Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hard-Luck Hamels: Cy Young Candidate?

It’s not your imagination, Phillies fans: Cole Hamels is having a hard-luck season for the ages. He took the loss in last night’s 3-2 game, despite going seven innings and allowing just two earned runs. In many ways, that’s nothing new for him this year.

Hamels has gone at least seven innings in 24 of his 33 starts—tops in the majors, as Sam Donnellon notes in today's Daily News. What we’ve also seen before—a lack of run support for Hamels, who fell to 14-10, a record that’s a wholly misleading indication of his success this season.

Hamels has done enough to be considered for the Cy Young, if only the Phillies bats hadn't been snoring when he pitched. His run support is 4.72 per game—Kyle Kendrick (5.84), Joe Blanton (5.41), and Jamie Moyer (5.26) get more, Brett Meyers (4.43) and Adam Eaton (3.99) less. But a look at several of Hamels’ losses and no-decisions reveals just how well he’s pitched—and how poorly the Phils have hit in those games.

Five of his losses came when he gave up three runs or less while pitching seven innings. In other words, he pitched well enough to deserve the win. But the bats failed him—in those five games, the Phillies were shut out three times and scored a total of four runs.

And that’s just the losses. Hamels has been brilliant in six games in which he received a no-decision:

—7 IP, 0 ER in a 1-0 win May 20 against Washington
—8 IP, 2 ER in a 6-2 loss June 11 against Florida
—7 IP, 2 ER in a 6-3 win July 13 against Arizona
—8 IP, 2 ER in a 3-2 loss July 20 against Florida
—7 IP, 2 ER in a 4-3 loss August 12 against Los Angeles
—7 IP, 1 ER in a 6-4 loss August 28 against the Chicago Cubs

Now, for fun, let’s assume the hitters had come through in just two of his five well-pitched losses. That would improve Hamels to 16-8. Now, suppose the hitters produced in time to change just half of those six no-decisions to victories.

By that reasoning, Hamels would be 19-8 with a 3.09 E.R.A. on a possible division-winning team—and a top contender for the Cy Young. And the question of the day wouldn’t be, should Hamels sit the last game to get some rest, but should he start it in order to pick up his 20th win.

Now, for perhaps the ultimate hard-luck Phillies season, we can look to another lefty: Steve Carlton’s 1973 season. Coming off his 1972 Cy Young-winning year in which he won 27 games for a 59-win team, Carlton found the baseball gods against him.

He went 13-20 for a 71-win team that featured the likes of Billy Grabarkewitz, Mike Anderson, and two green kids named Schmidt and Bowa who were learning on the job.

Six of Carlton’s 20 losses came when the Phillies were shut out. In his first eight losses, the Phillies scored a total of 11 runs and he pitched into the seventh inning in all but two of them. His run support for the season—granted, it was a different era—was a mere 3.62.

The end of the season brought Carlton no relief. In his last 17 starts, the Phillies scored more than three runs just three times. And the real kicker: They scored just 14 runs total in his last 10 losses of the season.

But he had one consolation that Cole Hamels won't this year: a Cy Young on his mantel. — JR

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