Thursday, March 18, 2010

King Cole or Hollywood Hamels?

I've mentioned a few times over the course of this blog that I firmly believe Cole Hamels is due for a better year than 2009. However, the fact that he has shown us two different versions of himself in begs the question: which pitcher is Cole Hamels?












Warning: Prolonged exposure to photo on the right can cause health problems
(Right: Photo courtesy of the AP;
Left: Photo courtesy of phinallyphilly.com)

On the one hand we have King Cole, the pitcher who had a breakout year in 2007 with a 15-5 record, a 3.39 ERA, 177 K, and 43 BB in 183.1 innings. He followed that in 2008 with a 14-10 record, a 3.09 ERA, 196 K, and 53 BB in 227.1 innings in the regular season, plus a postseason pitching performance that ranked among baseball's best.

In case you wondering, Hamels is one of only 5 players (including some guy named Orel Hershiser) to win two postseason MVP awards in the same year, and one of only 10 pitchers (including the aforementioned Hershiser, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and a few other guys you've heard of) at the time to win 4 games in one. Since then, one other guy has earned that latter distinction, though he currently seems pissed that his former team traded him this offseason.

Going into the 2009 season, Cole Hamels worked his way into being a Cy Young and fantasy favorite. He had a magical offseason otherwise, and by magical I mean doing many things not related to baseball. This included posing for the dangerously creepy picture above, and doing some weird ads, including this and a few fake sounding ads for Comcast that seem to have been removed from YouTube. In one of them he talked about how great it was to talk to his grandma in California. I'm all for that, but I'm still struggling to figure out what that has to do with working on his arm strength and breaking ball.

Despite the baseball hype and Charlie calling him the opening day starter, he left spring training with elbow tightness and ended up pitching in the fourth game of the year, at Colorado. He got off to a disappointing start, giving up 7 runs in 3.2 innings. He managed to bring his ERA down to 5.04 by his 6th start, and it continued to hover between 4 and 5 for the rest of the season. Not bad for an average pitcher, but not the Cole Hamels we had come to know.

We also saw a pitcher who seemed to get visibly fed up on the mound, culminating with a disheartening show of emotion in game 1 of the NLCS after Chase Utley botched a double play attempt. That and the following quote that got just a little bit of coverage: "I can't wait for it to end. It's been mentally draining... It's one of those things, a year in, you just can't wait for a fresh start." Whatever Hamels meant by this, and I believe it was blown out of proportion, he should have thought more carefully before saying anything like "I can't wait for it to end."

Hamels finished 2009 with a 10-11 record, a 4.32 ERA, 168 K, 43 BB in 193.2 regular season innings. His postseason included a forgettable 1-2 record and a 7.58 ERA.

Now I wrote in my very first blog entry many reasons why Hamels 2009 season wasn't as bad as it appeared, and that bad luck, including an unusually high BABIP and an ERA higher than his FIP, contributed to his mediocre numbers. However, I also said that the mental aspect of his game did not do him any favors. When  he started looking frustrated, as he did in game 1 of the NLCS, it became more likely that he would be pulled early, including in situations with runners on base that he was responsible for. I think that Cole Hamels could have simply worked to keep his physical game at the same high level that it had always been at, worked to improve his mental game, and he would have shown improvement over 2009. Instead he's done much more.

Cole Hamels commercial offseason and emotional season helped reinforceto the "Hollywood Hamels" image. The difference between the 2009 and 2010 offseasons for Hamels was stark, and spring training thus far has been no different from this time last year. Not only did he seriously work on, of all things, baseball during the winter, he worked on being more than just a two pitch pitcher with a good fastball and a great change-up. He's confident in his brand new cutter and seems to be more confident in a curveball that up until now he's pitched more to reassure himself than to get batters out. So far he's given up two earned runs, both solo homers to Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays. Even then he looked more confident on the mound than I've seen him in a long time. Don't just take my word for it though:

ESPN's Buster Olney: "I get asked all the time by friends for fantasy tips, and I've been telling them this over the last few days: Take Cole Hamels."

Fox Sport's Ken Rosenthal: "Scout on Phillies' Hamels: 'The way he is trending, the rest of the National League should be worried.'"

Paul Hagen also wrote an excellent piece in The Daily News comparing Hamels' career to that of Justin Verlander so far, and that's definitely worth a read. If Hamels has a Verlander-like bounce back this year and he's not even the Phillies' no. 1 starter, Ken Rosenthal's scout is damn right that the rest of the NL should be worried. A 1-2 punch of Doc Halladay and a returned to form King Cole could be as formidable as any in baseball. I didn't even cover the Verducci Effect in this post, which predicted a slump in 2009 for Hamels and a return to form in 2010.

That's just a brief portrait of Cole Hamels, a man who could still be the ace for a number of teams in baseball. With new pitches in hand and better emotional control, Hamels has the chance to put "Hollywood Hamels" to rest this season and assume the mantle of "King Cole" once again.

In other news today, The Phield released its previews of tomorrow's match-ups, including the one between yours truly and The Fightins. The Phield had the following to say about Phillibustering:

"Aaron’s Phillibustering has under 30 posts, and is not updated every day, but it’s a worthy entry to the tournament because of its content. He asks the tough questions, like 'Is Ryan Howard overrated?' (the answer is no) and throws some humor into the pot once in a while. Does it distinguish itself? No. But Aaron has a nice template here. Refine and fire. Refine and fire."

For a blog as young as this one, I'll take it. I'm definitely going to be updating more frequently once the season starts, ideally on a daily or more often basis. But as someone new to blogging and sportswriting, I'm flattered to get high marks on content. Remember to vote for me tomorrow and at least give The Fightins a Robert Morris-like scare.

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