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Cole Hamels - The Savior?

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Since his promotion to AAA Scranton, Cole Hamels has increased the buzz surrounding him for good reason.  In his 2 starts, he has pitched 16 innings, giving up 0 runs, only 5 hits and walked only 1 with 26 Ks.  Frankly, these are amazing numbers, exceeding his already outstanding career minor league numbers.  How does Hamels compare to past young pitching prospects and what might we expect from him with the Phillies?

I'll take a look at Hamels' minor league numbers and compare them to several other pitchers: Felix Hernandez, Dontrelle Willis, Doc Gooden, Rick Ankiel, Zack Greinke and Scott Kazmir.  Each of those pitchers was very heralded in the minors at a  very young age.  Some of them panned out and others did not.

Name DOB MLB debut age Pre-debut minor-league numbers
Cole Hamels 12/27/83 n/a 14-4, 1.43, 189.1 IP
Felix Hernandez 4/8/86 19 30-10, 2.59, 306.1 IP
Scott Kazmir 1/24/84 20 9-12, 2.40, 228.1 IP
Zack Greinke 10/21/83 20 16-5, 2.16, 180 IP
Rick Ankiel 7/19/79 20 9-6, 2.79, 125.2 IP
Dontrelle Willis 1/12/82 21 19-4, 2.03, 222 IP
Dwight Gooden 11/16/64 19 24-9, 2.57 269.2 IP

Cole Hamels was born December 27, 1983, making him 22 years old this season.  Before being promoted to AAA, Hamels made 4 starts in High Class A Clearwater where he compiled a 1-1 record with a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 IP.  He gave up 16 hits and walked 9 with 29 Ks.

Prior to this year, Hamels had thrown 152.0 innings over 3 seasons between Low A, High A and AA ball.  He had a composite ERA of 1.54 and a record of 11-3.  His career WHIP prior to 2006 was 0.99 and he struck out 12.32 hitters per 9 innings.  Quite simply, he'd been dominant in the times that he's been healthy enough to pitch.  His ailments have been well documented elsewhere, but to recap: Hamels broke his left arm in high school forcing him to miss a season.  As a pro, he's had back trouble as well as the infamous fight resulting in a boken hand that has kept him off the mound.  Clearly though, injuries aside, Hamels has a ton of talent.

Felix Hernandez was born April 8, 1986 making him just 20 years old this season.  He's pitching for the major league club Seattle Mariners.  In the minors, he was a composite 30-10 with a 2.59 ERA in 306.1 IP.  He had a WHIP of 1.20 and K/9 of 10.66.  Hernandez was the most hyped pitching prospect in all of baseball coming into the season.  His numbers are not as good as Cole's, but he is 2 1/2 years younger than Hamels.  He's struggling this year with a 1-3 record, 5.40 ERA and WHIP of 1.64 in 6 starts.  Last season in 12 starts, he was 4-4 with a 2.67 ERA.  He's still an excellent prospect, but even thsy have trouble adjusting to the majors.

Scott Kazmir was born January 24, 1994, making him just 1 month younger than Hamels.  Kazmir was drafted 2 spots ahead of Hamels in 2002.  Kazmir made the majors in the middle of 2004 when he was 20 years old.  In his 3 years in the minors, Kazmir put up a record of 9-12 with a 2.40 ERA in 228.1 IP in A ball up to AA.  His WHIP was 1.12 and the struck out 11.15 batters per 9 IP.  In 2004 when he was first called up, Kazmir struggled a little bit.  He had a 5.67 ERA in 33.1 IP.  However, he maintained the 11.07 K/9 level he had in the minors.  In 2005, his first full season, Kazmir lowered the ERA to 3.77 and it is at 3.72 thus far in 2006.  However, his K/9 has dropped to  the mid 8 level.

Zack Greinke was born on October 21, 1983 making him just 2 few months older than Hamels.  He was drafted 6th overall in the same 2002 draft that produced Kazmir and Hamels.  In the minors, Greinke had a 16-5 record with a 2.15 ERA in 180 IP.  His WHIP was 0.99 and he had 7.20 K/9.  Greinke was promoted to the majors a few months ahead of Kazmir in 2004.  He's been shelled in Kansas City to a tune of 13-28, 4.99 ERA and only 5.87 K/9.  He has not pitched this year and there are some rumors that the Royals ruined him for life.  Looking at his numbers in the minors, they are very similar to Hamels', even the number of innings pitched.  The WHIP and ERA and record are all similarly impressive.  Greinke had been healthier in the minors, so he was younger when he was promoted.  Also, his K/9 rate was nowhere near Hamels', but this should serve as a cautionary tale.

Rick Ankiel was born July 29, 1979.  He was drafted in 1997, but did not pitch that year.  He had a 9-6 record with a 2.79 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 12.96 K/9 in 125.2 IP in high class A in 1998.  In 1999, he broke camp with the big league club and posted a 3.27 ERA in 33 IP before getting hurt.  He also carried a 1.21 WHIP and 10.64 K/9 at the age of 20.  The next year, he had a record of 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA in 175 IP.  His WHIP was 1.30 with 9.98 K/9.  However, towards the end of that season, Ankiel lost the ability to throw strikes all of a sudden.  He started the next year in the minors and would only throw 34 more IP in the majors.  His case is somewhat inexplicable, but also cautionary.  His limited minor league numbers are nearly as impressive as Hamels', but against inferior competition and he advanced at a younger age.

Another contemporary comparison is Dontrelle Willis.  Willis was born on January 12, 1982 making him almost 2 full years older than Hamels.  Willis came up to the Marlins in 2003 at the age of 21.  Prior to that, he had a composite minor league line of 19-4, 2.03 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 7.38 K/9 in 222 IP.  He came up during the pennant race and gave the Marlins a shot in the arm to finish the season and beat out the Phillies for the Wild Card.  The Marlins went on to win the World Series that year, thanks in no small part to Willis.  Willis did not truly blossom until 2005 in his third season when he was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA at the age of 23.  If Hamels comes up this season, he will be a year older than Willis was when he came up.  In a lot of ways, Willis' minor league numbers were more impressive than Hamels'.  Willis had a lower WHIP over a larger number of IP.  The ERA is a half run higher, but still just over 2.  The only large difference is Hamels strikes out a lot more hitters.  Willis has a 6.83 career K/9 in the majors.

The last comparison I'll make is Dwight Gooden.  Gooden was drafted in 1982 as a 17 year old.  He pitcxhed that season and the next in the minors before debuting with the Mets in 1984 as a 19 year old.  In his 2 minor league season, Gooden compiled a 24-9 record.  In 1983 as an 18 year old, Gooden was 19-4 with a 2.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 14.14 K/9 in 191 IP in High A ball.  In 1984 as a 19 year old rooking with the Mets, he was 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 11.39 K/9.  The following season when he won the Cy Young Award at the age of 20, Gooden was 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA in 218 IP.  He had a WHIP of 0.97 and had 8.72 K/9.  Gooden, of course threw in a different era and his career later collapsed due to his drug addiction, but he was dominant early on.

From this brief survey, Hamels has similar numbers to Willis, Kazmir and Greinke.  He was not as dominant as Gooden and not as young as Hernandez.    However, his K rate is reminiscent of Gooden and Ankiel.  We'll see if his career turns out more like Willis or Kazmir or if he follows the road of Zack Greinke or Rick Ankiel. I'd make a comparison chart for ease of reading, but I don't know how to post one of those.