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David Price and Cole Hamels: not that different

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In a five game series like the American League Divisional Series, the first team to three wins gets through to the next round. So it's possible that the ALDS is over before either team can send their ace to the mound a second time. But if the series goes longer, both David Price and Cole Hamels could start twice and be in a prime position to dominate the ALDS for their respective teams.

Cole Hamels, contemplating how he matches up with David Price
Cole Hamels, contemplating how he matches up with David Price
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

If one does a Google search - this, incidentally brings me to question whether I should link Google's homepage so readers can find it - for the exact combination of words "Cole Hamels is an ace", Google responds with 1560 results. If one then follows up with "David Price is an ace": 12100 results. Let's see, 12100 divided by 1560 is roughly 7,8. David Price has, at least according to Google, been mentioned on the internet as an ace almost 8 times as much as Cole Hamels. Even if Cole Hamels' attributes somehow have lead him to be discussed more in the living room as opposed to the internet, and if he would somehow be favoured drastically over Price in those living rooms, it seems likely that many more people believe that David Price is "an ace" than they do Cole Hamels.

Perhaps Cole Hamels not being regarded an ace is because Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have at times been found to be better pitchers on the same Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff. Perhaps it's because in 2009 Cole Hamels had a shaky season and after that never shook off the image of overrated starting pitcher? Perhaps it's because in the last six years David Price has accumulated more fWAR (that is Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Fangraphs) at 30.5 compared to 25.9 for Cole Hamels. However, this does ignore that Hamels has been a bit better than Price at beating his FIP, and has pitched in hitter's parks, while Price has pitched in pitcher's parks before coming to the Rogers Centre.

Different stats (2010-2015) shed a different light on the situation:

Name rWAR ERA- xFIP-
David Price 27.8 77 80
Cole Hamels 32.2 80 85

The stat rWAR is WAR as calculated by baseball-reference.com. Basically, its calculations include accounting for parks, league and defense, but it does not ignore balls in play like FIP-based fWAR does (although I'm told it recently has started including popups). Click the link for more information on how rWAR is calculated.

The case I'm trying to build here is not that Cole Hamels is better than David Price, or that he's 3% worse or 5% worse or whatever number you can come up with. The point is that Cole Hamels is one of the top pitchers in the game, not quite in Clayton Kershaw's ballpark, but probably pretty close in quality to David Price. Cole Hamels is a pitcher that could give the Blue Jays trouble, and if you're John Gibbons, you should probably be a little bit worried about giving him the chance to make a second start in the series.

Pitch repertoire

If we look at the last three years, here's the pitch mix for David Price:

Pitch Overall vs RHB vs LHB Ahead* Behind*
Four-seam
20 21 18 21 22
Two-seam 35 29 51 29 31
Cutter 16 17 11 21 15
Changeup 20 24 8 18 30
Curveball 9 8 11 11 2

*ahead in the count and behind in the count vs RHB

Over the years David Price has evolved into a truly complete pitcher, throwing offspeed pitches in any count, with hitters not able to sit on any one pitch as he throws four to five with similar regularity. Most recently, he has trusted his cutter and changeup more against lefties, reducing the number of fastballs to lefties from 80% in 2013 to 58% in 2015, seemingly eliminating the only remaining predictable aspect of David Price's pitch mix.

Here's the pitch mix for Cole Hamels:

Pitch Overall vs RHB vs LHB Ahead* Behind*
Four-seam
35 35 35 31 37
Two-seam 15 15
15
15 18
Cutter 16 14 26
17 11
Changeup 24 26 16 19 32
Curveball 10 10
8 19 2

*ahead in the count and behind in the count vs RHB

Cole Hamels has a very similar repertoire to David Price. There are small differences. David Price is more about horizontal movement, with more running action on the fastballs and more cutting/sweeping movement on the cutter and the curveball. Hamels has a curve that drops down a lot more, and has more rise on the four-seamer than Price. Price's cutter moves more, vertically and horizontally, than the one thrown by Hamels, but Hamels' cutter is tighter, with less separation in velocity with the fastball.

Pitch results

Cole Hamels' offspeed pitches - cutter, curve and changeup - are less hittable than the ones thrown by David Price. With the exception of the changeup, however, David Price throws a lot more strikes with those pitches. Cole Hamels is a changeup specialist, and a really good one at that, who commands his four-seamer really well but is liable to give up big hits on the four-seamer and the cutter. David Price fills the strikezone with a variety of pitches, none of them as good as Hamels' changeup, relying on his stuff and unpredictability more than on nibbling and getting swing on pitches out of the zone. Theoretically, this should give the patient Blue Jays an advantage over Hamels. But it's much easier to lay off Hamels' incredible changeup in theory than it is in practice.

Just like it was a privilege to watch Dallas Keuchel shut down the New York Yankees, it will be privilege to watch these two left-handed ace pitchers go to work in the ALDS. David Price will go in game one on Thursday, Cole Hamels will go in game two on Friday. And if the series goes long, we could have quite the southpaw matchup in game five.