Baseball BeatMay 13, 2006
De-Lovely Pitcher
By Rich Lederer

Cole Hamels. Sounds more like the name of a songwriter than a baseball pitcher. Nonetheless, the 22-year-old southpaw was composing his own music on Friday night as he held the Cincinnati Reds scoreless for five innings while striking out seven and allowing just one hit in his major league debut.

Thanks to MLB Extra Innings, I watched all 92 pitches. Hamels only threw 51 for strikes but was extremely effective, despite walking five batters (including the bases full in the second inning). The tall, lanky youngster (6-4, 195) with the impeccable minor league record (195.1-114-39-31-72-273 with a 1.43 ERA and 2 HR in 35 GS) is the real deal. He is as good as they come.

Hamels is not a power pitcher per se. Oh, he throws his fastball plenty hard, working mostly at 90-91 and topping out at 93. But he combines excellent stuff with great deception. In addition to his heater, Hamels throws a good curveball and a plus-plus change-up. The latter pitch is what makes Hamels so special.

Check out the grip on his change-up. You can see why they call it a circle change. The index finger and thumb form a circle on the side of the ball. The middle and ring fingers hold the ball in a similar fashion as a two-seam fastball with the pinky on the opposite side as the thumb and index finger. The pitch is thrown with the same arm motion as the fastball and is released with the pitcher driving his thumb toward the ground. The movement on the ball is similar to a screwball, diving down and away from RHB (in the case of a lefty like Hamels).

Hamels retired the Reds in order in the first inning. He got Ryan Freel to ground out to short, struck out Felipe Lopez swinging on a circle change, and punched out Ken Griffey Jr. looking on a breaking ball.

After walking the bases loaded in the second, Hamels reached back and K'd opposing pitcher Elizardo Ramirez on three fastballs to end the inning. He walked Griffey on four pitches in the third but got Freel, Lopez, and Austin Kearns to make easy outs before and after allowing Junior to reach base.

Ryan Howard staked Hamels to a two-run lead in the top of the fourth when he homered to the opposite field on a short, compact stroke. The first round (17th overall) draft pick in 2002 out of Rancho Bernando High School in San Diego stepped it up in the bottom half of the inning by striking out Brandon Phillips and Javier Valentin--the latter on a circle change--after issuing Edwin Encarnacion a free pass with one out.

Hamels whiffed Ramirez on three pitches again in the fifth and induced Freel to ground out for the third time. He threw the pesky lead-off hitter three straight change-ups, retiring him on a ball that was cued off the end of the bat to the first baseman. There are not many veterans--much less pitchers making their MLB debuts--who have the guts and confidence to throw a change back-to-back-to-back to the same hitter. Hamels then impressed me by throwing his biggest hook of the night for a called strike to Lopez. On a 3-and-1 count, Lopez hit a line drive double to right-center field that just eluded a diving Shane Victorino, who short hopped the ball and momentarily held his glove up in the hopes of selling the second base umpire that he caught it.

The hit was Cincy's first and only against Hamels as the man who wears the number 35 on his back saved his best for last by striking out Junior swinging on a curve down and away with outstanding tilt. His boyhood idol never put the ball in play against him, whiffing twice and walking once.

Although Hamels didn't get the win--Ryan Madson, the pitcher Cole replaced in the rotation, gave up home runs to two of the first three batters he faced to allow the Reds to tie the game--he pitched about as well as anyone could have hoped. Hamels held the top-scoring team in the NL without a run in a ballpark that is the second most unfriendly to pitchers in the majors.

Hamels flat out knows how to pitch. He mixed up his pitches and kept the ball down, even enticing more than one batter to bite at a few breaking balls and changes in the dirt. Hamels works quickly and has a smooth windup and delivery, especially for someone who looks like he is all arms and legs. The lefty brings his hands together above the head, kicks his right leg up with the knee perpendicular to his body, and then uses his height and arm length to deliver the ball on a downward plane.

The prized prospect's career is anything but on a downward plane. Health permitting, Hamels should be the favorite to take NL Rookie Pitcher of the Year honors and be among the top pitchers in the league in 2007 and beyond. That should be sweet music to the ears of all Phillies fans.


That's a pretty bold projection for Hamels, forcasting him as a Cy Young contender for as early as 2007. Are you really that high on Hamels?? I like the guy a lot myself, but don't see him becoming a truly elite starter for at least 2-3 more years at the earliest. Minor league dominance is one thing, but facing big league lineups day in and out is quite another, and from what I saw, he still looks like a guy who needs a bit of seasoning to make his place as one of the league's best. 7 K's and 0 runs in 5 innings is great. Spots of wildness, not so great. Facing the Reds, not really a barometer for future success at this level.

