One morning back in July, my brother called to inform me he scored two tickets to a Phillies game at Wrigley Field. He and his preteen son were taking a road trip to Chicago, landing at the “friendly confines” for a Saturday afternoon affair between the Phils and Cubs. I told him he may be witnessing some history: July 25 could be Cole Hamels’ last start as a Phillie. And it was.
They drove off, stopped to visit Pittsburgh, then Notre Dame, then arrived in Chicago on July 25. With VIP field passes, my brother and nephew had the rare opportunity to meet the Phillies up close, and on one of baseball’s most hallowed grounds.
I was at a whiskey distillery in Kentucky, on my own road trip, when my brother texted me a photo of my nephew with Maikel Franco. “MAIKEL!” I responded. What an awesome memory this was becoming for the kid.
About an hour later, my wife and I stopped at a second distillery. I checked in on the Phillies game: 3-0, with no hits for the Cubs. I actually remember seeing this and thinking “I should keep track of this one. This feels interesting.” The last time I felt that way? Roy Halladay had just pitched two perfect innings on Memorial Day weekend 2010 at Sun Life Stadium; the whole crowd was focused on the Stanley Cup Finals, but I had that feeling.
As the eighth inning approached, we turned on the radio broadcast through my phone. The feeling was becoming a realization: Cole Hamels was going to throw a no-hitter. My brother and nephew celebrated in the stands. An incredible afternoon, memory after instant memory imprinting itself in the blanketing sunshine of Chicago’s North Side.
Four days later he was gone, off to Texas with Jake Diekman for Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Matt Harrison. But Hamels left an indelible mark as a Phillie, spending nearly 10 years in red pinstripes, becoming a World Series hero, a playoff legend, a changeup-tossing wunderkind with cold blood and cool attitude.
Hamels had a pretty normal Cole Hamels season as a Phillie in 2015. In 20 starts with the Phils, Hamels surrendered 52 earned runs for a 3.64 ERA, struck out 137 hitters and walked 39. While the ERA was his highest since 2009, his strikeout ratio (9.58 K/9) was his highest since his 23-start debut in 2006. That ratio fell a little when Hamels joined Texas (8.39); still, his 9.11 K/9 was his highest full-season mark yet.
So why the bump in ERA? For one, it’s not the truest barometer of pitching success; that said, it’s pretty hard to pinpoint the reason Hamels was slightly less effective in 2015. He relied less on his cutter than ever, throwing it 14.6% of the time, as opposed to the 20% rate he achieved in his peak-cutter days of 2011. And he’s throwing his curve at a nearly similar rate, now at 12.1%. The curve, as we’ve seen, is probably his least-effective pitch.
Hamels also surrendered slightly more ground balls in 2015, at nearly 48%. This is normally a good thing (as it was in 2011 with a 52.3% rate, thanks to mixing in the cutter), but in 2015 the Phillies had a pretty terrible defensive unit. Maybe Hamels served up more weak hits than in years past (.294 BABIP).
A lot of maybes, though. Honestly, the numbers are still good overall, and Hamels still pitched like one of baseball’s top 10 starters, which he has been for the majority of his career.
He had some pedestrian starts (opening day against Boston, April 16 at Washington, June 8 at Cincinnati, June 24 at the Yankees) and some atrocious starts (May 2 at Miami, July 10 at San Francisco, July 19 vs. Miami). Those last two atrocious starts resulted in several hot takes about Hamels’ trade value. Experts questioned if General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. waited too long to unload his ace. Was Hamels ever going to be the same?
Hamels then stepped onto the mound of Wrigley Field on July 25. And he was fine. Pretty damn fine.
The no-hitter is the lasting memory – nine innings, no hits, two walks, 13 strikeouts, 129 pitches. And it was well earned. Hamels is the Phillies’ best homegrown pitcher since Robin Roberts, their best left-hander since Steve Carlton, a tall and adaptable lefty with arguably baseball’s best changeup in a generation. He burst onto the national stage in 2008, gave us sterling playoff performances, mowed down hitters as part of an all-time starting rotation, and battled through lean years as the sure thing. You could count on Hamels to give a solid performance every five days, and by chance he didn’t, he’d be right back at it the next time out.
The man who once claimed his goals were to win a championship, win 20 games, win a Cy Young and throw a no-hitter deserved to reach that last feat (not counting the combined no-hitter last season). His July 25 start encapsulated Hamels’ career with the Phillies. He had hitters off balance. He caught them looking with devastating changeups. He induced easy outs. And in the end, as the shadows crawled over Hamels’ Phillies career, his teammates made a few dicey defensive plays to finish it off. The Cubs hadn’t been no-hit in 50 years; I knew I started following Cubs No-Hit Streak on Twitter last year for a reason.
The return for Hamels is already proving valuable, as Eickhoff has pitched extremely well in his first few major league starts. Who knows what comes of the rest; hopefully we get a solid return.
But the return of investment on Cole Hamels was a wild success. It was a joy to watch him in Phillies pinstripes.
Grade: A-. I suppose he could’ve pitched a little better in 2015, but Hamels was pretty good nonetheless, giving up two runs or fewer in six innings or more 13 out of 20 times. The final time was the best time: a no-hitter of the Cubs just before being dealt to Texas.