The Subtle Dominance of Cole Hamels

Last night, Cole Hamels was the victim of a few dinks and dunks in the ninth inning that cost him the win. Hamels, no longer on the mound, watched his teammate Jonathan Papelbon surrender a series of unusually consistent balls that found holes to knot the game up at 1-1. Despite the fact the Phillies eventually would win, the hard luck blown save would cost Hamels his third win of the season.

If last night wasn’t a case study for why the “win” stat should be thrown out the window, I don’t know what is.

In fact, Hamels’ whole season, if not career, has felt like this. Since sputtering out of the gate in his first three starts of 2014, Hamels has won only twice despite posting a 1.56 ERA, a .200 BAA, and 62 strikeouts in 57.2 IP in his last eight starts.

Yet, this is hardly anything new for Hamels. The low win total has led some fans to believe that Hamels isn’t the pitcher he used to be. The truth is, he may be even better.

Hamels currently ranks tenth in the National League in ERA but an even better fifth in FIP. Despite pitching in front of a team that ranks dead last in the NL in FanGraphs’ version of runs saved and 28th among all Major League teams, Hamels has, very impressively, managed to run off 24-straight scoreless innings dating back to June 1 against the Mets. He has accomplished this through striking out batters at near-career high rates (K/9 of 9.20) and keeping balls in the ballpark at the best rate of his career (0.48 per 9 IP).

Somewhat surprisingly, there is reason to believe Hamels could finish the season even better. While most of his stat line, even after a disastrous start, is on pace for career bests, his BB/9 IP has not normalized and is among the highest it has been in his career. With an average of 2.25 BB/9 IP, Hamels ranks 28th among 188 qualified National League starters that pitched from 2006 through 2014. The lefty’s walks should normalize a bit as the season goes on.

Since the 2006 season, Hamels has led all National League pitchers in fWAR, a tribute to a number of factors, most notably, his health and consistency, but has fewer wins that Bronson Arroyo and Tim Hudson in this time period despite being better in almost every objective category.

Not only has Hamels been among the National League’s best since 2006, he has also quietly shot up the Phillies leaderboards. Hamels pulled into a tie for third place last night in strikeouts in club history and is currently tied for sixth place in club history in wins. Hamels ranks behind only Cliff Lee and Ricky Botallico among qualified Phillies in K/9 IP, sixth in starts, and eighth in innings pitched. With a little luck, Hamels could jump up a few rungs on the leaderboard ranks before it is all said and done.

Hamels’ performance last night, six K’s and no runs in seven innings against a first-place team, was indicative of the type of player and pitcher Cole Hamels has become at the still-ripe age of 30. The amazing thing about Hamels is that, as his dominance continues, Hamels continues to get better.

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