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NL East: King Cole
I was planning to write this blog entry about how Antonio Alfonseca's success as the Phillies' closer was being accomplished with smoke and mirrors, about how the club ought to immediately reinstall Tom Gordon (who's allowed one total base runner in his three post-DL appearances) in the role at least until Brett Myers returns from a strained right shoulder, which could happen as early as tomorrow. Yes, I was going to write, the big-bellied Alfonseca has managed eight saves and is something of a fan favorite in Philly, but he's striking out a miniscule 3.08 batters per nine innings (the second-worst current closer in the category, Detroit¹s Todd Jones, manages 4.89), he walks more batters than he fans (the only closer who does that), and he has a closer-worst WHIP (1.66) and batting average against (.312). That his ERA is only 4.26, I planned to contend, is something of a miracle.
Then, last night, the Washington Nationals of all teams (!) caught up with El Pulpo, scoring three earned runs off of him to take a 5-4 lead in the top of the ninth without breaking a sweat. While the Phils' offense bailed Alfonseca out by tying the game in the bottom of the inning and winning it in the 14th, it became clear that some combination of Gordon and Myers will be closing games from here on in, at least until they both get hurt again S so, around 11 PM last night, a blog asserting that such a change should be made became pointless.
Instead, I'll write about the man who was robbed of his 12th win by Alfonseca's collapse, the pitcher whom I would choose first overall were I lucky enough to have the opportunity to select any in the National League to head my rotation for the next decade or so: the Phillies' 23-year-old southpaw ace, Cole Hamels.
With my sincere apologies to Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Brad Penny, and a few others, I believe that Hamels, in just his first full season in the majors, has emerged as the NL's most talented starter. Despite making half his starts in a ballpark that would make pitchers with lesser constitutions nauseous (Citizens Bank Park is this season the easiest place in baseball in which to hit a home run), Hamels' ERA ranks in the league's Top 20 and he's actually been better at home (3.42) than on the road (3.84). Part of the reason why he's so valuable to the Phillies is that opponents can't hit homers if they can't hit the ball, period and Hamels is three behind Aaron Harang for the NL strikeout lead. Even more important is that he seems to avoiding hitting the wall in the manner of so many young pitchers come mid-summer (see Justin Verlander last season); he's got a 2.67 ERA in four July starts.
Hamels' precocious stamina stems in part from the fact that he possesses the work ethic of a pitcher 10 years his senior. I was talking to him several weeks ago about his involved, self-driven daily routine: "On a gameday I normally get here around 2 P.M., which give me two hours to do shoulders, back, abs, what I need to do or myself. Probably four or five guys get here that early," he said. Reliever Geoff Geary, who was then Hamels' locker mate, interjected. "This guy's unbelievable," Geary said sincerely. "I've never seen anyone work like he does."
That ethic has overwhelmed any concerns about Hamels' character that were raised as a result of a few youthful indiscretions, including a bar fight in Clearwater, Florida that left him with a broken pitching hand two winters ago. Indeed, in person, Hamels comes across as more mellow surfer than adrenaline-crazed brawler, more John From Cincinnati than Deadwood.
He expresses what appears to be a genuine sense of humility. "Because of the types of pitches I have in my repertoire, I know that I can strike guys out, and it's fun," he says. "But even so, I'm surprised as any that I'm around the top of the leaderboard, because some of the names on that list, I'm in disbelief that I'm at their level. I used to watch [Jake] Peavy, he's phenomenal, he was just starting in San Diego when I was still [in high school] there. John Smoltz, [former Phillies teammate] Randy Wolf. There's a bunch of guys that can just blow people away."
Hamels is also unfazed when asked if any batter owns him, a question that might make other young aces indignant. "Miguel Cabrera," he says quickly. "I think he's batting .800 off me [actually .750]. From what I've seen, I think he probably has the best hand-eye coordination in the game, besides Barry Bonds. Just the way he can stay back on a ball that's either 94 or 80, he¹s still able to wait for it."
Seriously, though, being humble only gets one so far: the biggest reason why I'd pick Hamels going forward is because he long ago mastered a dominating strikeout pitch his changeup. Remember, Johan Santana, who is widely agreed to possess baseball's best change, didn't even begin to get the hang of the pitch until he was Hamels' age, when he was sent down to Triple-A Edmonton to work with guru Bobby Cuellar. Hamels has been throwing a circle change since his high school coach, Mark Furtak, taught it to him at age 14.
I'm not suggesting that Hamels has nothing to work on; even though we'll cut him some slack due to his home park, he still allows way too many home runs (an NL-high 22), a tendency that causes him to get lit up once in awhile he's allowed five earned runs in a game three times this season. However, when push comes to shove, I'm still on the Cole Patrol.
Labels: NL East
posted by SI.com | View comments |
I have to say that I'd take Peavy over Hamels -- his batting average against is twenty points better, which the difference in their parks can't quite account for, and his WHIP is also better. I'm also curious to see Hamels go through the league a bit more, see whether batters start to figure him out.
On another note, who's editing this blog? Why is there so much weird punctuation in this blog?
Hamels is obviously great, but I'd have to take Peavy over Hamels. The difference in their ballparks can't account for Peavy's batting average against being so much batter, or his WHIP lower. And I wonder if batters will start to figure Hamels out as he goes through the league a few more times...
On another note, why is there consistently so much strange punctuation in this blog?
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)