as a TOTAL lack of hard contact (21.6% hard-hit rate) and plenty of ground balls (48%). When you can pair all of that with a 29.1% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk rate, you’re obviously going to have a lot of success.
And those improved peripherals are likely thanks – in some small part – to an unspecified mechanical tweak shared yesterday (Cubs.com). Indeed, there’s a small but very clear change in Hamels’ vertical and horizontal release points in these last three starts, so it looks like that’s when something was tweaked. It’s always nice when something like that aligns exactly with the improved peripherals and results, isn’t it?
Here’s Hamels discussing that change: “Really just trying to make a mechanical change that I think was not allowing me to utilize the pitches that I have with effectiveness. With making that change, I’m able to now get the right results. The pitches are doing exactly what I hope they’ll do with the intention to establish all parts of the zone, and with the hard and soft [pitches] too.”
Frustratingly vague, I know, but hey … if it’s working, it’s working. And clearly, it’s working. If you recall back to the beginning of the year, after a rough debut in Texas, Hamels strung together three very good starts against the Brewers (56 Game Score), Angels (76 GS), and Marlins (83 GS), but that 71.7 GS average is well below the 79.7 average he’s posted over his last three outings (74, 89, and 76). In fact, the current stretch was actually the second-best three-game stretch of his ENTIRE career – second only to three starts he made back in 2006!
Best Three-Game Stretches of Hamels’ Career*
- Aug 3-14, 2006: 81.0 Avg. GS
- June 2-12, 2019: 79.7
- July 1-15, 2017: 79.3
- June 3-14, 2011: 79.0
- Aug 29 – Sep. 8, 2010: 78.0
For what it’s worth, although he earned a better game score on his three starts back in August of 2006, Hamels actually allowed 2 earned runs during that stretch. So, in a way, you could almost argue that this was actually the best three-game stretch of his career. And for a guy like Hamels, who’s not only been along so very long, but has been good for so very long, that’s really, freakin’ awesome.
Let’s hope whatever secret or subtle mechanical tweak he made is something that can be sustained, because when Hamels is this guy, the Cubs rotation has a totally different feel.