The Hall of Fame was made for guys like Cole Hamels. The man nicknamed “Hollywood” has pretty much been a star since the day he was called up in Philadelphia. A first-round pick out of San Diego (17th overall), Hamels was one of the main factors in the Phillies’ return to relevancy. He went 15-5 with a 3.38 ERA in his first full season, helping propel his team to their first playoff berth in 14 years. The following October, Hamels was awarded NLCS and World Series MVP honors for his dominant playoff performance, going 4-0 in 5 games, with a 1.80 ERA and 30 Ks in 35 innings. That was 8 years ago, but he’s still pitching like an ace today.
“He may not shoot the lights out right away, but he’s going to be a heck of a pitcher” -HOF Manager Bobby Cox (when asked about Hamels before his Major League debut)
Enough of the narrative though, because that only counts for so much in the Hall of Fame. Let’s talk numbers. Hamels has compiled 2039 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.29, a 1.15 WHIP, and a WAR of 48.1 in 2133.2 innings thus far, pitching in 326 games, roughly midway through his 11th season. First I’m going to compare Hamels to the Hall of Fame standard of a starting pitcher, then I will lay out what he’ll have to do to match up to that. Based on what he’s done in his career to this point, Cole Hamels has a very good chance of making the Hall of Fame.
First, I will look at the average stat line of a HOF pitcher (courtesy of baseball-reference.com). The “average” Hall of Fame pitcher has a 2.98 ERA, a WHIP of 1.19, 2153 strikeouts and 70 WAR in 462 games started. To be fair, the ERA and strikeout numbers are fairly tainted by the fact that several Hall of Famers moved from the rotation to the bullpen at some point in their careers. To put things into perspective, roughly half of the 75 Hall of Fame pitchers (36) have an ERA under 3.00. Of those 36 pitchers, only 20 of them have started more than 400 games, which is where I see the cutoff. The reason I chose 400 (other than the fact that round numbers look good) is because it includes full-time starters, such as Pedro Martinez, while squeezing out the Dennis Eckersley type, who spent 12 of his 24 seasons as a reliever.
The number 462 (games started) is actually a good representation of the average starter, as the relievers, who didn’t start games, balance out the old era of starters, who were pitching 40+ games per season. Going back to 400, only 30 HOF pitchers to start 400 games (less than half), retired after 1940. This should make the generational gap pretty clear to you.
The WAR number is a bit top heavy, as only 33% of current HOF pitchers have compiled 70 Wins Above Replacement. This is even more true when you consider that the top two pitchers by WAR (Cy Young and Walter Johnson) both have career marks above 150 (170.2 and 152.3, respectively), with the next highest being 116.9 (Pete Alexander). Oh yeah, and the top 5 pitchers according to Wins Above Replacement? All retired by 1941. While the generation gap appears to be a factor here again, I still like 70 WAR as the judge of a Hall of Famer.
Getting back to Hamels though, can he match 462 games started? What about 70 WAR? There’s very little chance that his career ERA will go below 3.00 at this point, but he does share the same mark of 3.29 with Randy Johnson, and ranks better than Bert Blyleven, Lefty Gomez, Fergie Jenkins, and Tom Glavine. Assuming he can stay healthy for the next five seasons, Hamels should reach 462 games pitched with ease. He’s got 3.2 WAR so far in 2016, easily putting him on pace for another 2.0 by the end of this year. If he can produce an average of 4.0 WAR in the next 5 seasons, he will have 70.1 on his career, which is more than Jim Palmer, John Smoltz, and 47 other Hall of Fame pitchers.
So let’s talk about the strikeouts. Aside from the narrative and World Series ring, what makes Hamels destined for the Hall? The strikeouts do. He’s on pace for 202 Ks on the year, which would put him at 2124 through 11 seasons. It’s tough to say that he’s a lock for 3000 Ks, but striking out 900 batters over 5 seasons isn’t out of his reach, not by any means. Even if he begins to decline sooner than later, 180 Ks per season is still attainable. If Hamels were to keep that pace he would stop at 3024 strikeouts, which is 15th-best in the Hall, and directly behind John Smoltz. That’s assuming he only plays 5 more seasons. Should he strikeout an additional 200 batters he’d be up to 11th, just ahead of Fergie Jenkins, and directly below Phil Niekro.
Basically, Hamels just has to keep up what he’s been doing for 5 more seasons and he’ll be a lock. If there is one thing working against him, it’s that he’s never won a Cy Young Award. He does have 4 All Star appearances though, and placed within the top 10 in Cy Young voting on 4 occasions. He has the aforementioned World Series Ring, of which he was a major role in acquiring, and is once again the ace of a playoff-bound team in Texas. Did I mention the no-hitter? In his last start as a Phillie?
He’s not a lock as of today, but 5 more good seasons out of Hollywood will make him one. I know it’s asking a lot of a pitcher to stay elite through his age-38 season, but that’s what Hall of Famers do. He’s still pitching like he’s in his prime, and hasn’t started less than 30 games in a season since 2007, so health appears to be on his side. You can go with the narrative, or you can go with the numbers. Either way, Hollywood Hamels looks well on his way to reaching Baseball Immortality.