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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pitching Week, Part II: Why Cole Hamels Rules 

Cole Hamels could become the most dominant pitcher the Phillies have had since Curt Schilling joined the team in 1992 and helped pitch the team to the World Series in 1993 … Though, ironically, 1993 and 1994 were Schilling’s weakest years statistically speaking … Hamels rush through the minors and swift arrival in Philadelphia in 2006 was one of the biggest stories of the year last season, perhaps only eclipsed by Ryan Howard’s MVP season. Breathless articles about Hamels abilities abounded in the newspaper and on the internet when he joined the team in Cincinnati on May 12th, 2006. At the time I was skeptical that Hamels would be as good as advertised or would have much of an impact on the Phillies, but I was wrong.

His debut was strong: a five-inning, one-hit outing that saw Hamels walk five but strikeout seven and not allow a run. Despite some struggles with control, you could see Hamels progressively putting things together in 2006: Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 4.83 BB/9 … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 2.46 BB/9 … Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 1.83 K/BB ratio … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 4.20 K/BB ratio … Pre All-Star Break, 2006: 2-4, 5.44 ERA … Post All-Star Break, 2006: 7-4, 3.39 ERA … I find myself, like many others bloggers I suspect, resisting the urge to write so many lauditory posts about Hamels abilities and skills on the mound. You can only write so much about what a terrific pitcher he is.

His season thus far has been a major triumph: 14-5, 3.50 ERA. A look inside of the numbers give you an idea about how dominant he really is on the mound:

Phillies Starters – K/9
Hamels: 8.9
Garcia: 7.4
Lieber: 6.1
Moyer: 5.8
Eaton: 5.3
Durbin: 4.9
Kendrick: 3.3

And in terms of walks ...

Phillies Starters – BB/9
Hamels: 2.2
Kendrick: 2.2
Lieber: 2.5
Garcia: 2.8
Moyer: 2.9
Eaton: 3.7
Durbin: 4.9

As we discussed yesterday, preventing home runs, walks and getting strikeouts are the things we look at for in pitchers and evaluate them on their ability to do. On the latter two, Cole Hamels is objectively outstanding. Hamels is third in the N.L. in strikeouts per nine innings at 8.9, just behind the Padres Chris Young (9.3) and Jake Peavy (10.3). Hamels is seventh in walks per nine innings, which demonstrates the high level of control that Hamels displays on the mound. Hamels allows a fair number of home runs (1.43 HR/9, compared with Peavy's impressive 0.35), but that is partly a park factor. Cole Hamels is going to give up more home runs than Jake Peavy. That's a product of their respective environments.

So could Cole Hamels be the first Phillie to win the Cy Young Award since Steve Bedrosian won the award twenty years ago in 1987 ... By the way, the Cy Young Award has been awarded to a Phillie six times: Steve Carlton in '72, '77, '80 and '82, John Denny in '83, and Bedrosian in '87 ... At the moment, Hamels stands a decent shot at the award, though the Padres Jake Peavy is the clear front-runner at the moment, with the D-Backs Brandon Webb second and rising as his continues to stymie National League hitters. Webb goes again tonight against the Brewers. According to Bill James' Cy Young Predictor*, Hamels currently sits in fifth:

Peavy (SD): 137.1
Penny (LAD): 135.5
Hudson (ATL): 130.7
Webb (ARIZ): 130.0
Hamels (PHI): 118.6

* Cy Young Predictor = ((5*IP/9)-ER) + (SO/12) + (SV*2.5) + Shutouts + ((W*6)-(L*2)) + VB. Victory Bonus (VB): A 12-point bonus awarded for leading your team to the division championship (pro-rated based on the current standings).

Hamels achillies heel is going to be Citizens Bank Ballpark. Penny, Peavy, Webb and Hudson all play in stadiums that are tailor-made for pitchers. They don't give up many home runs as a result. Hamels has to contend with the fact that every shallow fly ball could sail out of the park for a home run.

Hamels long-term prospects are bright. Despite being oft-injured in the minors, he's proven to be quite durable as a Phillie - until now - having hurled nearly 300 innings in his career thus far. Hopefully his stint on the D.L. for the team will be brief. I was looking forward to his duel with Derek Lowe of the Dodgers tonight. He seems to be poised to be a permanent fixture in the Phillies rotation and a candidate for the Cy Young Award.
Tomorrow, we'll talk a little about Jon Lieber and Jamie Moyer.

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