Ace is not the place for Cole Hamels
by Scott Butler 5/4/13

The Phillies are 2 games under .500 and if it weren't for the Mets and Marlins, the Phillies would be 5-14 right now. There are plenty of reasons for this, but one number sticks in my mind: 1-5. That is the Phillies' record in games in which Cole Hamels has pitched.

Hamels gets a pass on a couple of these outings, but a 6-9 record was unacceptable for Cliff Lee last year and a 1-5 record is unacceptable now for Cole Hamels.  Low run support might be a valid excuse for Kyle Kendrick or John Lannan, but not for the recently anointed Phillies staff ace.

That title of staff ace was bestowed upon Hamels more for signing a big contract than for his performance on the mound. As soon as he signed Colbert Michael Hamels on the dotted line of a $144 million contract he became the Phillies ace, vaulting right over Cliff Lee in the process.

Hamels might be the number one pitcher on the Phillies staff.  But there is a big difference between a number one starter and a staff ace.

Roy Halladay was a staff ace.  He is on his way to Cooperstown with two Cy Young awards, five seasons with 19 or more wins, and a .663 winning percentage.

Cliff Lee was, and maybe still is, an ace pitcher.  He is a Cy Young winner with a .618 winning percentage.

Cole Hamels has finished no better than fifth in Cy Young voting and has a career .595 winning percentage.  So does he really deserve to be named an ace?  Let’s see how Hamels measures up with a few criteria of being ace-worthy:

An ace gets the ball on Opening Day with the opportunity to set the tone for the next six months.  What did Hamels do in his first career Opening Day start?  He gave up 5 earned runs and only lasted five innings in a loss to division rival Atlanta Braves.

An ace comes up big in big spots.  Hamels had a chance in his second start to make amends for the Opening Day debacle.  The Phillies at this point had watched Halladay get destroyed, Kendrick and the bullpen blow a lead in the home opener, and were staring down a 1-4 record before Kevin Frandsen cleared the bases for a dramatic walk-off victory.  Coming off the high from that win, the Phillies handed Cole a 4-0 lead.  Hamels proceeded to blow that lead and halt any momentum the team had gained.

An ace is able to win the close games.  Cole Hamels pitched well in the four starts since the first two disasters, but the Phillies went 1-3 in those starts and lost by 1 run, 1 run, and 2 runs.  Granted the Phillies scored no runs in two of those losses and two runs in the other loss, but Hamels left with his team behind in all of them.  Hamels lasted just six innings in his lone win, allowed six walks, and was tied before the Phillies put up a three-spot in the seventh.

In the games since his first two horrible outings, Hamels has a 2.33 ERA and 6.75 innings per start.  That's pretty good, but Hamels is not paid to be pretty good. 

What the Phillies need from their ace is to willingly put the weight of the team on his shoulders. Hamels has collapsed under that weight in the last two seasons. A turning point to last year's season came when Roy Halladay went on the disabled list on May 29 and the Phillies desperately needed their two big starters to pick up the slack.  Hamels went 2-3 during that time with a 4.40 ERA.  The Phillies face a similar scenario this season. With question marks up and down the Phillies roster, the team looked to its "ace" to provide the stability they so desperately needed.  Hamels is 1-3 with a 4.78 ERA in those games.

Even worse has been his demeanor.  On Thursday night, we watched his teammate Kyle Kendrick enter a game in which he clearly did not have his good stuff going.  He had difficulty commanding his pitches and left several sinkers up in the zone.  But Kendrick wiggled his way out of trouble, limited the damage, and pitched seven innings while allowing two runs.  He never scared, kept his composure, and displayed a great deal of confidence.

Hamels, on the other hand, reverted back to the immaturity of his 2009 season.  He threw a mini-fit when he couldn’t collaborate on a pitch with Erik Kratz, he continually stares down umpires when he disagrees with calls, he stomps around the mound when a batter calls time, and he tosses profanities when he doesn’t execute a pitch.  Sorry, but there is no place for a spaz in baseball.

Elite pitchers do not exhibit those behaviors.  Then again, Cole Hamels has never been an elite pitcher.

Cole Hamels is a very good pitcher, but he has not reached the level of elite. He is nowhere near Roy Halladay from 2010 and 2011. Hamels has finished with an ERA under 3 only once (2.79 in 2011), has never won 20 games, and has won more than 14 games only one time (17 wins last year).

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I am a big Cole Hamels fan - I’m the guy who picked him twice to win the Cy Young award. I will never, ever, ever forget what he did for me and this entire city in 2008. I love his honesty with the media. And I loved him pegging ESPN’s love child over there in DC in the back with a fastball. But he is not an ace.

If there ever were a time for Cole Hamels to pitch like an ace, you are watching it right now. The door is closing (if it hasn’t closed already) on the best era in Phillies history and this might be his last chance to bring home a title to Philadelphia.

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