When things start to go bad, the first instinct for a lot of folks is to yell at the media. And that's fine. Lord knows we deserve a lot of the doo-doo that gets thrown at us. Besides, displacing one's aggression via email or Twitter or blog comment is healthier than displacing it on our nation's roadways.
One thing that folks have yelled at me on more than one occasion over the past few weeks concerns Cole Hamels.
"Why does he keep getting a pass?!," they exclaim.
So I figured I'd address the question.
First, I'm not sure that Cole Hamels is the guy you want to pick as your poster boy for undeserved adulation. The abuse this guy endured from fans and the media during his 2009 season was borderline awkward. Even today, Charlie Manuel will sometimes field a question that takes the form of, "Hey, Skipper, Cole Hamels did [name positive achievement] in today's game. Would he have been mentally tough enough to [name positive achievement] in 2009?" Like, hey, Cole Hamels, I thought I rented your biopic from RedBox the other day until my friend told me Silver Linings Playbook was about somebody else. Keep in mind this guy -- Hamels, not Bradley Cooper -- was booed in his first start of the season two years ago.
Second, I'm not sure that the media's job is to issue passes. Identify all relevant facts, construct them in a manner that is as close of an approximation of reality as possible, offer some insight about what it all means, and then perhaps offer an opinion on the logical solution to whatever issue is at hand. That's pretty much how I see my role. We are not executioners by proxy. At least I don't think we are.
Anyway, the reason why I haven't written much about Hamels' struggles is that I do not think they rank among the reasons the Phillies have sunk to such depths. And, frankly, I think he has already begun to turn things around.
A few things to consider:
1) In Hamels' last five starts, he has walked just two batters while striking out 35 and allowing two home runs in 30 1/3 innings. All three of those categories were down during his rough patch. But those rates are now right where they need to be, as is his 0.91 groundball-to-flyball ratio.
2) In his last 12 starts, Hamels has a 3.54 ERA, 75 strikeouts, seven home runs, and 21 walks in 76 1/3 innings.
3) Last year, people were worried about Cliff Lee. Said he was getting a pass, that he was a fat cat with a bulging wallet. The Phillies were 3-10 in his first 13 starts. He had a 4.13 ERA with 89 strikeouts, 19 walks and nine home runs in 89 1/3 innings. That's still better than Hamels through 14 starts this year: 87 innings, 4.45 ERA, 82 strikeouts, 26 walks, 11 home runs. But those two lines are pretty darn similar. Fact is, pitchers hit rough patches, especially when they get frustrated, which tends to happen when they aren't getting run support, which Hamels hasn't. Last night was the seventh time in his 14 starts that the Phillies finished the game with fewer than three runs. Don't get me wrong - the fact that Lee turned himself around isn't evidence that Hamels will do the same. It's just an example of how pitchers go through ups and downs over the course of a season, just like hitters do. On good teams, the ups of some players equal out the downs of others. On mediocre-to-bad teams, that does not happen, and we end up focusing on the guys who make the most money, or whose style of play grates on us (basically, everybody except Chase Utley).
4) Sure, Hamels has made good use of his appearances against the Marlins (six runs in 27 innings over four starts), but he has also faced the Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Pirates, all of whom would be in the playoffs if they started today. In those three starts, he has allowed seven runs in 21 innings with 17 strikeouts and eight walks. That's a 3.00 ERA and an average of seven innings per start.
5) Remember, Cliff Lee did not win his Cy Young until he was 29, the same age Hamels is now. Before that, he had a career 4.64 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9. In the expansion era (1961-present), only 16 pitchers have logged at least 1,300 innings with an ERA+ of 126 or better before their 29-year-old season. The first 15 are Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver, Johan Santana, Kevin Appier, Juan Marichal, Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Bert Blyleven, Felix Hernandez, Dave Stieb, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Palmer, Carlos Zambrano and Bret Saberhagen. The 16th is Hamels.
That's five Hall of Famers (Seaver, Marichal, BLyleven, Jenkins, Palmer), one eventual Hall of Famer (Maddux), one asterisk Hall of Famer (Clemens), one borderline Hall of Famers (Mussina), one guy who not long ago appeared headed to the Hall of Fame (Santana), and one who will get there someday if he does not get hurt (Hernandez). Zambrano, Saberhagen, Stieb and Appier. And Hamels. So yeah, I'm going to give Hamels the benefit of the doubt, particularly when his velocity is at its usual level, his rate stats are all within a reasonable margin of error, and his offense has slept walk its way through most of his starts.