I seem to remember BP once did a study that suggested a minor leaguer's HR/9 was the best indicator of future success. Hamels' home run rate, as you noted, is ridiculous.

So, is this guy the best non-Felix young pitcher in baseball?

D.A. - I'm not afraid to make bold predictions but am not the type to do it just to get attention. I truly believe Hamels has what it takes to be a very special pitcher in the big leagues really soon. I did hedge my bet a bit by saying "health permitting" because Cole has had a history of arm and back ailments.

As far as the Reds go, as mentioned, I believe facing the #1 offense in the league at the second most difficult ballpark in the majors for pitchers is a very good test. One game a season or career does not make, but I'm basing my projection on much more than just his pitching line Friday night.

If nothing else, it will be fun to watch Hamels and see how he progresses. Let's be sure to compare notes down the road.


Jurgen - Among pitchers who have already made their MLB debuts but pitched less than a year in the bigs, I would put Hamels in the top five along with Felix Hernandez (#1), Francisco Liriano, Jon Papelbon, and Justin Verlander. Two LHP and three RHP. Not a bad rotation, huh? (I would add Scott Kazmir to that list if I loosened up the parameters a bit. Hard to believe but he is actually a month younger than Hamels.)

I'm not disputing the fact that Hamels will be a very good pitcher, and I think everyone would agree with the statement that Hamels, Felix, Liriano, Papelbon and Verlander are among the elite young starters in the game today, I was just being contentious with the fact that you projected him as a possible Cy Young winner a year into his big league career. Although, now looking at your article once again, I don't see that statement anywhere (late night reading must have made me delusional for the moment); I will have to read more carefully in the future! Cheers!


That's basically what I was asking (including Kazmir, by the way--way to read my mind! Although personally I'm still not sold on Papelbon which probably bespeaks my anti-BoSox bias.)

So you'd keep Cain and Zumaya a notch below? And where would Billingsley fit into the equation?

(God, there's a lot of good young pitching out there.)


The problem with this site and sites like it is that you go absolutely bananas for any young player, and every single one of them is "a once in a generation" player. Felix Hernandez was supposed to have 7 wins by this time in the year, Edwin Jackson was supposed to have 2 Cy Youngs under his belt already in the NL, Rich Harden was supposed to have 2 in the AL, Howie Kendrick would already be leading the majors in hits, Jeremy Hermida would have 30 walks already, it just seems like the more media and coverage we get the more bombastic the predictions have to become.

I can't wait until Philip Hughes comes up. "This kid will be the next 30 game winner in 2008."

Jurgen - The knock on Papelbon is that he is already 25 1/2, older than Jeremy Bonderman (23), Daniel Cabrera, Rich Harden, Jake Peavy, and Carlos Zambrano (all 24). I would rank him below Bonderman, Harden, Peavy, Zambrano, and even Brett Myers if we were doing this by birth date rather than MLB service. I think Cabrera has more upside but is still a work-in-progress.

Papelbon and Zumaya are currently relievers so their values would certainly be less than the others if they didn't make the transition to starters. Zumaya and Cain lack a bit of polish but perhaps that is excusable in view of their age (21). I'm curious to see whether Cain can bounce back from that 4-HR outing at PHI on 5/5. That may have damaged his psyche, at least in the short term.

I like Billingsley as well as a certain other Triple-A pitcher.

Oh yes, I almost forget to mention my mandatory "Why are they starting his service clock now?" comment.

APiNG - This site may have its share of problems but going "absolutely bananas" for any young player is not one of them. Neither Bryan nor I have made any of those claims. You are guilty of being the master of exaggeration, not us.

I admit to liking Felix Hernandez quite a bit and am not backing off despite what you would probably categorize as a poor start to his 2006 season. As for me, I think he is pitching pretty well (9.84 K/9, 6.20 K/100P, and a 2.10 G/F ratio). His BABIP is .330, the ninth highest among 104 qualified pitchers. My guess is that his BABIP and ERA will both go down over the course of the year and that his stats will be just fine at season's end.

I also like Rich Harden but have never said anything about him winning a Cy Young, much less two. I don't have any particular fondness for Edwin Jackson outside of the fact that I thought the Dodgers made a mistake in trading two young arms for a one-year rental such as Danys Baez.

If you have read us for any period of time, I think you will find that we praise and pan players alike. However, it's the nature of the beast to write more about players you favor than those you don't. We will certainly make mistakes when evaluating prospects, and I'm sure you will be the first to point them out.

