As the last remnants of snow melt away here in the Delaware Valley, in Clearwater, the traces of 2009 are being washed away for Cole Hamels. He’s a confident young pitcher, by all accounts; however, last season, he was anything but. So far, that looks like its changed.
Sure, he’s tossed only two innings, but that’s not the point. His focus is apparent, his sights are set on starting the season on the right foot. Prior to the ’09 season, he was busy on the Tour De World Series. Now, after an embarrassment of a year, you get the sense he understands his role. It’s to grow and be the number two starter on the best team in the NL.
In his first spring appearance, he gave up a leadoff home run to Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. In May or June of 2009, had this been a regular season game, his day would have been over before it got even got rolling. Any sign of pressure seemed to make Hamels cave. His determination in Clearwater is his ability to shrug it off and get at the next batter as if the at-bat before was decades ago.
No more snowballing, no more huffing and puffing. That’s the new Cole Hamels; someone with a renewed self-confidence. He’s not at it alone this time, either. The pressure was put squarely on Hamels following the ’08 World Series MVP and the newfound celebrity attached. Now, he’s behind one of the greats in Roy Halladay, and will be for an entire season. That gives him the freedom to be himself and let the game come to him.
Also, the thought of adding more pitches to his repertoire is exciting. Cole had gotten by on just two plus-pitches, but his arsenal now includes a cutter to go with his fastball/changeup/curveball list. The curve is another he has been working diligently on fixing, as it was a pitch he could not corral a year ago. With four pitches, and a possible sinker on the way, something he has been messing with this spring, Hamels isn’t going to be left catching up. The 26-year old lefty wants to be ahead of the curve.
His 4.32 ERA was symbolic of his inability to work deep into games, and his 10 wins against 11 losses just plain look bad, even though we all agree wins are overrated. If you look at the peripherals, he allowed the same number of baserunners in 2009 as he did in 2008. Following a campaign where bad luck had something to do with his regression, many prognosticators see Hamels as a comeback candidate.
The PECOTA projections have Hamels finishing in the top-10 in all of baseball in wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and VORP. Baseball Prospectus sees his regression as a fluke. In 2010, they see a 180-degree turn back to the Hamels of old.
It’s somewhat apparent, specifically on the Phillies Nation commenting boards, that Philadelphia has a love/hate relationship with Hamels. His laid-back demeanor is sometimes mistaken for lack of concern for his team. I’d say it’s just a cultural misunderstanding. Cole’s preparation in Spring Training will go a long way in regaining the fans he lost after last year’s throw away season.
He doesn’t have to be otherworldly to be a success in 2010. All he needs to do is give Roy Halladay support at the top of the rotation, something he rarely presented in 2009. But as the season changes and the warmth of the spring finds us all, the Phillies faithful hope change can find Cole Hamels as well. If he’s confident in himself, we can be confident in him.