Does anyone remember Cole Hamels’ 2007 season? It was arguably his best season as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, earning a career best 15-5 record with a 3.39 ERA tagging close behind which gave Phillies’ fans more than enough reason to immediately fall in love with the kid.
The following year in 2008 wasn’t as spectacular in the win/loss column, but that ERA came down even lower to 3.09, and of course, Hamels did go undefeated n the postseason which included the World Series.
In 2009, however, Hamels seemingly hit a rough patch.
His season ended with a blow .500 win/loss record (10-14), his ERA ballooned to 4.34 and there were even times when Hamels couldn’t get any run support at all.
This was all compounded by the Yankees doing a number on him in the World Series that year, too.
2010 was an improvement, but not exactly what everyone expected the season to be as Hamels went 12-11 with a 3.06 ERA.
The point to mentioning all of this is simple: Cole Hamels has always been a staff ace on the rise, but sort of lacking in certain departments to elevate him to the next level permanently.
Well all of that has changed in 2011, and today we’re going to look at some of the factors that has helped in that accomplishment.
I am going to try and do this without being too long-winded.
Up until this year, Hamels has been primarily a two-pitch guy. His fastball has always been his bread and butter (53 percent thrown) with his change-up being his secondary pitch (22 percent thrown).
Those two pitches were also complimented by a sub-standard curveball that yielded more balls than strikes (46 percent balls to 27 percent total strikes).
This year, however, Hamels came traipsing along with a brand new cutter that solved one big issue for him: A new ability to deal with left-handed batter more effectively.
Before 2011, the old “version” of the cutter wasn’t used much, but had potential whereas now, this new fangled pitch is literally befuddling batters every time he takes the mound.
But it isn’t just the “new pitch” itself that has helped Hamels.
In an overall scope, Hamels has vastly improved upon every pitch he now offers.
His fastball has gained roughly two MPH (up from 90.2 MPH to 92 MPH with instances of 95 and 96 MPH).
His sub-par curveball has also improved to the point where it is more serviceable than ever before, affording him an interesting choice as an out pitch.
His change-up has also elevated to a new status as it serves as a primary “swing-strike” pitch (28%).
All of these factors has allowed Hamels to rely less on his fastball, and more on his overall developed skill set, which always bodes well for the arm longevity of any given pitcher.
The most obvious mention the re-acquisition of Cliff Lee, but the not-so-obvious mention is the improvement of Joe Blanton.
Minus the current elbow injury Blanton now has to deal with, of course.
Many know that surrounding one’s self with better competitors makes you yourself a better competitor, and you have to believe that with Lee’s presence, and Blanton’s improvement, Hamels has is simply reaping the benefits.
Lee has always been a dominate competitor as well as a fan-favorite in Philly. And while his experience has always served to help the younger Hamels in the last go around, it is an improved Hamels that will benefit even more with Lee in town once more.
Blanton has always been a guy on the staff that the Phillies knew had talent, but never was quite able to put it all together consistently, but this year Blanton has been pitching a lot better, and when you put the entire staff together as a well oiled machine, everyone just seems to improve.
A debatable point, but the bullpen thus far has supported Hamels admirably in nearly everyone of his outings.
To a pitcher, that goes along way.
The pen has had its more curious times, but in the overall, they have been there for Hamels nearly every step of the way which takes a lot of stress off of a pitcher.
But it has also been some of the more ancillary acts of guys who have had to come in and play fill-in roles, whether in a starting position or as a backup out of the pen.
Vance Worley anyone?
Again, when the machine runs smoothly, each individual piece also runs smoothly.
At 7-2 with a 2.86 ERA and a 0.968 WHIP, Hamels is enjoying career numbers across the board thus far.
He’s introduced a deadly new pitch that has vastly improved his mound threat, and he is part of one of the most deadliest pitching combinations in the majors.
His team as a whole is playing a lot tighter at this point in the season than in the past, and his supporting cast has come through with flying colors.
How do you not excel in such conditions?
As stated before, Hamels has always been that staff ace just waiting to break out and it is looking more and more as if this year will be a career best for Cole.
In other words, the breakout has already begun.