If fans of the Philadelphia Phillies have anything to look forward to in 2014, it will be watching their left-handed ace take to the mound. Cole Hamels, not Cliff Lee, is setting himself up for a season those in Philly haven't seen since Roy Halladay in 2010 and Steve Bedrosian in 1987.
Despite pitching well in 2013, Hamels finished with an 8-14 record as the Phillies failed to cross home plate at a rate that ranked among the worst in Major League Baseball. To say Hamels was unlucky is putting it nicely.
For the first time in his career, Hamels failed to reach nine wins. In addition to being on the wrong side of decisions, Hamels saw his Earned Run Average (ERA) jump to its highest since 2009. His strikeout rate declined but it remains in line with his trends since 2010.
On the other hand, the 2013 data on Hamels looks promising for the upcoming season.
Several numbers stand out as positive indicators for Hamels. First, his BB/9 and HR/9 decreased to a level comparable to that of Felix Hernandez and Jordan Zimmermann. Despite his Left on Base Percentage (LOB%) dropping to its lowest rate since 2009, Hamels' ground-ball and fly-ball percentages declined as well.
As compared to previous seasons, Hamels was not as lucky in 2013. This lack of grace could be attributed to the fact the defense behind him continues to worsen. Regardless, Hamels pitched at a level which could arguably be considered the best of his career as he adjusted to the uncontrollable variables surrounding him.
In addition to surpassing 220 innings pitched for the first time since 2008, the lefty's Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 4.2 put him on par with his two previous seasons. For comparison's sake, rookie phenom Jose Fernandez finished with a WAR of 4.2 while Washington's Zimmermann finished at 3.6.
As good as teammate Cliff Lee is, Hamels is entering the prime of his career. Since 2008, the now 30-year-old has been a model of consistency. Over the last six seasons, he has averaged 33 games started, 198 strikeouts and 4.12 WAR.
Although, Hamels will have to muster up even better numbers in 2014 if he wants to finish on a plane similar to recent National League Cy Young Award winners.
Since Brandon Webb won the 2006 NL Cy Young, the ensuing NL winners averaged 19 wins, 242 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.41. Hamels career bests are as follows: 17 wins (2012), 216 strikeouts (2012) and 2.79 ERA (2011).
History and recent trends aren't on the side of Hamels though.
Of the five NL Cy Young recipients following 2006, only Roy Halladay (33) and R.A. Dickey (37) are older than what Hamels is now. Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw were the average age of 25 when they won their Cy Youngs.
When looking at the numbers, one could make the case that Hamels has not been a top-tier pitcher. At most, naysayers could suggest he has been a second-tier pitcher. They may be right. A quick look at the peripherals suggest so when comparing them to the 2013 version of Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.
As I pointed out, though, the peripherals aren't everything. The lefty's career bests aren't in line with recent NL Cy Young winners, but to suggest he can't attain similar numbers is foolish. As he walks into the prime of his career, with the zenith in sight, Hamels' trends suggest that he will only get better.
With that in mind, don't overlook him as a Cy Young candidate in 2014. While nobody, including Las Vegas, believes the Phillies are a contender in '14, nobody can doubt the prowess Hamels possesses on the mound.