Another veteran Cub with a lot of career to analyze is Cole Hamels.
Like Lester, Hamels just turned 35 years old and should still have a few more years to polish his Hall of Fame resume.
The Cubs’ 2018 trade deadline acquisition has had one of the most productive careers of active pitchers. Hamels’ 56.4 career WAR is the fifth highest among that group, surpassed only by others with solid chances at induction to the Hall – Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and CC Sabathia.
While it’s an impressive mark among active pitchers, his 56.4 WAR is still 17 points below the average Hall of Famer at his position. Similarly, he falls well short in WAR7 and JAWS. His 37.6 and 47 marks are a ways off from the Hall of Fame average, but he’s close enough that the writers should give him a fair amount of consideration.
One statistic that will strongly support Hamels is that he’s already racked up the 46th most strikeouts in baseball history. His 2,415 punchouts put him within striking distance of finishing top-20 all-time among pitchers. Currently, Mike Mussina holds the 20th spot at 2,813 strikeouts.
Over the past three seasons, Hamels has punched out 493 batters. If he hit that same total over his next three seasons, he’d pass Mussina.
While one traditional statistic really supports Hamels’ case, two others hurt it. Hamels has only 156 career wins, and despite the fact that he’s only 21 behind Lester, at 35 years old, that’s a big gap.
He still has a shot at 200 wins, but that’s banking on the fact that he stays productive and keeps pitching for good teams. He’s averaged 12 wins per season for the past three years, so he’d need about 5 more solid seasons to reach that plateau.
Although the statistic is now viewed as significantly less important than it once was, many voters still rely heavily on reaching certain wins thresholds when they decide whether a pitcher is deserving of Cooperstown. Like previously mentioned, just nine pitchers have ever been inducted to the Hall of Fame with less than 200 wins.
Just like wins, traditional ERA doesn’t show a lot of love for Hamels. He’s posted a respectable 3.40 career ERA, but only 10 pitchers have been inducted with a higher mark. On the other hand, like Lester, that number is high because of when they pitched.
Adjusting for ballparks and the leagues in which he’s pitched, Hamels’ ERA+ is 124, meaning his ERA has been 24 percentage points better than average during his time in the majors. That mark is better than 34 pitchers in Cooperstown.
Although Hamels has five All-Star appearances and has won both an NLCS and World Series MVP, trying to build a case for Cooperstown based on his Hall of Fame Monitor score is futile – in his 13 seasons, he’s only compiled a score of 59. That’s well below the mark for a typical Hall of Famer.
One more stat that is of some note for Hamels and his Hall of Fame Monitor score is that he’s been a part of two no-hitters. He threw six innings in a combined no-hitter during the 2014 season, and of course, no-hit the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 2015.
Hamels has a lot riding on the end of his career. A few more good seasons will let him push for a spot among the 20 pitchers with the most strikeouts in baseball history, as well as let him make a run at 200 wins. If he can hit both of those benchmarks, his case will be pretty strong for induction.
At the same time, if he can accomplish both of those things without damaging his ERA as he inevitably declines with age, his WAR could near 70. He’s averaged 3.8 WAR per season over the last three years, and he’s just 14.6 WAR away from 70.
He’ll have to stay quite productive as his career winds down, but Hamels can move from being a questionable Hall of Famer to being a player with a very strong case for induction if he hits the 200 wins, top 20 strikeouts, and 70 WAR thresholds.