Phillies' starter J.A. Happ trailed the Cardinals, 1-0, in the sixth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Happ's July 24th start was progressing well, until St. Louis' bloops and dunks began to fall for hits, with unerring accuracy. Happ was touched up for six hits, and four runs, in the painful frame. Happ had enjoyed a season of astoundingly good luck, but BABIP chose that particular occasion to take several large strides towards the mean. Happ's ten-hit, five-run outing increased his ERA from 2.68, to 2.97.
Phillies' starter Cole Hamels was cruising along in the bottom of the fifth, on Sunday, with two outs, a 3-1 lead, and pitcher Barry Zito at the plate. Hamels seemed well on his way to matching Friday's gem by the Phillies' other ace, Cliff Lee. Hamels broke Zito's bat with his offering, and the ball was propelled, harmlessly, towards the center of the diamond.
In 2008, when Hamels enjoyed the season that made him a household name, that broken bat bloop might have found the glove of an infielder. Unfortunately, it's 2009, a season where Hamels has been tormented by unlikely injuries, and unfortunate bounces. Zito's ball dropped for a single. Zito's fortunate hit was followed by a bloop single, a just-fair double, and an error by 1B Ryan Howard on a soft grounder. Hamels induced an inning-ending groundout, but the 3-1 Phillies' lead had become a 4-3 deficit. Hamels started the bottom of the sixth, allowing a ground-ball single, a ground-ball double, another ground-ball single, and an intentional walk. He was removed from the game at that point, relieved by Chan Ho Park, who permitted a two-run single to the second batter he faced. Hamels' final line: five innings, ten hits, seven runs (six earned), two walks/two whiffs. His record fell to 7-6, with a 4.68 ERA. Not very ace-like numbers.
It could be argued, however, that Hamels has pitched very well this season, and that he has even shown improvement over his outstanding 2008. Hamels ranks seventeenth in the NL, with a FIP of 3.81. Seventeenth in the league isn't exactly impressive, but it is much more impressive than his overall ERA ranking. The difference between his ERA, and his FIP, is a whopping .87. Only one NL pitcher (Paul Maholm) has a greater discrepancy. Hamels' ERA doesn't accurately reflect his level of effectiveness. A much better reflection is provided by Hamels' K/BB ratio of 4.65. Hamels has a higher degree of control over his K/BB, and he ranks fourth (.01 behind Tim Lincecum) in the NL.
Hamels has been hurt the most, by what he has the least control over, what happens after the bat hits the ball. Hamels' .335 BABIP is the fifth-highest in the NL. (J.A. Happ is second-lowest, at .254.) The ability/range of the defense behind Hamels affects his BABIP, as well. As the Phillies are very strong defensively, it appears that poor luck accounts for a significant portion of that unwieldy BABIP. (By way of comparison, Hamels was much more fortunate in 2008, sporting a .270 BABIP, which was the third lowest in the NL.) Hamels' BABIP is likely to regress towards the mean, and his results are likely to improve. Nothing to be overly concerned about.
The lack of success of the Phillies' bats on the West Coast isn't anything to be overly concerned about, either. They've also suffered from some poor luck, and are bound to improve. (Even Bako and Bruntlett could improve, albeit only towards a .450 OPS.) With (finally!) a day off on Monday, and a return to their homer-friendly home park, the fatigued Phils should be ready for the difficult matchups (Colorado, Florida) they face this week.