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« Alex Avila's Walk-Off | Main | Hellickson's Gem »

King Cole's Cutter

Cole Hamels begins what could be his final season in Philly by starting the club's home opener against the Marlins this afternoon. The 28-year-old is a free agent following the 2012 season, and he has every right to ask for the same kind of cash (five years, $112.5 million) that the Giants recently gave Matt Cain. Hamels and Cain have nearly identical innings pitched (1,029 Hamels, 1,080.1 Cain), ERA+ (127 for both) and Wins Above Replacement (20.6 Hamels, 21 Cain) totals since 2007.

Hamels is fresh off arguably the best year of his career, having posted a 138 ERA+ in 2011. A major reason for his success was that he increased his ground ball rate to 55% from the low-to-mid-40's in past years. That, in turn, helped Hamels cut his home run rate from 1.2 per nine innings to 0.8 last season. Everyone knows Hamels for his knockout changeup, but his cutter gets him plenty of grounders and outs, too.

The lefty increased his cutter usage from eight percent in 2010 (the year he introduced the pitch) to a little over 12% in 2011. Hamels' cutter was a decent offering in '10, but he got more worm-burners and surrendered fewer extra-base hits in '11:

Cole Hamels' cutter

YearGB Pct.SLG Pct.
2010 54.5 .372
2011 61.2 .278
MLB AVG 42.7 .406


Among starting pitchers who threw at least 300 cutters in 2011, Hamels ranked first in ground ball rate and fourth in opponent slugging percentage (between Jon Lester and teammate Roy Halladay).

The cutter is a relatively platoon-proof pitch, and Hamels used it a fair amount against both lefties (15%) and righties (11%). Hamels buried the high-80s cutter low-and-away against same-handed hitters:

Hamels' cutter location vs. lefties, 2011

Against righties, he varied his location more. Some cutters were of the hand-numbing, bat-breaking variety, and others were tossed on the outside corner:

Hamels' cutter location vs. righties, 2011

Lefty or righty, it didn't matter: When Hamels kept his cutter below hitters' elbows, he got bushels of ground balls. Look at his ground ball rate by location with the cutter, and then the league average:

Hamels' ground ball rate by location with his cutter, 2011

Average ground ball rate by location with the cutter, 2011

Assuming he stays healthy and has another stellar year in 2012, Hamels will soon pull down $20-plus million per season. And thanks to his cutter, he'll keep the ball in the park no matter where he's pitching.

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