Cole Hamels will take the hill today for the Phillies with an ugly 6-13 record and a 3.50 ERA, good for only 27th best in the NL. With a contract of at least $112.5 million remaining through the 2018 season, Hamels’ 2013 season has been talked about on some talk-radio outlets as an early indicator of a bad contract. Yet, his 2013 season puts him among the top-10 in the National League in FanGraphs’ version of WAR among starting pitchers and his second half has been down-right nasty.
It can be very tough to look beyond the ugly exterior numbers – with one win for every two losses and an ERA over 3.50, Hamels doesn’t exactly scream $20 million dollar pitcher. But Hamels has been nearly exactly the same pitcher he has always been and that pitcher has been worth $20 million.
Durability and Reliability
Since his first full season with the Phillies in 2007, Hamels has never made less that 28 starts in a season and, with his start today, he will have amassed six seasons in a row of 30 starts or more, the same streak as Cliff Lee. Entering today’s game, Hamels has 22 quality starts out of 29 games started: the 22 ties him with the Diamondbacks Patrick Corbin for third most in the Majors, trailing only presumptive Cy Young winner Clayton Kerhsaw and Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright and the 22 of 29, or 76% of his starts being quality starts, is fifth in the Majors among pitchers who have started at least 5 games. And currently, Hamels’ streak of 71 consecutive starts going five innings is the longest active streak in the Major Leagues, making his way into some pretty rare company on the all-time list. Hamels also ranks third in the NL in innings pitched headed into today for 2013 after finishing second in 2008, ninth in 2011, and sixth in 2012.
Advanced Stat-Friendly Pitcher with Poor Fielding Behind Him
Much of Hamels success stems from his ability to strike batters out while limiting his walks. Hamels currently has the 18th best K/9 IP in the NL against the 10th best BB/9 IP rate, ranking 9th in K/BB rate. While this stat comes with an asterisk, Joe Blanton was second in the NL behind Lee last season after all, Hamels non per 9 IP rates are a bit better: Hamels strikes out 22.0% of the batters he faces and walks just 5.4%, good for 9th in the NL. The strike out rate is a solid number but is in fact a slight drop-off from a fantastic 2012 where Hamels ranked third in the NL with a 24.9% K-rate while Hamels improved his BB% by 0.6% from 2012 to 2013.
His K and BB rates help Hamels rank 11th in SIERA (defined here) and 15th in Fielding Independent Pitching (defined here) while battling a large helping of unluckiness: a .296 BABIP against a .243 BAA. Hamels’ BAA is 22nd best in the NL while his BABIP is 26th in the NL. His rotation-mate Lee is a similar victim of a Phillies defense that ranks worst in the NL and 28th in the MLB, ranking 14th in BAA but 16th in BABIP.
Ridiculous Second Half
Finally, the Cole Hamels of the 2013 second half has been better than any version of Hamels we have seen previous. Hamels second half ERA of 2.39 ranks 10th in the NL while his 2.42 FIP ranks fifth in the NL. Much of Hamels second-half success came during the month of August, issuing less than a walk per 9 IP, posting a 2.00 ERA with a 2.38 ERA, while leading the NL in innings pitched for the month.
Continuation of the Start of a Hall of Fame Career?
Don’t look now but Hamels is quietly building a case that he belongs in the conversation among his generation’s best pitchers in his eighth season in the Majors. Hamels ranks ninth among active pitchers in ERA, fourth in WHIP, tenth in H/9 IP, tenth in BB/9 IP, ninth in K/9 IP, third in K/BB, 11th in Adjusted ERA+, and 20th in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement level. Hamels’ durability will certainly help him continue to climb these lists and his success, though clouded by a poor 6-13 win loss mark, should continue for the foreseeable future.