Roy Oswalt retired after putting up an 8.63 ERA for the Rockies last year. Roy Halladay finally gave in to his ailing shoulder and called it quits at the end of last season. Cliff Lee, while effective for the first month of 2014, has battled recurring elbow trouble and been unable to pitch effectively since mid-May. Alone of the Four Aces the Phillies rolled out to the tune of 102 wins in 2011 (which feels a century ago already), Cole Hamels has continued solid production into the 2014 season.
As good as Hamels has been – 2.37 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 3.1 fWAR – his run support has been just as bad. Through Sunday, he ranked 11th-worst in the majors at only 2.52 runs/start (only counting runs that scored while he was the pitcher of record; 3.43 if you include all runs in games he started). Since the beginning of June, he's given up three or fewer earned runs every time out, going seven or more innings in twelve of fourteen starts (and throwing 6.2 in another). In that same stretch, he's gone 5-3 with 6 no-decisions, including 2-1 in 5 starts without an earned run. Here's the top eight qualified starting pitchers in ERA, with their won-loss records:
Hamels has less than half the wins of all the other leaders except Sale, who's made only 18 starts because of injury. In terms of run support, he's receiving at least a quarter-run less than all the other aces, and only Cueto and Lester (3.68 and 3.83 respectively) are also under 4 runs per game. (Lester should get a boost in coming weeks by moving from the 3.79 R/G Red Sox to the league-leading 4.90 Athletics.)
Now's the time to introduce a new statistic: EARS. A portmanteau of ERA and RS (run support), it's simply a pitcher's ERA plus his run support per start, and captures unsupported yet talented pitchers pretty well. (I used ERA rather than FIP since we're looking at the actual runs his teammates put up, not the runs they should have scored.) Hamels has an EARS of 4.89 this year, fifth-lowest in the majors since 2002 for pitchers with at least 10 starts. If you go with EARS/9 (using prorated run support, which matches the denominator for ERA), he hops up to third place with 5.68, trailing only 2010 Felix Hernandez and 2005 Roger Clemens. Below are the top 15 in EARS since 2002 (when Fangraphs started tabulating RS numbers).
|2010||Roy Oswalt||- - -||13||13||32||211.2||2.76||4.3||74||2.31||3.15||5.91||5.07|
Note that their won-loss records are all paltry, which serves as yet another reason why relying on such statistics doesn't give a true measure of pitching talent. The heavy contingent of recent pitchers is most likely due to the decreasing run environment of the past few years, which many have attributed to increased shifting.
The best 5-game starts in baseball history
Javier Baez has started out extremely well at the plate in his debut with the Cubs. How does his start rate historically (or at least since 1914)?
Hamels is no Rick Wise or Ken Brett with the bat, capable of hurling a shutout, hitting a home run, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but he's not atrocious either. He hasn't collected any RBI this year, despite seven singles and a double. His career ISO of .036 really isn't that bad when you think about it (remember, Ben Revere is only at .048!) and he ranks 13th in fWAR among the 25 pitchers with at least 49 PA (the number Hamels has accrued in 2014). Of those, he's the only one to not have either an RBI or a run scored. So yeah, you could say the table hasn't been set for him.
What else can the guy do? Short of stealing some DNA from the slugging Madison Bumgarner or Travis Wood, not much except pray for a trade. Last year, Hamels put up a solid 3.60 ERA and was ninth in run support at 3.36, trailing teammate Cliff Lee (sixth). Eric Stults of the woeful Padres is the only other pitcher to crack the top (bottom?) 15 both years, and his ERAs were 3.93 and 4.76, hardly ace-worthy. Unless the Phillies find the fountain of youth for their aging infield, expect Hamels to toil without much help for years to come.
. . .