On May 11th of last season, Cole Hamels took the mound for a Sunday afternoon game at CitiField against the host New York Mets.
It was his 4th start of the year after beginning the season late due to a bout with bicep tendonitis.
Manager Ryne Sandberg would work his starter to the bone that day, allowing Hamels to strain over 133 pitches in his seven innings of work. It would all go for naught, as the bullpen, less closer Jonathan Papelbon who had saved each of the two previous games, blew a 9th inning lead.
The Phillies had lost each of his first three outings, during which Hamels had gone 0-2 with a 7.02 ERA, allowing 24 hits across 16.2 innings, with a 14/7 K:BB ratio. It was an ugly start to the lefty’s season, but it wasn’t the first time Hamels has started slow.
When you are supposed to be one of the best pitchers in the game, what does it mean to be a “slow starter” – is that even real?
It would be nice to write-off yesterday’s effort: five innings, five hits, three walks, four homers allowed outing to some “slow start” theory. But is such a theory supported by the facts?
Let’s look back at some other years besides 2014 and yesterday, to the first two starts of the 2013 season. Hamels allowed 16 hits and 13 earned runs in 10.2 innings, for an unsightly 10.97 ERA, and a 7/5 K:BB ratio.
In a 2012 season that would be one of the best of his career, Hamels began with a stinker: 5.1 innings against the Marlins in which he allowed 4 runs, 3 earned, and 8 hits.
Enough proof that Hamels starts slow, and that yesterday’s stinker against the Red Sox was just more of the same old, same old? No? Okay, try on the 2011 season.
You remember, the record-setting ‘Four Aces’ and a 102-win team? Hamels began with just 2.2 innings vs the Mets, getting roped around for six earned runs on seven hits and two walks. He would finish 5th in Cy Young Award voting at the end of the season.
In 2010, it lasted almost the entire month of April. Hamels finished that month with a 2-2 record after his first five starts. He had allowed 35 hits and 10 walks in 30.2 innings, and his ERA was a 5.28 concern.
But none of this was the worst. Nope, for that, you go back another year, to the 2009 World Series season.
Hamels began 2009 by lasting just 3.2 innings at Coors Field against the Rockies, who battered him for seven earned runs on 11 hits and a walk. In his next outing, Hamels allowed five earned on eight hits and a walk to the San Diego Padres at home.
So over the last seven seasons on his Opening Day, the first start of his regular season, including yesterday, Cole Hamels now has a 1-6 record. He has allowed 49 hits and 29 earned runs over 32.2 innings in those seven starts.
When you consider that he has finished each of those seasons as one of the top starters in the game, you are left with no other conclusion that it is not a coincidence.
Those seven starts came on the road and at home, under various weather conditions, against various calibers of opponent.
Cole Hamels is a slow starter. Period. Sometimes it lasts just that one game. Sometimes two. Sometimes it takes him all of April to shake his funk. But he always shakes it. He always proves his worth over the length of a full season.
Take a deep breath, Phillies fans, and relax. It’s early for the man who we hope yields us a major haul of prospect talent in trade.
Sure, it will be a long season for the Fightin’ Phils. But if history is any judge, and it usually is, then Cole Hamels will be just fine.