Sinister. Evil. Out of accord. In ancient times, those who were left-handed were thought of as different. If you’re lucky enough to have been born ambidextrous, the ability to use both hands with skill, the left hand is still looked down upon. The word ambidextrous comes from the Latin word “dexter,” meaning right – so it is defined as right-handed on both sides. And if you’ve noticed, the word “right” means correct. Has a better sound to it than “yeah, you’re left,” or “left-on, bro!”
Us lefties have been maimed, tortured, and cast down for thousands of years. Well no more! Not in baseball, anyway.
Left-handed starting pitchers who top out at 95 don’t grow on trees. To get graphic, few grow in a womb and are released to the world at birth, either. Cole Hamels is one who was born with the gift of a powerful fastball using the “weaker arm.”
Studies suggest that only 10 percent of humans are left-handed (count me in). That means even fewer are solid ballplayers that can hurl a ball with precision and speed. Hamels is certainly one.
A few weeks back, we looked at the top pitchers in baseball. In the top 11 of our unscientific study, four lefties resided (if Johan Santana we’re healthy, he may havecracked the list). Two of them are filthy rich, one of them plays for a club that will assuredly make him very wealthy, and the other is Cole Hamels.
While Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia have eclipsed the $100 million plateau, and Jon Lester looks to cash in soon, Hamels waits his turn, too. He won’t have to wait much longer.
When I think of Hamels, conjured is an image of a highway billboard displaying the growing national debt. The number for Hamels continues to soar as his final arbitration date nears.
That’s what we want though, right (or left)? We want to see homegrown talent shoot off into the stratosphere and become one of the most talented pitchers in all of baseball. Just two years ago, many wondered if Hamels would ever reach this point. He has, and he looks to be sticking around for quite some time.
Ruben Amaro Jr. and his front office minions are no doubt attuned to Hamels’ progression. In the final year of a three-year contract that paid him just over $28 million, Hamels is approaching a hefty raise, either through arbitration prior to 2012, or through a new contract extension.
What exactly is he worth? It’s hard to tell at this point, since he has an unusual resume. Nestled between five very impressive seasons is one still fresh in the minds of many. In 2009, Hamels dropped the ball. If he had been on point following the 2008 World Series title, the Phillies may have been back-to-back champions. However, his focus seemed somewhat blurred and it was a lost season, so much so that he publicly hoped the season would come to an end.
He’s no longer that guy. While he’ll never be labeled a bulldog on the mound, Hamels has a newfound sense of what it takes to be overpowering, both physically and mentally. He can blow a fastball by you now — his fastball velocity has increased two miles per hour since 2009 — and if things don’t go his way, Hamels can now suppress his inner angst, transferring the energy into his next pitch.
The numbers never lie. Going into tonight’s game against the Marlins, Hamels currently leads the National League in WHIP (0.95), is second in wins (8), fourth in ERA (2.58), fifth in strikeouts (91), and eighth in innings (90.2, even though he’s a start behind 6 of the 7 guys ahead of him on that list.)
Pretty soon, the numbers in his bank account won’t lie either.
Here is a list of some of the recent contracts handed out to top starting pitchers, going by average annual value:
- -Cliff Lee, $24 million (2011-2015)
- -C.C Sabathia, $23 million (2009-2015)
- -Johan Santana, $22.9 million (2008-13)
- -Roy Halladay, $20 million (2011-13)
- -Carlos Zambrano, $18.3 million (2008-12)
- -Barry Zito, $18 million (2007-13)
- -Jake Peavy, $17.3 million (2010-12)
- -A.J. Burnett, $16.5 million (2009-13)
- -John Lackey, $16.5 million (2010-14)
- -Justin Verlander, $16 million (2010-14)
I would take Hamels over all but a few. It’s now a discussion as to whether or not Hamels is a better pitcher than Lee and Sabathia, and although Verlander is paid a pittance in relation to those guys, I would likely choose him over Sabathia as well.
After discussing with some buddies over a few beverages, we came to the conclusion that 5/$100MM would be a number close enough to keep both sides happy. But is that even enough? If Hamels finishes out the season as strong as he began it, couldn’t he reach the Lee/Sabathia territory?
It then comes down to a timeline; when exactly do you try to get a long-term deal done? Do they rush the negotiation process and try to get him to ink one now, in turn possibly saving the Philies some cash? Will his agent, John Boggs, even allow that to happen?
Do they wait until the two sides toss around figures prior to arbitration, then go at it from there?
Whatever the contract ends up being, it’s nice to see Hamels giving lefties a good name. For a while there, we weren’t sure. But he’s turned out to be one hell of a southpaw. A very rich one, at that.