For much of the 2009 season, the biggest question to pop up after ‚ÄúWill Brad Lidge ever return to his 2008 form?‚Äù was, ‚ÄúWill Cole Hamels ever return to his 2008 form?‚Äù
Both pitchers were extremely key in the Phillies‚Äô 2008 championship run, and as both struggled all season long, fans became increasingly concerned the team‚Äôs chances at a second straight title might be in jeopardy.
Lately, Lidge has started to show some signs of regrouping, while Hamels, who has had some very good stretches this year, still hasn‚Äôt been able to get enough consistent traction going to convince fans that he can be counted on the rest of the way as he was in 2008.
So naturally fans are wondering, which Cole Hamels will show up in World Series Game 3 (and possibly a second start later in the Series) for the Phillies? Will it be the 2008 World Series MVP model, or will it be the 2009 version that was 0-5 in April & August, 5-5 in June & September, or 6-1 in May & July?
The truth is, I‚Äôm not sure it‚Äôs a totally fair question to ask‚Ä¶and here‚Äôs why: the question presupposes that Hamels is underachieving in the first place‚Ä¶that he is an ace who has regressed somewhat rather than build on his 2008 postseason performance to dominate a la Cliff Lee has thus far.
If the 2008 postseason is the measuring stick, then yes, he has regressed. But the reality is, his 2009 performance was not a whole lot different than his overall career performance. In fact, Hamels has been incredibly steady if you consider his numbers:
9-8 (2006); 3.26 walks per 9 innings; 9.86 K per 9 innings; 7.96 hits per 9 innings; 1.29 HR per 9 innings
15-5 (2007); 2.11 walks per 9 innings; 8.70 K every 9 innings; 8.00 hits per 9 innings; 1.23 HR per 9 innings
14-10 (2008); 2.10 walks per 9 innings; 7.77 K every 9 innings; 7.64 hits per 9 innings; 1.11 HR per 9 innings
10-11 (2009); 2.00 walks per 9 innings; 7.83 K every 9 innings; 9.57 hits per 9 innings; 1.12 HR per 9 innings
Hamels actually walked less batters per 9 innings in 2009 than in 2008 (or any previous year of his career for that matter); his strikeouts per 9 innings in 2009 was slightly better than in 2008, and his home runs allowed per 9 innings was basically identical to 2008.
The only noticeable difference is a jump of almost 2 hits per 9 innings allowed in 2009 as compared to the first three years of his career, and as a result, he did have the highest ERA of his career in 2009 (but nothing too far out of whack with the rest of his career).
The reality is that Cole Hamels is a good pitcher who had a great 2008 postseason‚Äîbut he is not yet the ace fans expect (or at least hope) him to be. He has never won 20 games (in fact, he has never won more than 15). He has never won a Cy Young Award.
(And for what it‚Äôs worth, interestingly enough his salary really isn‚Äôt ace pitcher money (less than $4.5 million this year)). Of course, Hamels is very capable of tossing a great Series game or two, but if he doesn‚Äôt, I‚Äôd suggest that‚Äôs more in line with his overall career performance the past 4 years rather than the exception.
This is no slam on Hamels. He may very well become such an ace in the years ahead (even if he doesn‚Äôt, he delivered big time in 2008 and led his team to a World Series title that can never be taken away).
And don‚Äôt forget that he is only 25 years old and the second-youngest player on the entire team (Antonio Bastardo, who pitched in just 6 games in 2009, is 24). From the conversations I‚Äôve had with him the past couple of seasons, he is a competitor who has always expected to not just do well but be the best at every level at which he has played.
For now, take him for who he is‚Äîa good pitcher who, while not perfect, much of the time gives the Phillies a good chance to win.