Monday, October 18, 2010

NLCS Game 3 Preview: Scouting Cole Hamels

The Giants didn’t play very well in game two, that’s clear. Mike Fontenot – who isn’t much of a third baseman on account of his weak arm and lack of experience there – showed in game two, well, that he isn’t much of a third baseman. He made an errant throw that came around to score* in the first. He also let a ball hit who knows how high in the air, slightly left to of the mound – which he called for – drop for a “hit”. Splendid work thus far.  John Miller said he looks a bit like Wolverine with his facial hair, and I’ll say his defense has been about as good as Hugh Jackman’s acting. But once again, in his defense, he’s only playing because the Giants’ regular third baseman and 2009 MVP candidate has been in a deep freeze all season long, and his defense hasn’t been much better than Fontenot’s.

*The runner scored on a bases loaded walk, but the “ball” four wasn’t much of a ball. In fact, it looked a heck of a lot like a strike. A large of theme of the series thus far has been the coin flip strike zone. It’s been about as inconsistent as can be.

All things considered, the Giants have to be pleased that they were 1-1 coming out of hostile** Philly when they took their flight back to San Francisco. They managed to get at a not so sharp Roy Halladay just enough in game one and Lincecum managed to pitch, while not brilliantly as he had in his previous start, but certainly well enough to win in the tiny Citizen’s Bank Park.

**Fix your teeth? How about Fix your genetics, Phillies fans. Oh crud, you can't. Carry on morons.

Looking forward to game three, the Giants will send righty Matt Cain to the hill opposing the Philly’s Cole Hamels. Hamels has been especially tough of late. I’ve given the rundown on Cain a few times (one being here), so I’ll focus on what to expect from the young lefty. He was their Ace until he found himself 3rd on the starter depth chart after acquiring Lee last year, then essentially swapping him for Halladay – although that’s not what they actually did – and then Oswalt.

The Giants are also likely to make some more drastic lineup changes for at least one of two reasons. For one – and they will without question for this reason – is that they’ll be facing a lefty for the first time in the postseason. I think it’s safe to assume that someone will be playing for Mike Fontenot because he’s 1) a lefty and 2) his defense stunk in game two. Bochy will make the change because that’s what managers are expected to do, and that’s what they typically do. The fact that a lefty is starting only gives him all the more reason to do it and to have more than enough justification to satisfy the media.

Bochy will have two options if Uribe is good to good – he’s having an MRI done on his ailing wrist today. His first option will be to put Uribe at third and leave Renteria at shortstop where he played in game two. His second option will be to give Pablo Sandoval another shot at third. Pablo hasn’t hit at all this season while batting right handed, but he’s been bitten badly by balls in play which I brought to light in a previous post: Pablo’s Lack of Lady Luck. Also, he had a nice AB against Ryan Madsen last night. Though, it was while hitting left handed.

Additionally, Bochy will have another decision to make because Andres Torres has been dreadful for a pretty significant period of time dating back to the regular season. Thus far in the postseason, in particular, his best shot at making contact has been when his butt hits the pine after another swinging strikeout. That’s harsh, but he is officially 3-25 with 12 strikeouts thus far in the playoffs. Whatever Bochy decides, this will be a blow to their defense because Torres flat out runs the ball down. And furthermore, Bochy’s likely alternative is 1) not as good a defender and 2) a terrible hitter, at least in 2010.  I’m talking about ex-Philly Aaron Rowand, of course.

In any event, I expect the series to continue to be tight – and despite the 6-1 final last night, that was a tight one too. Here’s what I can say about Hamels:

Don’t let Hamels’ 12-11 record fool you; he definitely deserved a lot better. He made 33 starts and threw 208.2 innings in the regular season. He struck out more than a batter per inning (9.10/ 9 IP) and walked a respectable 2.63 per 9, which was actually around ½ a batter per 9 more than his previous three seasons. This isn’t a big deal especially considering he was striking out batters at a much higher clip than he had since his rookie season.  Hamels is susceptible to the long ball and, as he has down throughout his career, gave up more than a HR per 9 IP (1.12).  He gave up a very average .296 on balls in play and finished with a 1.18 WHIP. Another area in which he improved was his ground ball rate. He’s been around 40% in his career but hiked that to 45.4% in 2010, likely because of a pitch he added to his arsenal and which I’ll discuss later. His ERA for the season was 3.06 and his FIP 3.67.  All in all, he was very solid despite the very near .500 record, which is as (truth) telling as when a politician opens his mouth.

As Dave Cameron of Fangraphs pointed out recently, quite a few pitchers have been adding a cutter to their repertoire and Hamels is among them. Despite having never thrown one in his career, he wasn’t shy at all with it and threw it 14.7% of the time in 2010 – I guess that’s one benefit of having Harry LeRoy Halladay as a rotation mate – at an average velocity of 89 MPH. This is impressive because Hamels wasn’t throwing his four-seam fastball that hard last October. Though I have not gotten the chance to watch him throw more than once or twice, I’d venture to guess it’s the cutter that has improved his ground ball rate. Everyone also seems to agree his velocity has returned, in fact the reports and data suggest he threw harder this season than he ever has (the average velocity is 92 MPH). He also continues to mix in a curveball which isn’t spectacular but is useful if he’s throwing it for a strike. And finally, Hamels still has the plus changeup that he’s known for. The velocity on the changeup is a very nice 10 MPH fewer than his heater and it’s his second most frequently used pitch.

I also went ahead and took a look at Hamels splits, only to discover that he’s been better against right handed hitters this season. This isn’t great news for the Giants who have a plethora of right handed bats in the lineup. Hamels has given up roughly the same number of long balls and struck out just as many right handed batters as left, but has walked half as many. He has benefited from “soft contact” or a .245 BABIP against left handed hitters. Huff would be smart to be patient against Hamels. The splits truly aren’t all that surprising because of Hamels’ plus change and the addition of his cutter. The changeup in particular is going to be more effective against right handed hitters, and given how good that pitch is, goes a long way to explain his success against right handed batters.

The Giants are reeling offensively.  Whether they shakeup the lineup a little or a lot, I can’t say, but getting a few of their bats going – guys like their cleanup hitter Buster Posey – would go a long way to helping the Giants regain the upper hand in the series. The game has a goofy 1:19 PM Pacific start time, so cut class, leave work early and enjoy the game! Teachers and Boss’ should understand…

All stats provided by Fangraphs

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