Lefty Cole Hamels gets the ball for the Phillies today in game one against the Brewers. Hamels is a very good pitcher who has some interesting quirks about him so I wanted to do a little previewing in preparation for the first playoff game for the Crew in quite some time.
First, let's look at Hamels movement chart. Like many lefties out there he only throws three pitches; four seam fastball, circle change, and a curveball. Here is a look at the movement he gets on these pitches.
Starting with the fastball we can see just how over the top Hamels throws. He gets very large vertical movement and next to no horizontal movement. He does throw his fastball at about 91 MPH which is good for a lefty but this is definitely a show pitch. He doesn't want to challenge hitters with it he wants to show them the fastball to get them out with his off speed stuff or have them chase a fastball out of the zone. This usually is up out of the zone but he can bust this pitch in to right handed batters because of the small horizontal movement. Fastballs up in the zone have been a problem for several of our big bats this year (I'm looking at you Prince and JJ) so laying off the high fastball will be a big key.
Hamels of course is known for his change-up and with PITCHf/x you can see why. He has nice tailing action down and away from a right handed batter and he throws this pitch ten MPH slower than his fastball. That is an excellent speed differential and allows him to fool hitters with it even in hitters counts. More than any other pitcher, Hamels will throw his change-up when he is behind in the count: 43% on 1-0, 44% on 2-0, and 47% on 3-1. He throws this pitch so much that I would go up looking for the change-up on 1-0 in particular. If you don't get it and he gets a fastball by you the count is still 1-1 at worst and then he is more likely to come back with a fastball.
This also applies to Fielder as Hamels throws his change-up to lefties almost as much as righties. That is extremely unusual as a lefty-lefty change-up tends to end up as a 80 MPH pitch middle in near the knees. This is the happy zone for many lefties and while Fielder seems to be a bit better when he can get his arms fully extended he certainly can hit a ball like that a long way. So guess change-up when Hamels falls behind and you might be rewarded.
The last of the three pitches to look at is the curveball. Because Hamels throws over the top you would expect his curve to be very 12 to 6 and indeed that is exactly what you see. In fact, many of Hamels curves go past horizontal and actually move away from a right handed hitter! This is one of the most extreme 12 to 6 curves any pitcher throws and I am generally a big fan of curves like this. The problem is Hamels generates very little vertical drop with the pitch considering how over the top it is and how slowly he throws it (around 75 MPH).
For comparison, Ben Sheets gets more vertical drop and he throws his curve about five MPH faster than Hamels does so it has less time in the air to drop. Hamels' curve still is effective because of the large vertical "rise" he gets with the fastball which creates a large separation between the two pitches even if the curve doesn't have great drop. Hamels also hides his curve well because it stays in the same horizontal plane as his fastball.
Hamels uses his curve almost exclusively for strikeouts though he will occasionally throw a get me over curve to start an at bat. Even in these two strike situations he uses his his fastball and his change-up more frequently so it is extremely difficult for a batter to adjust when the curve does come.
In conclusion, Cole Hamels has some very nasty stuff but it isn't as overpowering as what Manny Parra brings to the table. That means that Hamels has to be smart and hit his corners. If the umpire isn't giving the outside corner especially and Hamels is forced to come in he definitely can be had. Guessing change-up in hitters counts might also be fruitful especially with a couple of runners on base in the bandbox that Citizens Bank Park is.