First off, I should say that I like this site and find it a valuable source of information. I'm just offering what I think is a helpful suggestion.

I mean, saying Hamels is "as good as they come" after one major league game... that's going pretty far, isn't it? "As good as they come?" It speaks to the lack of reserve I see on here sometimes. Now, maybe I'm just jaded. I remember reading internet reports on Adam Miller, every available glowing adjective thrown out there, until I thought "He's Jesus come down from heaven to pitch in the Indians' farm system." Even more so for Edwin Jackson. "This kid is more mature and has a better idea of what to do with hitters than half of the 30 year olds in baseball" I read back in 2003. They were
both guaranteed fabulous success soon, before they ever hit the majors. I remember more of these cases than your average fan, so I'm more apt to be skeptical. It's not just this site, all of the media seems to be about more and bigger hype with little reserve, caution, or objectivity.

It's like people who get swept up in a movie and rush home to write an ecstatic review of it before they've really thought it through. Like I said, I've seen a lot of this lately. On an Indians' message board, after Fausto Carmona's first start, a topic popped up: "Carmona - the next Pedro?"

I simply think a healthy dose of "wait and see" is more accurate in the long run than insant hype, saying that Hamels is "as good as they come" after one game. He may be, but it's one game. It's too early to say anyone, no matter what they've done in the minors is "As good as they come" after one game. I don't always note the author, but either you or Bryan has already annoited Andrew Miller the future ace of the Royals staff when he hasn't even been drafted! Wow. This site has already handed Andrew Miller ace status, but it seems like a lot of scouts and other have questions about him, with a few saying he hasn't had the college career they bet he would have back when he was a high schooler.

I remember Gavin Floyd having some pretty impressive starts his rookie year as well, people were very high on him going into 2005 after his last start was a 7 IP, 4 H victory. We all know what happened in 2005.

Lastly, if you guys do pan people, it's usually pretty safe. I don't remember you going out a limb too often. It'd be nice to see some contradictions with Baseball America or something. Baseball America really has a lot of love for Edison Volquez based on scant numerical indicators, I was hoping to see something about that but in your prospect rankings you've kind of just gone along with what they've said.

That was a lot. Anyway, no hard feelings, for the most part you guys do a great job.

I don't think saying Hamels is "as good as they come" after one major league game is "going pretty far" (to use your phrase).

First of all, somebody has to be "as good as they come" after one game. Why not Hamels? His track record is phenomenal, his size is ideal, his stuff is pretty electric, and his ability to mix his pitches and throw a change-up to major league hitters is special.

"As good as they come" doesn't mean that he is the equal of Sandy Koufax or Steve Carlton or Randy Johnson at their peak. Instead, it means that he is as good as they come as compared to other rookies who have only pitched one major league game. I don't think that is so outrageous.

Your examples don't necessarily apply here. I can't control what other people write and say. If you have a problem with their viewpoints, I suggest you take it up with them. In the future, please limit your comments to what is being written here.

My only problem with is how you glossed over Hamel's control problems, as well as his extensive injury history. How many young major league pitchers could be called future ace's:

Cole Hamels
Daniel Cabrera
Justin Verlander
Ervin Santana
Francisco Liriano
Rich Harden
Felix Hernandez
Scott Kazmir
Carlos Zambrano
Jeff Francis
Dontrelle Willis
Scott Olsen
Zach Duke

All these guys are 25 or younger and all of them could conceivably become staff ace's if they arent there already. But how many of these guys are actually going to make it. If he's "as good as they come" what separates him from Daniel Cabrera, or Scott Kazmir, or Francisco Liriano, or Verlander or for that matter Edwin Jackson back in 2003? Two years from now, at least half that list will be dissapointments, what makes you think Hamels wont be one of them?

To me it seems like the difference between the pitchers that fullfill their potential and the pitchers that dont isnt a matter of stuff or projection, but a matter of who develops command of their stuff and who can stay healthy. Hamels has great stuff no doubt, but for me young pitcher thats "as good as they come" should have a significantly better medical history and should be able to throw more than 55% of his pitches for strikes. Can't we just leave him as "exciting young pitcher" and leave him at that. It seems like your just setting him up for faliure, I mean, this is a city that became discontent with Scot Rolen and Santa.

sanchez, i don't think "glossing over" hamels' control problem is a big deal -- the kid only walked one batter this year in AAA, an astounding feat.

What control problems? His numbers are phenominal in the minors. Among the best EVER. He throws 4 pitchs for strikes. IF he stays HEALTHY he will be one of the best ever. Take it to the bank.