Back in February, I wrote an article aptly titled “Cole Hamels: Ace,” which detailed my thoughts on Cole Hamels’ future with the Phillies and how, despite the arrival of Roy Halladay, he could still be considered an Ace of the Phillies rotation.
Since the season started, I’ve been keeping an eye on Cole’s progress as a pitcher when compared to both 2008 and 2009, when he was at opposite ends of the success spectrum.
And following his start against the Washington Nationals on Sunday and the fact that some fans just have yet to give Cole the benefit of the doubt, I thought I’d return to that article and see just how much of an Ace he has been in 2010.
At first glance, Hamels is nowhere near the pitcher he was in 2009. Then, we’d hold our collective breaths during his starts, like we were watching a train wreck that had not yet occurred but were still reasonably sure that it would.
In 2010, it’s completely different, at least for me. Watching his starts are no longer exercises in futility. They aren’t approached with the same level of confidence as say, a Roy Halladay start, but it’s darn, darn close.
Let’s take a look at Cole through 21* starts in 2010, 2009, and 2008.
*Not counting the rain shortened start in Atlanta, where he allowed three earned runs in 0.2 innings. Why? Because he was pulled after the delay, so we’ll never know how we may have fared had he been allowed to continue or if the downpour that occurred before the game was delayed had anything to do with his pitching performance.
2008: 13-8, 3.11 ERA in 150.2 innings. 133 K, 116 H, 36 BB, 20 HR
2009: 7-6, 4.68 ERA in 123 innings. 107 K, 139 H, 23 BB, 18 HR
2010: 7-6, 3.38 ERA in 138.1 innings. 137 K, 129 H, 44 BB, 20 HR
Remembering that the win-loss record for starting pitchers is largely irrelevant, we get a very good idea of how Hamels has fared this season compared to the previous two: Not nearly as bad as 2009, but not quite as great as he was in 2008. But all in all, better than good.
His strikeouts would indicate that he is more dominant, certainly a by-product of a great change-up, made even greater thanks to a harder fastball (He hits 94-95 MPH regularly this season), coupled with a curve that he seems to be getting a handle on and shiny new cut-fastball that, even though it’s a fringe-pitch at best, has proven to be effective.
Other than an increased walk-rate (3.0/9 – Highest since rookie season) and a career high homer rate (1.4/9), both which have been decreasing, he’s been every bit the Ace that the Phillies hoped would line up behind Halladay.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at his last 16* starts since he allowed four runs in six innings in San Francisco. At the time, he had a 5.28 ERA.
*Again, excepting the start against the Braves.
May 4 – St. Louis: 8 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
May 9 – Atlanta: 5 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K
May 16 – Milwaukee: 6.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
May 21 – Boston: 7 IP, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
May 27 – New York Mets : 6.1 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
June 7 – San Diego: 8 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
June 13 – Boston: 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
June 19 – Minnesota: 7 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
June 26 – Toronto: 4 IP, 5 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
July 1 – Pittsburgh: 7 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
July 6 – Atlanta: 7 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K
July 11 – Cincinnati: 7.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
July 17 – Chicago Cubs: 7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K
July 22 – St. Louis: 8 IP, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
July 27 – Arizona: 5 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 8 K
August 1 – Washington: 7 IP, 4 ER, 0 BB, 10 K
There are a couple of clunkers in there, but all in all, it’s a fine stretch of pitching by a guy who was written off by many before 2010 even started. Just take a look. In those 16 starts, Hamels has an ERA of 2.84 in 107.2 IP. He’s allowed more than three runs only twice. He’s pitched at least six innings in all but three. He’s gone at least seven innings 11 times.
Compare that to Roy Halladay, who boasts an ERA of 2.34 in 131 innings has pitched over his last 16 starts. Sure, Hamels isn’t in Roy territory yet, but by the looks of it, he could be purchasing a house there very, very soon.
So Hamels isn’t Halladay, but then again, very few are. However, he has been better than most fans would have predicted or could have hoped. (And honestly, some still think that he’s worthless.)
But there is one thing that we won’t read about in the box score, though: Composure. It’s something that he had in spades in 2008, most notably during the playoffs, but the very same thing he lacked in 2009. None of us will know if Cole was actually rattled on the mound, but his body language often suggested that he was. Two years ago, he was a lion. Last season, a lamb.
But in 2010, the pitcher that led the Phillies to the 2008 World Series has returned. It’s obvious.
Really, how many times have we found ourselves thinking “if this was 2009, Hamels doesn’t get out of this inning” after he gives up a bloop single or a two-out walk this season? The harmless base runners or seeing eye singles that plagued him in 2009 would somehow find their way round the base paths. In 2010? Not so much.
Case in point: When the Phillies visited Boston in June, they were in danger of being swept out following two abysmal starts from Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. In the final game of the series, Hamels took the hill to be the stopper, and breezed through their lineup, with the lone exception being poorly placed cutter to Adrian Beltre in the second inning.
It wouldn’t be until the sixth that on that one of those innings made an appearance.
With the Phils leading 4-1, Dustin Pedroia hit a harmless popup down the right field line that Jayson Werth failed to corral, allowing Pedroia to get to second base on what would be ruled a double. Following that, Hamels faced off against Victor Martinez in a 15-pitch at-bat that saw V-Mart foul off 11 pitches before finally earning the walk. Hamels escaped the inning unscathed, setting down Beltre on three pitches, followed by a groundout to David Ortiz, and a harmless popup from Mike Lowell to preserve the three-run lead.
If this was 2009, you can be sure that the following things would have happened: Beltre would have flared an 0-2 changeup (that was four inches off the plate) just out of the reach of Chase Utley, followed by a broken-bat bleeder past the third base bag from David Ortiz, and capped off by a homer from Mike Lowell. And just like that, a 4-1 lead is a 5-4 deficit.
That’s how things went for Cole in 2009. The pitcher on the hill every five nights this season couldn’t be any different from the one that wanted the season to end last October.
Call it composure, call it luck, or call it whatever you want, but Hamels has been every bit the pitcher that he was in 2008.
It’s time to recognize that.
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