Posted May 27, 2013

Cole Hamels’ 1-8 record says little about Cole Hamels, lots about the Phillies

Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Cole Hamels, Phillies

Cole Hamels has seven quality starts this year and only one victory. (AP)

Cole Hamels took another loss on Sunday to drop his record this season to 1-8. Those eight losses tie Hamels for the major league lead with the Astros’ Phil Humber, who was optioned to the minors two weeks ago with an 0-8 record and a 9.59 ERA. Hamels, by comparison, has a 4.43 ERA after 11 starts. So why is he 1-8?

Say it with me: lack of run support. Philadelphia has scored just 2.64 runs per 27 outs for Hamels this season. In six of the games Hamels has started, the Phillies failed to score more than one run. In two of those games, Hamels allowed just two runs in eight innings and took the loss. In another, he allowed one run in six innings and escaped with a rare no-decision. Hamels has eight quality starts this season. He is 1-5 in those games.

Looking at his game logs, Hamels should probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-3 this year. Seven times this season has pitched well enough to win. In six of those starts he allowed two or fewer runs in six or more innings. In the seventh he allowed three runs in seven innings. Those all look like winning performances. Three times he has pitched poorly enough to lose, giving up five or more runs.

On Sunday, Hamels held the Nationals scoreless for six innings only to have his defense (via a Michael Young throwing error), bullpen (via a bequeathed runner who scored on Justin De Fratus’ watch) and manager (who ordered an intentional walk that later came around to score) contribute to a five run inning with all five runs (just three earned, so still a quality start) charged to Hamels.

The obvious comparison point for Hamels’ hard-luck start to the season is rotation-mate Cliff Lee’s start to last season. Lee didn’t pick up his first win in 2012 until July 4 despite having seven quality starts prior to that game. Whereas Hamels is racking up losses, however, Lee specialized in no-decisions, the most memorable coming in a 1-0 loss to the Giants in which he threw 10 scoreless innings only to be matched for nine of them by Matt Cain and then had to watch Philadelphia’s Antonio Bastardo give up a run in the 11th.

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Lee was just 0-3 through his first 11 starts last season, though he was actually pitching better than Hamels to that point. Lee had a 3.48 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 77 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings, an average of 7.1 innings per start. Thus far this year, through 11 starts, Hamels has a 4.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.5 K/BB ratio and 63 strikeouts in 69 innings, an average of 6.3 innings per start.

Lee finished 2012 with an incongruous 6-9 record and 3.16 ERA, but has rebounded nicely this season, going 5-2 with a 2.48 ERA despite just 3.38 runs per 27 outs from his offense. Hamels should rebound as well. The only aspect of his performance that is significantly out of line with his career rates is a spike in his walk rate up to a still-manageable 3.3 per nine innings from a career rate prior to this season of 2.2 BB/9.

There’s less reason to be optimistic about the Phillies offense, however. Philadelphia has scored just 3.5 runs per game this season, the fourth-worst mark in the majors. The youngest of their five interior regulars is Ryan Howard, who is a very old 33, and in the last week they lost two of that quintet, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, the former of whom has been their top hitter this season, to injury. Being part of the Phillies’ rotation has gone from a prestige position to a thankless job in just two years. It’s no wonder Lee wants out. Hamels, meanwhile, is in the first year of a six-year extension.

2 comments
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Michael10
Michael10

And as usual, Cliff Corcoran says little about baseball. Run support? Thanks for the insight on why some pitchers records don't reflect how well (or terribly) they've pitched. I think the recent Cy Young success of guys like Hernandez, Greinke and Lincecum make it clear that baseball followers have already figured this out...