"Win a championship in Philadelphia, and they'll love you forever."
It's fair to say that a few members of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Championship squad would object to the above statement. Among those players would probably be left-hander Cole Hamels, the MVP of both the National League Championship Series and World Series during that magical postseason run. Just 24 years old that postseason, the slender kid from southern California became the darling of the town and the sports world. Then 2009 happened.
A bizarre mix of poor execution, bad luck, and by his own admission, complacency led to a subpar season in 2009, the only weak season of Hamels' career. He became a bit of a punching bag among the talk radio set, who criticized his purported lack of heart, desire, etc., all of the platitudes that don't pass the smell test but that generate boffo ratings for cynical radio hosts.
But 2009 turned out to be an aberration. Since 2010, Hamels has been one of the most consistently good starting pitchers in the league, with excellent strikeout numbers, a low walk rate, and a better than average ability to keep the ball in the park. He has refined his repertoire, adding a nice cutter and improving his curveball into a credible offering. The changeup, however -- one of baseball's best -- remains his bread and butter.
Constantly overshadowed both by his own prior achievements, and those of his legendary rotation-mates Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Hamels now finds himself near the top of most Phillies franchise leaderboards (all statistics courtesy Baseball Reference).
WAR for Pitchers (?)
|Rank||Player||WAR for Pitchers||IP|
Strikeouts per 9 IP (?)
|Rank||Player||Strikeouts per 9 IP||IP|
Innings Pitched (?)
Games Started (?)
With a good, healthy season, and if he remains in Philadelphia, Hamels could find himself in fifth place on the franchise career wins list, and third in games started. Pretty nice company. But that's only if he remains in Philadelphia.
With the Phillies poised to be one of the very worst teams in baseball, and with Hamels possessing a high but not unreasonable price tag, the 31 year old has been the subject of dozens if not hundreds of trade rumor reports, mostly involving the Red Sox, Padres, and Cubs. The Red Sox rumors have been the most rampant and sustained; having lost Jon Lester, the Red Sox have a vacancy at the top of their starting rotation, and may not have the pitching to match their retooled and loaded offensive attack. It looked like there was a match. Hell, it still does. Something will probably give eventually.
There's a weird parallelism between Cole Hamels, his development, and the rise and emergence of the sports blogosphere. Hamels was drafted 17th overall in the 2002 Amateur Draft, which eventually became known as the "Moneyball Draft," because it constituted a large part of the dramatic backdrop to Michael Lewis's 2003 bestseller's quasi-dramatic narrative about Billy Beane and the Oakland A's approach to player acquisition and development. Hamels failed to merit a mention in the book -- presumably he wasn't on Beane's radar, and for some good reason. Hamels had broken his pitching arm in his junior year of high school in San Diego in an off-field accident. The talent was there, but so was the risk, so he dropped to the Phillies.
In 2002, mainstream sports fans, including yours truly, began congregating in online discussion forums and proto-blogs to discuss their favorite teams. Statistical analysis, of the type discussed at length in Moneyball, took purchase in these forums. A thousand Bill Jameses were born, many of whom launched blogs, who wanted to look past the cliches and conventional wisdom to determine what really made winning baseball happen.
The Good Phight launched in June 2005, almost 10 years ago, when Hamels was still toiling in the minor leagues, and the Phillies were in the midst of a series of frustrating seasons that saw them fall just short of the postseason each time. We all watched and obsessed over Hamels; he was this team's hope, the guy who could push them over the edge and on to postseason glory. Little did we know...
Losing Hamels will be like losing a little bit of our history as a franchise, as a fanbase, and as a blog. All good things must come to an end, but it would have been nice if the team could have kept a decent group of players around Hamels that would not have made his premature departure a fait accompli.
In any event, we will always have our memories of that one prospect who didn't break our collective heart.
WHAT THE PHILLIES (or Red Sox) CAN EXPECT IN 2015
Despite missing a couple of starts in early 2014 due to arm soreness, Hamels has been one of the more healthy, durable starters in the league. He has just about everything you're looking for in a pitcher, as discussed above -- misses bats, doesn't give up too many walks, and does a solid job of keeping the ball in the park.
A good athlete (and a very good hitting pitcher), there is not too much concern that Hamels will age any worse than other pitchers in their early 30s. He will probably never seriously contend for a Cy Young Award (at least not in a league with either Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez), but there's no reason to expect anything less than one of the top 10-15 starting pitchers in baseball. If that isn't the definition of "ace," then what is?