If you said that the Philadelphia Phillies had two of the top five starting pitchers in the league, no one would bat an eye. However, if you said that they had three of the top 10, someone may pause momentarily. We all know that Cole Hamels has developed into one of the better starting pitchers in the game, but has he developed into one of the elite?
To answer that question we first have to look at the numbers he posted in 2011:
194 Strikeouts (8.08 K/9)
44 Walks (1.83 BB/9)
From those numbers, the answer would clearly be a resounding yes, but can we realistically expect him to replicate them?
Let’s start with what we do know. Hamels is an elite control pitcher. While his 1.83 BB/9 was a career best, the prior four seasons he had posted marks of 2.11, 2.10, 2.00 and 2.63. In other words, his worst BB/9 in a year where he has thrown at least 180 innings is 2.63 (and he’s been at least .50 better than that every other season). How many pitchers in the game can say that?
You couple that with a solid strikeout rate (he has posted a K/9 of 9.10 in 2010 and has a career 8.45 mark) and you have the makings of a top 20-25 pitcher. All you need to do is add in a great ground-ball rate and you have a potentially elite option. In fact, that’s exactly what he did in 2011.
Last season he posted a 52.3 percent ground-ball rate, by far his best mark (second best was 45.4 percent in 2010, the only other season he was above 42). Before we dub that number a fluke, let’s look at his monthly rates:
- April – 45.6%
- May – 57.4%
- June – 57.8%
- July – 44.7%
- August – 56.2%
- September – 50.9%
In other words, there was no falloff. He was repeatedly around or better than his previous career best mark. Maybe it has been the emergence of his cutter, which he threw 20.7 percent of the time in ’11, but it clearly has gone a long way in helping him take the next step.
He now brings the trio of statistics that we look for in any starting pitcher. He has strikeouts, control and ground-ball ability. Does that mean his is a lock to be elite? No, but he has definitely put him in the position to be there.
Obviously, we can’t expect him to exactly replicate his 2011 success. We can’t expect him to match either his BABIP (.255) or strand rate (78.4 percent). A regression in the luck metrics will send both his ERA and WHIP to fall, at least slightly. With the other numbers that he’s shown capable of, however, that regression is going to do little to hurt his potential value.
Instead of a 2.80 ERA, maybe he posts a 3.00 or 3.20. Would anyone complain about that?
No one posts a WHIP consistently under 1.00, so saying he’s going to regress there is far from earth-shattering. However, with his control and newfound ground-ball ability is it a stretch to go in expecting 1.10-1.15, at worst (it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the 1.05 range)? Again, that puts him among the best in the league.
Throw in the potential for plenty of wins, despite not showing it as of yet (career high is 15 wins), and it is clear that Hamels has emerged as one of the better options in the league.
Heading into the season, I have Hamels ranked as the ninth-best pitcher, but the potential is actually there for him to be so much more than that. He has emerged as one of the elite and should be viewed as such in all formats.
What are your thoughts of Hamels? How good do you think he has become? Where do you rank him for the upcoming season?
Make sure to check out all of our 2012 rankings: