Cole Hamels on the Cy Young Award Ballot?

The National League Cy Young award is Roy Halladay‘s to lose, but teammate Cole Hamels could earn some third-place votes with his remarkable 2010 campaign. Halladay leads the NL with a 2.90 SIERA but Hamels isn’t far behind at 3.21, good for fifth-best in the league.

As regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware, Hamels was written off after a disappointing ’09 season in which his ERA ballooned to 4.32. His ineffectiveness cost the Phillies Game 3 of the World Series and Phillies fans were wondering if the young lefty may have received a bit too much hype after helping lead the Phillies to a World Series championship, their first since 1980. Everything he did was scrutinized, every word he uttered dissected.

We found out that much of what ailed Cole last season was entirely out of his control, namely the results of batted balls. His .325 BABIP was tenth-highest in the NL among starters with at least 100 innings of work. Going off of only what was in his control — strikeouts, walks, and ground/fly balls — Hamels still had the 20th-best SIERA in all of Major League Baseball.

The stat-savvy among us called for a rebound for Hamels, but he has exceeded even those expectations. After adding a cut fastball and tacking on two MPH of velocity on his four-seam fastball, Hamels bolstered his strikeout rate to an average of over one per inning and slightly increased his rate of inducing ground balls. Per FanGraphs’ pitch-type linear weights, all of Hamels’ pitches have been above-average.

The results have been phenomenal but, unfortunately, he does not have the sparkling won-lost record to earn him widespread praise and potential Cy Young votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Hamels’ 8-10 record is a testament to the Phillies’ futile offense, not to poor performances on his part. Using support-neutral wins and losses from Baseball Prospectus, his winning percentage jumps from .444 (eight wins out of 18 decisions) to .560 (15 wins in 27 decisions; it assigns a win or a loss to every start, leaving out no-decisions), essentially a three-game jump.

How does Hamels stack up against the rest of the competition? I have identified seven other pitchers likely to get widespread attention for the award. Of course, there are many others deserving of mention including Rookie of the Year candidate Jaime Garcia, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, and even Roy Oswalt.

Pitcher CG SHO IP K/9 BB/9 SIERA
Halladay 8 3 214.0 8.0 1.1 2.90
Latos 1 1 155.7 9.2 2.5 3.04
Johnson 1 0 177.7 8.8 2.3 3.13
Wainwright 5 2 195.3 8.2 2.3 3.16
Hamels 1 0 174.0 9.1 2.6 3.21
Jimenez 4 2 184.3 8.3 3.5 3.60
Hudson 1 0 184.7 6.7 2.8 3.69
Carpenter 0 0 197.3 5.3 2.5 3.78

As mentioned, it’s impossible to argue that Hamels is more worthy of the award than Halladay and Wainwright for that matter as well. But Hamels’ numbers are almost duplicates of Mat Latos‘ and he’s pitched 20 more innings. Hamels and Josh Johnson are a wash.

The debate becomes a bit tricky with Jimenez, Hudson, and Carpenter. With Jimenez, do you weigh his most recent 13 starts (4.55 ERA) less than his first 14 starts (1.15 ERA)? If so, he is a legit top-five candidate. After all, most of us thought he was going to do match Bob Gibson the way he pitched in the first half.

With Hudson and Carpenter, the debate becomes more philosophical. Dave Cameron touched on this at FanGraphs last week:

[Defense-independent pitching statistics were] never designed to be a backward-looking metric designed to tell us what actually did happen. And there’s a decent argument to be made that the Cy Young award should be awarded based on what did happen, not on what should have happened or what will happen in the future.

Hudson and Carpenter have clearly been very fortunate on batted balls. In fact, most Cy Young candidates every year will be very fortunate BABIP-wise. Hudson has the second-lowest BABIP in the league (.244); Latos is fourth, Jimenez and Wainwright seventh and eighth respectively. Carpenter’s .280 BABIP is still flukishly low. On the SIERA leaderboard, you have to go to around #30-40 to find Hudson and Carp. Voters with a Sabermetric bent are likely to leave the two off for this reason. The luddites of the BBWAA will look at Hudson’s 2.24 ERA and wonder how he can possibly be left off anyone’s ballot.

Sabermetrically, Hamels is arguably the third-best on the list at the moment. A realistic Sabermetric top-five could go: Halladay, Wainwright, Hamels, Johnson, Latos. With a month left in the season, a lot may change. But for now, it’s nice to realize that the Phillies have two top-three Cy Young candidates in their starting rotation. Given Hamels’ fall from grace and the Cliff Lee trade, the phrase “the Phillies have two top-three Cy Young candidates in their starting rotation” was never expected to be uttered in September 2010.