Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

Last night, Cole Hamels pitched brilliantly against the Los Angeles Dodgers, tossing eight shut-out innings while striking out nine and not issuing a single walk. He earned a game score of 79, something he has done only 15 times in his 162 career starts (9.25%). Hamels’ brilliant season continues; his 2.72 SIERA is .05 behind the MLB lead in SIERA, trailing Roy Halladay (2.68) and Cliff Lee (2.71).

Prior to the season, many wondered if Hamels could repeat or even improve on his great 2010 season. It’s very hard to improve on a 3.06 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9, but Hamels has done it. His strikeout rate is at the same level, but he has drastically decreased his walk rate (1.8) and is inducing even more ground balls (52 percent) thanks to his cut fastball.

Hamels is for real, and he is one of a triumvirate of potential Cy Young candidates in Philadelphia. Thus, it is no surprise that the Phillies are near or at the top of every major pitching category:

  • K/9: 8.3 (leads MLB)
  • BB/9: 1.9 (leads MLB)
  • K/BB: 2.8 (leads MLB)
  • HR/9: 0.65 (4th in MLB)
  • GB%: 49.5% (3rd in MLB)
  • HR/FB: 7.8% (8th in MLB)
  • FIP: 2.77 (leads MLB)
  • xFIP: 2.88 (leads MLB)

Starts like last night’s — eight innings, one or fewer runs allowed — have been commonplace for the Phillies. They have tossed nine of them thus far, the second-highest total in the Majors. Hamels is responsible for five of them, while Halladay and Lee have two apiece.

Here’s a look at the team totals for such starts.

Only five pitchers have accumulated four or more such starts: Hamels and Kyle Lohse with five; and Jaime Garcia, Ian Kennedy, and James Shields with four apiece. Unlike Lohse, Hamels isn’t getting by with luck (.268 BABIP is only 16 points below his career average); he is consistently dominating hitters start after start.

Hamels hasn’t been included in the same conversation as Halladay and Lee, but with his performance to date, it may be time to recognize him as an elite pitcher. He is arguably the best left-handed starter in baseball, and one very critical piece of the Phillies’ elite starting rotation.

Update: Lots of commentary on Hamels today, so here are some links:

Drew Fairservice, Getting Blanked: Cole Hamels Stands in the Shadow of No Man

It’s weird to think of a former World Series MVP as overlooked or underrated, yet Hamels operates in the shadow of his high profile teammates. On the field, Hamels lets his incredible play speak for him. Off the field, his great love of glamorous photo shoots take him places his cutter never could. It’s the price of being handsome, I suppose. And what a toll it takes.

Dave Cameron, FanGraphs: Which NL Southpaw is Greatest?

I don’t think I can do it, honestly. Lee or Hamels, the hairs are too thin to split. I don’t know that I can declare that either is better than the other. The only thing we can say is that the Phillies probably have the best left-handed pitcher in the National League – it’s just impossible to say who it is.

David Golebiewski, RotoGraphs: Cole Hamels Staying Grounded

Hamels is getting many more grounders with his fastball this year, while also boosting his ground ball rate on cutters and curveballs thrown. His changeup already got a lot of grounders and has continued to do so in 2011. Hitters are putting the ball in the air less often against Hamels, which has helped the 27-year-old decrease his slugging percentage on contact nearly across the board.

Cubs Series Preview with Joe Aiello

Phillies fans have been a bit frustrated with the team’s performance as of late, but Cubs fans have had much more to lament. The Cubs are 12 games under .500 and ended an eight-game losing streak yesterday. Along with that, there’s the always-present clubhouse turmoil found with any under-performing team, as Carlos Zambrano called his team “embarrassing”. To get some more perspective on the Cubs, I caught up with fellow SweetSpot blogger Joe Aiello, of View from the Bleachers, and asked him a few questions to help preview this upcoming series.

. . .

1. The Phillies and Cubs contrast sharply in that the Phillies allow the fewest runs on average while the Cubs allow the most. To what do you attribute the poor performance on the mound?

When you look at the starting rotations, the first major difference is in talent. A rotation that includes guys like Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, etc far surpasses a rotation that includes Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez, James Russell, etc. The Cubs have been riddled with injuries in the rotation and have, as a result, given up way to many runs in an area that was penciled in as a strength for the team at the beginning of the season.

2. If the season ended today, Carlos Zambrano’s 2.8 BB/9 would be a career-low. For that control, though, he has sacrificed strikeouts, as his 6.2 K/9 would also be a career low. Do you like his new style, and is it necessary for future success?

I’m rather indifferent to a pitcher’s style. All I care about is the win. A few years ago, Edwin Jackson threw a dreadfully ugly no-hitter that was littered with walks. All that mattered was that he got the win. The same is true for Zambrano. What I think we’ll see going forward is the way he’s pitched lately. His velocity from his youth is gone. He routinely sits in the high 80’s and low 90’s for his fastball.

3. Matt Garza has been a favorite of Saberists as he is at or near the top of every list for stats like FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. Did the Cubs work with him on anything specifically that caused his strikeout rate to balloon?

