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.