For the second straight season, Cole Hamels has left a slow start in the dust on the way to reclaiming his status as one of the majors' dominant starters.
Last night, Cole was perhaps the best that he's been all season. He went eight scoreless in New York, with just six hits and zero walks to go against eight strikeouts, and on few enough pitches that he could have easily come back in the ninth to finish the job if the Phils hadn't already spotted him a six-run lead. Cole got stronger as the game went on, retiring the last 13 Mets batters he faced, getting through his final inning on just seven pitches.
His stats on the season, improving steadily since getting laced for 15 runs across his first three starts--his first since returning from a shoulder injury--are now once again among the league's best. Check where Cole now ranks among NL pitchers in some of the major stat categories:
ERA: 2.55 (5th)
WHIP: 1.128 (10th)
Strikeouts: 133 (8th)
WAR: 3.9 (4th) (Baseball-Reference)
The last two are particularly impressive, since as counting stats, you'd expect them to be lower for Cole (who missed a handful of starts in April) than someone who'd been healthy all season. But that's how good Hamels has been since getting right--particularly in June and July, where he's gone 5-2 with a 1.58 ERA with over a strikeout per inning and a WHIP barely above one. Hollywood's also been the ultimate model of consistency, going at least seven innings in 14 of his last 16 starts, with all but two of them registering as quality starts (six+ IP w/ three ER or fewer).
The real question is becoming whether our ace is having the best season of his career. Cole's ERA (2.55), ERA+ (145) and even his FIP (2.90) this year are all comfortably his career best, with 2011 (when Hamels finished top five in Cy Young voting) its only competition. His K/9 (9.2) is the highest its been since his rookie year, his H/9 (7.5) is beat only by that 2011 season, and his HR/9 (0.6) is easily his lowest yet.
The only real blemish remaining on Cole's season is the walks. He's walked 2.7 batters per nine, also his highest rate since his rookie season, which ends up inflating his WHIP a bit. The most impressive line item on Cole's 2011 resume was a season-long WHIP under one --.986, to be exact--and his WHIP this year is over .3 higher than that, which might end up being the tiebreaker at the moment in between the two seasons.
Hamels is working on it, though. Across 23 innings over his last three starts, Cole has punched out 27 batters while walking just one. That's not a sustainable K/BB ratio by any means--not even prime Cliff Lee could manage that for longer than a couple weeks--but it sure is making Hollywood's numbers prettier every time he leaves the mound these days.
Of course, with the trade deadline coming up tomorrow, there's a small chance that last night in New York was the last time we'll see Cole leave the mound as a Phillie. Seems pretty unlikely at this point, though, and even if so, it's good to know that he'll go out on top for us, leaving us with the enduring memory of a Metropolitans ass-kicking. Either way, awesome to have you back, Cole.