Cole Hamels: All-Star Starter?

As we’re now about three weeks away from the 2011 All-Star Game in Arizona, it feels about time for the focus on potential all-star pitchers to intensify a bit.

Assuming health, most starters should see another four starts before the festivities begin, so there’s still plenty of time for moving and shaking. As such, I’m not exactly stumping for Cole Hamels to be the first man on the mound come July 12. Yet. But his candidacy to be the first Phillies all-star starter since Curt Schilling in 1999 is a compelling one.

On the year, prior to Sunday’s start in Seattle, Hamels has logged 97.2 IP over 14 starts, striking out 97 and unintentionally walking 17 along the way. Striking out a bunch of batters is not new territory for Hamels, but the diminished walk rate (down 0.8 BB/9 from ’10 and 0.5 from his career rate) and greatly reduced home run rate – something Hamels has always struggled with prior to this season – have helped keep runs off the board more than ever.

Great. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, distinguished reader. Where, then, does Hamels rank among National League starters right now? Do his impressive numbers really merit starter consideration? Let’s take a preliminary look at some starting contenders and where Cole ranks among them. Again, being three weeks out means we’re bound to see some movement. Consider this an electoral primary of sorts, then.

Here’s Cole’s campaign platform within the National League Party:

  • Durability: His 97.2 IP is ninth in the N.L., and the most of anyone with 14 starts. With 6.2 innings Sunday, he could move into second place behind Roy Halladay.
  • Power: Those aforementioned 97 punch-outs are good for fifth, with an 8.94 K/9 that leaves him 10th.
  • Control: Cole’s 1.75 BB/9 is fifth in the N.L.
  • Unhittablenessosity: A new term I’ve coined for trademarking. Hamels is allowing just 6.54 hits per nine (third in the league) on a .260 BABIP, but a huge spike in ground balls induced could keep that from rising much higher. Cole has allowed just 27 hits in his last 44 IP, and only one home run in his past seven starts.
  • Peripheral Vision: Beyond his impressive 2.49 ERA, Hamels also resides among the leaders in xFIP and SIERA, solidifying his numbers as genuine. With a minimum of 60 IP, Hamels’s 2.51 xFIP ranks second in the league, and his 2.71 SIERA likewise ranks second. He’s also second in the league in both major versions of WAR.

Cole does still have some work to do. He trails Halladay in a number of the listed categories, but what fun is making a post for Doc’s starting candidacy? Well, actually, probably a bunch of fun. But I digress and harp on things too-obvious.

Cole Hamels is off to a flying start. He’s improved nearly every aspect of his game, from stuff to results, and looks to be on track to have a serious shot at starting the All-Star Game come mid-July.