Comparing two professional athletes is a tricky business. A great deal of baggage accompanies our individual view of a player. Comparing one to another immediately forces the reader or listener into all manner of mental gymnastics, balancing what they know or feel for one player with their feelings for a second. Often the feelings are unpleasant, if the comparison is insulting or meant in a derogatory fashion.
The language we chose to compare players sets the table, attempting to provide fresh perspective on one or both men mentioned in a way that can enlighten and educate. If you want to talk about pitchers with very different track records, it is important to throw results right out the window before you begin.
Because if you attempt comparing a very excellent, about-to-be-very-rich pitcher on a five-time division champion (like Cole Hamels, for example) with a guy battling for the 4th/5th starter’s job on a fourth-place team (like…say…Brett Cecil), you are going to lose a lot of people right from the start.
Somehow, Cole Hamels is the comparison suggested by Blue Jays analyst and radio man for the Fan590 Mike Wilner used for the Blue Jays up-and-down left-hander Brett Cecil. Not on results, of course. On the basis of “stuff.” Wilner — and Jays radio analyst & former Major League catcher Alan Ashby, as well — noted in a post-game blog post that other than command, Cecil and Hamels are basically the same guy. Here is Wilner, describing Cecil’s afternoon:
[Cecil] didn’t walk a batter and stayed out of trouble over his four-inning stint while Cole Hamels, who brings very similar stuff to the table, didn’t have his good control and got raked by the Blue Jays, allowing five runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings.
Okay. “Similar stuff” in that they both throw with the left hand and are both paid the play professional baseball. I am with you. But it goes on, implicating Ashby in this oddness.
Alan Ashby made an excellent point in the game in that as far as stuff goes, Cecil and Hamels – the World Series MVP in 2008 and a man who is going to become obscenely wealthy sometime in the next year – are the exact same guy. Nothing to choose from between the two of them, but Hamels has been more successful because he’s been able to command his stuff better. It’s not about the radar gun, it’s about hitting your spots and not making mistakes up in the strike zone.
It is not about the radar gun, that much is true. Hamels throws much, much harder than Brett Cecil, routinely sitting at 93 and touching 95 on occasion. If Brett Cecil so much as sniffs the big Nine-Oh, there is much rejoicing and celebrating in the streets of Toronto.
The command is something else entirely. Command is, more than anything, pitching. Not throwing hittable pitches in mouth-watering spots is what makes some pitchers good and other pitchers insurance salesmen. Command is not the issue today. One glance at the respective career lines for these two left-handers says everything about their command.
Let’s look at the stuff – the movement and/or break of their pitches. Consider the below images from Brooksbaseball.net. On the left, the movement of Brett Cecil’s pitches. On the right, Cole Hamels consistent five-pitch attack. These two things, which do not measure command or control or even outcomes, do not look the same. They do not even look similar, do they?
Cole Hamels works consistently with his four-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and a change up largely considered one of the game’s very best. Hamels is fastball/changeup nearly 80% of the time, tossing in his cutter and curve for effect.
Brett Cecil throws many more non-changeup offspeed pitches, working in his curve/slider while leaning heavily on the sinker. The changeup was something of a late development for Cecil, who famously changed his grip just two springs ago after a finger injury necessitated an adjustment.
Hamels clearly gets more arm-side run on his changeup, more cut and drop on his cutter, and more “rise” on his heater. Hamels curveball appears to sweep more than Cecil’s “12 to 6″ offering.
-28 “@ryanpicks: On a scale of 1-10 , How true is the statement “Brett Cecil and Cole Hamels have very similar “stuff” ” (10 being true)”
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) March 19, 2012
In my mind, they do not appear to have similar stuff at all. Hamels is the better pitcher because his command AND because his stuff is better. Much better. Considerably better. He throws baseballs that do more things than the baseballs thrown by Brett Cecil.
Which is why, thanks to his vastly superior command, Cole Hamels is a much better pitcher than Brett Cecil. It is nothing personal, it just seems factual.