Wednesday, August 20, 2014
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Best lefthanded starter: Making the case for Cole Hamels as Phillies best

Cole Hamels has racked up 38 wins in his first two big-league seasons. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Cole Hamels has racked up 38 wins in his first two big-league seasons. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Cole Hamels has racked up 38 wins in his first two big-league seasons. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer) Gallery: 2009: Cole Hamels

COLE HAMELS has a ton of potential. Everybody can agree on that.

He was voted the Most Valuable Player of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. No Phillies pitcher has ever done that.

He's just 25 years old with just two full big-league seasons and 38 wins to his credit and maybe in some organizations that would be enough to get some consideration at the best lefthanded starter in franchise history.

Not with the Phillies. Not with a team that employed Hall of Famer Steve Carlton at the height of his career, the franchise's all-time leader in wins, starts and strikeouts, who won four Cy Young Awards and made seven All-Star teams.

"But I think he can get close," said Dodgers scout Lee Elia, a Philadelphia native who played in the Phillies minor league system and both coached and managed in the bigs. "He's got all his pitches working for him. The duration of a guy's success is what puts him in a special category, and he does have a chance to do that."

In discussing the comparison of Mike Schmidt and Ryan Howard, Elia was quick to point out that Howard is playing in an era of more hitter-friendly arenas.

"Now, if you flipped that coin, and you say to yourself, I made the comment that some of our [older] guys would have prospered because of the smaller ballparks, well how about Hamels? He's got to keep it in the park, you know? As a Phillies fan, and now a scout when I watch him pitch, I see where he can be very difficult. I think he's one of the premier guys in the National League," Elia said.

Nobody was foolhardy enough to predict that Hamels will eclipse Carlton's lifetime accomplishments, although some believe he might someday be mentioned in the same sentence.

"He definitely has a shot if he stays healthy," hitting coach Milt Thompson said. "You look at Lefty's numbers, especially that one year when he had, what, 27 or 28 wins [27-10 in 1972]? That's incredible. It's nice to have a team where you can make the comparison with the best in the organization's history."

Charlie Manuel agreed. "[Hamels] has tremendous ability. You have to talk about the longevity of his career. It's up to him to see how far he can go in his career, how many years he pitches and how long he stays in the game if he can match Lefty," the current manager said. "But Lefty, I thought he was the class of baseball at one time. He was that good. So Cole has to be a real great pitcher to overtake him."

Longevity is the crucial element.

"The best lefthanded pitcher, of course, is Carlton. And 20 years from now we'll see how Cole Hamels does," said Phillies chairman Bill Giles, who first came to work for the team in late 1969.

Added author Rich Westcott, who has written six books about the Phillies: "You're talking about a guy who was a 300-game winner. Who pitched here for umpteen years. You've got Cole who has been good for a couple years. But you look at Carlton, he was good for a whole bunch of years. This is not to say Cole couldn't get to that. But he's got a long, long way to go."

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THE COMPETITION

To be considered the Phillies' best lefthanded starting pitcher, Cole Hamels would be judged against these five:

1. Steve Carlton. A no-brainer. He won 329 games — the only lefthander to win more was Warren Spahn — and 241 of those came with the Phillies. Four Cy Youngs, five 20-win seasons, 185 complete games, first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1994.

2. Chris Short. Third on Phillies all-time list with 301 starts behind only Hall of Famers Carlton and Robin Roberts and fourth in wins (132) and innings pitched (2,253).

3. Curt Simmons. Six double-figure win seasons in 12-plus years with Phillies, fifth on all-time list in wins (115) and starts (263) including three All-Star appearances.

4. Eppa Rixey. Eight years for Phillies (1912-17 and 1919-20). Went 22-10 in 1916. Ninth on team's all-time list in innings (1,604).

5. Randy Wolf. Eight years for Phillies (1999-06), eighth on all-time list with 971 strikeouts.

Honorable mention: Terry Mulholland, with Phillies for 6 years (1989-93 and '96). Pitched first no-hitter in Veterans Stadium (against Giants, Aug. 15, 1990).

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TIM McCARVER ON COLE HAMELS

(Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver speaks for Steve Carlton, a role he often filled when they were Cardinals and Phillies teammates.)

"How many wins does Cole Hamels have right now? Steve Carlton won 241 as a Phillie. So it's too early compare them right now. If in 10 years he does what Steve did, I think we could talk. At this point, it's unfair to Steve.

"Cole Hamels is unto himself. He's a great young pitcher. What he did in the postseason last year, no Phillie has ever done. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.

"But to compare him at this point is unfair. I know in baseball circles, baseball jargon, we tend to do that. But because of the type of guy I think Cole Hamels is, I'd like to see him forge his own greatness.

"He's so different even from Chris Short and Curt Simmons. I don't think the Phillies have ever had a lefthander quite like him, because of his changeup and his competitiveness.

"I don't think anybody would have looked at Steve Carlton and said, 'Vicious competitor.' He was more placid, metaphysical, Eastern in his approach. In many ways he was far ahead of his times in terms of visualization techniques and things of that nature.

"Chris Short had the best arm I saw [among Phillies lefthanded starters]. And he never had a sore arm. He would go down because of his knees or lower back, but he never had a sore arm. He told me once he just needed a couple times out in spring training and he was ready to go.

"Everyone goes through different things. Like the [elbow] tenderness Cole had.

"I said to my grandson when we came out [to Bright House Field], 'When you fool hitters you inevitably have got to have shoulder or elbow problems.' By no means am I putting a curse on him, but it just stands to reason he's going to have some problems.

"But he's an interesting guy with interesting stuff."

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