I’m not a saber guy, which makes me laugh because I couldn’t even wager a guess at what those stats are or how to evaluate them. I’d be interested in seeing how many of Garza’s strikeouts have come at the hand of a pitcher. That would be my partial explanation for the increase in strikeouts. In the end, I think we’ll see a regression to the mean (trying to bring out what little saber talk I have) in the strikeout category with a slight increase due to league change.

4. After a great rookie campaign in 2010, Tyler Colvin hasn’t been able to rekindle that magic. What’s gone wrong for him? Could his struggles possibly be related to his getting hit with a shard of a broken bat last year?

I’m glad you mentioned the second part of the question because it was the first thing that crossed my mind. It’s hard to know what the cause of the decline is, but I would wager a guess with three factors. First, a lack of consistent playing time, being blocked by Soriano, Byrd and Fukudome early in the season. Second, the infamous sophomore slump, and third the shard of bat.

5. The Cubs have stolen 15 bases in 23 attempts, base running futility matched and exceeded only by the Atlanta Braves. Do you think the Cubs need to be more aggressive and efficient on the bases?

The problem is that it’s not a lineup built for base stealing. The only true base stealing threat on the team is Tony Campana. Guys like Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro have potential to steal 15 bases in a season, but none really light it up.

6. The Cubs will get to face Kyle Kendrick, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee. If you were given the privilege of choosing, which three Phillies starters would you choose to give the Cubs the best chance of winning? I assume Kyle Kendrick is an immediate first pick.

I’d like them to face Spahn, Sain, and then pray for rain. I figure we can muster at least a split with those guys since they’re dead. That would mean a series that wasn’t a loss. In all seriousness, look at our record and play of late. We aren’t beating any starters. Kyle Kendrick has the potential to toss a perfect game.

7. Put on your prognostication glasses and give us your prediction for this series. Who wins?

Phillies in a sweep and it’s not even close.

. . .

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to provide some insight on the Cubs. Be sure to stop by VFTB to catch my take on the series as well as further Cubs news and analysis during the season.

Ryan Madson and the Free Agent Closer Class of 2011-12

Please give a warm welcome to a new writer for Crashburn Alley, Paul Boye. Paul has written for Phillies Nation, worked as a video scout for Baseball Info Solutions, and spent time in the player development and video departments of a Major League team. You can follow him on Twitter @Phrontiersman and from now on will be able to get his highly-respected thoughts on the Phillies right here.

– Bill Baer

The emergence of Ryan Madson as a near-elite reliever has been both a welcome surprise and a key component of the Phillies’ recent success. You’re no stranger to this site singing the praises of Madson, and for good reason.

But with Mad Dog’s impending free agency looming, and the price tag elephant in the room seemingly growing larger with every multi-strikeout save, it’s worth wondering just where Madson fits in with some of the other top relievers set to be free agents this winter.

Among those relievers are names like Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez, four hurlers who have spent the bulk of the last three seasons in the ninth inning. For better of for worse, these guys will all be signed to close games and earn saves, just as Madson seems primed to be.

Just as with Jayson Werth last season, speculation and curiosity abounds as to just how much Madson stands to make on the open market. It’s all but guaranteed he won’t be signing an extension this summer – credit that to Scott Boras or whomever you like – and any sort of hometown discount also seems unlikely at this point.

Bad news for Phils fans, but (potentially) great news for Madson. What’s more, Madson’s numbers since the start of the 2009 season match up quite favorably with the top names of the impending free agent class: the aforementioned Bell, Broxton, Papelbon and K-Rod. Just how favorably may even surprise you.

To put it visually, here are some abridged leaderboards. These are leaders among those who have relieved in at least 80 percent of their appearances since the start of 2009 with at least 120 innings pitched.

Strikeouts/9 IP

3. Broxton – 11.74
10. Papelbon – 10.51
13. Bell – 10.10
14. Rodriguez – 9.99
16. Madson – 9.90

Walks/9 IP

18. Madson – 2.48
41. Papelbon – 3.19
43. Bell – 3.26
75. Broxton – 3.93
t-86. Rodriguez – 4.24

Strikeout/Walk Ratio

8. Madson – 4.00
17. Papelbon – 3.30
21. Bell – 3.10
25. Broxton – 2.98
49. Rodriguez – 2.36

If you subtract intentional walks, Madson’s ration becomes even more impressive, and improves by a lot more than the others.

Strikeout/uIBB Ratio

Madson – 5.21 (+1.21)
Papelbon – 3.69 (+0.39)
Broxton – 3.40 (+0.42)
Bell – 3.32 (+0.22)
Rodriguez – 2.87 (+0.51)

And, finally, WAR (B-R)

5. Bell – 5.6
9. Papelbon – 4.4
13. Madson – 4.2
t-26. Rodriguez – 3.2
t-65. Broxton – 1.4

Madson’s early-season run of dominance has put him on the map, but this has been going on for a while now. Madson’s recent performance has put him in prime position to make a big wad of money in the coming years – especially with the reliever contracts doled out in recent years – but whether that money will come from the Phillies’ pockets remains to be seen.