Cole Hamels' best pitch is his changeup. That's not really a startling revelation, I know, but maybe you're unaware of just how good his changeup really is.
According to FanGraphs' pitch value numbers, Hamels has had the most effective changeup in Major League Baseball since pitch values became a statistic in 2002. His career wCH (changeup runs above average) sits at 164.6. To put that in some perspective, there's just one other player who's even in the wCH triple digits -- Felix Hernandez. And even still he's 40-some points behind Hamels.
Hamels' changeup is breathtaking, but his fastball is really nothing special (career 0.5 wFB), which is why Hamels sums up the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies' pitching staff perfectly; amazing with the change, pretty darn terrible with the heater. As a team, the Phillies threw the best changeups and some of the worst fastballs in terms of effectiveness last year.
Let's take a gander into the last two seasons and look at how successful the Phillies have been when throwing changeups and fastballs.
|wFB||MLB Rank||wCH||MLB Rank|
When talking about pitch values, zero is considered average, which means anything above zero is above average and anything below zero is below average. Pitch values are not predictive, but the fact that the Phillies have been almost completely useless when throwing fastballs over the last two doesn't bode well. Just imagine if they had found pitchers with adequate fastballs. Pair that with their clear capability of dominating with the changeup, and you have one heck of a rotation. But with someone like A.J. Burnett in the rotation, who has a career -43.2 wFB, that just wasn't possible.
The Phillies had seven pitchers with fastballs worth positive runs in 2014, and none of them was a starter: Jonathan Papelbon (11.1), Antonio Bastardo (6.9), Ken Giles (5.1), Mike Adams (3.2), Jeff Manship (2.2), Hector Neris (0.3), and Ethan Martin (0.2). Neris and Martin combined for just five innings, so they don't really count. That means every Phillies starter had a negative wFB and combined for a grand total of -60.8 wFB. Burnett led the charge with a whopping -16.0 wFB. The Phillies should be better in the fastball department next season. Burnett has taken his back to Pittsburgh, and Kyle Kendrick doesn't look like he'll be reappearing in Philly anytime soon.
At least the Phillies weren't completely useless when it came to throwing the ball toward the plate. As I mentioned earlier, changeups were their forte in 2014, especially for their starters. Of the pitchers who pitched at least 10 innings for the Phillies last season, only two were below average at throwing changeups: Manship and Burnett (again). Philadelphia struck out 217 batters via the change (fifth-most) and held opponents to a crazy low .189 batting average (lowest in MLB). Fortunately, the Phillies took advantage of their superior changeups and threw them at a higher rate than other 24 teams.
Now, I'm not sure if the Phillies front office is aware that pitch values exist as the organization seems to be oblivious to sabermetrics based on the last few seasons, but it's something they should probably pay attention to. If the Phillies do one thing before the season commences, it should be finding one or two pitchers who can actually get hitters out with a fastball.
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Justin Schultz is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and also runs his own sabermetric website, The First Out At Third. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.