The biggest prize of this season’s free agent market is increasing his worth with every pitch. He is proving he has a golden left arm. It’s not the first a Phillies’ left-hander dazzled.
Cole Hamels, who enters a start today at 8-1, is working on a season that might just compare to another historic season in Phillies’ history.
There are two distinct differences between Hamels’ 2012 season and Steve Carlton’s year in 1972, arguably one of the best seasons from a pitcher in major-league history.
Carlton posted a 27-10 record in ’72 with a 1.97 ERA and struck out 310. Hamels is 8-1 with a 2.43 ERA and 72 strikeouts through May. At that point, Carlton was 5-6 with a 2.95 ERA and 94 strikeouts.
Hamels can compare to Carlton in two ways from that season. First off, Hamels lost his first start before going on to win eight of his last nine. Carlton, at 5-6 through May, didn’t lose another game until mid-August. He won 15 of 19 starts between those losses. Hamels, on his current stretch, is working on a similar streak.
Additionally, Hamels can account for eight of his team’s 28 wins this season. Carlton won 27 games that season. The Phillies won 59.
That’s where the first difference comes in. 1972 was a different time for baseball and the Phillies. Carlton started 41 games. Hamels will likely start 33. The Phillies had not made the playoffs since 1950. In 2012, the Phillies are five-time defending champions of the NL East.
In other words, Hamels will likely not be part of a team that finishes 59-97, like the ’72 Phillies did. But, with Hamels winning so many of his team’s ballgames this early in the season, it is not outrageous to think that Hamels couldn’t have a record, ERA and strikeout total on par of Carlton’s from that season.
Carlton and Hamels have different stories in their career seasons. Carlton, in his first season with the Phillies, had won 20 games the previous season, but prior to that had not won more than 17. Hamels’ career high for wins is 15 from 2007. Hamels is the talk of the Phillies and, as a draft pick of the Phillies, the player they don’t want to let get away. Carlton was new to the Phillies, and because he was traded for Rick Wise, a popular Phillie at the time, he wasn’t well accepted to begin his Phillies’ career. Obviously, that changed in the future.
Hamels is in a similar position. Those historical numbers came in Carlton’s eighth season. Hamels is in his seventh season.
Again, you have to remember that baseball is different now than it was then. Carlton was a strikeout master, at one point in his career the strikeout king of baseball, and an innings machine.
Baseball today is about finishing the ballgame with lead. Closers are now multi-million dollar superstars. Relievers hold a greater importance to the game. And complete-game shutouts are a thing of the past. Let’s put it this way. In that 15-for-19 stretch Carlton had in ’72, 14 were complete games. Five were shutouts. Hamels has 10 complete games and four shutouts to his name.
But, in an era where pitching still wins championships, but starters don’t do it all, Hamels is leading the way. He is among the league leaders in all major pitching categories. And he is doing it in a contract year. But Hamels has faced the bad that makes pitchers good. And in a rotation that features Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Hamels has emerged as the alpha male.
Carlton, partially joking, referred to the days he pitched that year as “win day.” This season, “win day” seems to be whenever Hamels takes the mound, especially for a team that struggled out of the starting gate.
In 2009, Cliff Lee took Philadelphia by storm. He could do no wrong. If you remember, that was the guy everybody wanted to have for the rest of his career. That was the guy with the golden left arm. It was also Hamels’ worst season to date.
But, the so-called successor of Steve Carlton is starting to really live up to those expectations. This season in particular, he is Carlton’s clone. With every Hamels’ start being another “win day,” it is like taking a small part of Carlton in his prime and watching him throw.
Philadelphia can truly say they have a potential legendary pitcher in their presence. It just makes keeping all the more important after this season is over.