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St. Louis Cardinals trade rumors: A PITCHf/x analysis of Cole Hamels

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Since making his major league debut in 2006, Cole Hamels has been worth 34.4 fWAR—the second most among National League pitchers during that time frame.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Publishing note: This article was ~90% complete last Thursday (1/15) night, and I had intended on getting up early Friday (1/16) morning to finish it before going into my Infectious Disease pharmacy rotation at an Indianapolis hospital. Unfortunately, my body didn't handle the flu bug as well as Michael Jordan's did (I still say he had food poisoning or was hungover), and I have been pretty much bedridden since. In the time since I started composing this article, John Mozeliak has stated on at least two occasions that the Cardinals aren't actively pursuing a big-name starting pitcher. Given the price tag and demands of his fellow general managers, this is understandable, but let's take a look at one of the rumored targets anyway.

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As Ben mentioned Thursday night, the St. Louis Cardinals are reportedly one of four teams actively interested in Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels. However, unless Ruben Amaro Jr. backs down from his reported "two top talent" demand, a St. Louis-Philadelphia transaction does not appear to be in line with John Mozeliak's modus operandi. Will Hamels even be traded this winter? No one exactly knows, but at least one member of the local media seems to believe the front office is poised to make a "big" pitching move. Hamels definitely fits this category. Whether he's traded this offseason or at some point next season, let's take a closer look in case he ends up donning the Birds on the Bat.

Career statistics

G GS IP K% BB% LOB% AVG ERA FIP fWAR bWAR
275 274 1801.1 23.3% 6.2% 77.1% .235 3.27 3.48 34.4 40.4

As stated in the article summary, Hamels' 34.4 fWAR ranks second among National League pitchers since his arrival in the big leagues in 2006. Also of note is that he has thrown the most innings and has a top-ten K-BB% (17.1%) during that same span. For what it's worth, Hamels is a three-time All-Star and has finished in the top ten of Cy Young Award voting on four occasions. All things considered, Hamels is one of the best pitchers in the game, even as he enters his age-31 season (10th MLB season overall). The possibility of him being available via trade necessitates intense internal discussion among members of the front office and multiple external phone calls by Mozeliak.

Pitch characteristics (via BrooksBaseball)

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless Horiz. Movement (in.; 2014) Vert. Release (ft) AVG SLG ISO
Fourseamer 45.59% 91.98 7.95 6.88 .265 .449 .183
Sinker 5.93% 91.69 14.18 6.66 .292 .445 .154
Change 26.64% 82.69 13.35 6.81 .200 .310 .110
Curve 9.94% 76.81 -6.19 6.72 .188 .263 .075
Cutter 11.90% 89.36 0.97 6.55 .254 .405 .151

Hamels has a deep, effective, and multi-faceted repertoire. Though he is primarily a fourseamer/changeup pitcher, his cutter, curve, and sinker can all be effective as well, especially as set-up pitches. As you can see, all five have a considerable amount of horizontal movement. For those that still get confused about horizontal pitch movement made available by PITCHf/x, a positive number from a left-hander signifies tailing action to the throwing arm side of his body, while a negative number means breaking/sliding action to his glove side. When looking at horizontal movements, it is best to look at the differences between pitches, instead of looking at each pitch as if it is "in a vacuum." Three of his five pitches have significantly different horizontal movements (fourseamer, curve, cutter), and the two pitches that have a similar amount of movement (sinker, change) gain effectiveness by tracking the same ball flight to the plate. Based on this information, alone, one can understand why Hamels has been such an effective major league pitcher.

So, about that changeup...

I already dissected the changeup of Marco Gonzales last September. Coincidentally, I just so happened to compare Marco's changeup to the one Hamels possesses. While I understand the Pitch Value feature on Fangraphs is nowhere near perfect (with one of the bigger issues being how to value the set-up pitch), Hamels blows away the competition with his changeup. Since 2006, Hamels has accrued a wCH of 164.6. Felix Hernandez is in second with 116.2, and James Shields is in third with 96.4. From fourth on down the leaderboard, Hamels, at the very least, doubles up in value. This helps explain why he throws the pitch over one-fourth of the time.

Hamels

Both the PITCHf/x data and the GIF (thanks again, @mstreeter06) are fun to look at, but the following photo of his changeup grip (courtesy of a must-read 2011 New York Times article) is the most interesting part, in my opinion:

Hamels Change

What is widely considered a "circle change" grip, I'd call a "modified" circle change at best. The placement of the ball in his fingers resembles that of a splitfinger fastball, and the "diving" action down and away from righties (as seen in the David Freese GIF above) is augmented by the pressure on the outside of the seam by his pointer/index finger. I've always found pitch grips intriguing, particularly changeups since there are so many different variations, so I look forward to a future piece by Eno Sarris on Hamels' unique grip.

It is interesting that Sarris brings up Hamels' cutter grip because it is a pitch he has been going to more often in recent seasons. While statistics show it hasn't been a wildly effective pitch for him, it appears to be a pitch he's quite comfortable in throwing. Again, I really think it has success in his repertoire as a set-up pitch (and yes, I know I have brought this up numerous times now).

Bottom line

Are the Cardinals going to acquire Cole Hamels? At Amaro's current asking price, there is no way. However, the performance and health of the starting rotation will likely dictate some of Mozeliak's moves in 2015. If Hamels can be had at a "decent value," he would absolutely be my choice of the four "big-name pitchers" being thrown around rumor mill these days. While he's thrown a ton of innings, he's been durable, and his repertoire reflects that of one of the very best starting pitchers in the game.

Credit to BrooksBaseball for the PITCHf/x data and @mstreeter06 for the GIF.