Does Cliff Lee have a chance at replicating Hamels' 2008 run?

Alex Remington

Cole Hamels(notes) gets the nod in tonight's NLCS Game 1, but the truth is that the reigning NLCS and World Series MVP is far from being the Phillies' current ace.

So who's currently starring for Philadelphia in the role of Cole Hamels?

Why, fellow lefty Cliff Lee(notes), of course.

Actually, if you compare the numbers of the Hamels from '08 postseason to the '09 playoff performance of Lee so far, the results are rather eerie. Over the course of the 35 playoff innings last year, Cole Hamels had a 1.80 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP and struck out 30 while walking nine. Through 16 1/3 playoff innings in '09, Lee has a 1.10 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and has struck out 10 while walking just three. Their K/BB rates are almost identical, while Lee's ERA and WHIP are somehow even better.

Lee's takeover of Hamels' role started much earlier that October. Despite last year's unreal postseason run, Hamels had a regular season ERA over 4.00, while Lee came over to Philadelphia near the trade deadline and went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts for the Phillies (including a 5-0, 0.68 mark in his first five starts).

Lee's mid-career renaissance is well-known, but it's worth remembering that Hamels' so-so 2009 was far, far better than Lee's whole career before winning the Cy Young in 2008. From 2002-2007, Lee had a 4.64 career ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, and a 2.15 K/BB — thoroughly pedestrian numbers, even compared to Cole's 4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 3.91 K/BB in '09.

Since his '08 breakout, there have been two keys to Lee's success: a much lower walk rate, and increased fastball velocity. After averaging 3.1 walks per nine innings for his first six years, he averaged 1.5 BB/9 in 2008-2009. Similarly, after averaging about 89 MPH with his fastball for most of his career, he's averaged nearly 91 MPH the last two years. Hamels, meanwhile, has walked about two men an inning a game in each of the past three years and his fastball has averaged just over 90 in each of the last three years.

In other words, Hamels is much better than the pitcher Lee used to be, but just a bit worse than the pitcher Lee has become. That's a great problem for the Phillies to have; Brett Myers(notes) was the team's No. 2 starter during last year's run — he's not even on the NLCS roster this time around — and acquiring someone who could actually eclipse Hamels was an absolute steal for GM Ruben Amaro Jr.

Of course, it remains to be seen if Lee can continue replicating Hamels' phenomenal '08 playoffs. With the actual Hamels being a member of the same rotation and providing support, Lee probably won't have to completely nail the role.

Of course, no one in Philadelphia would complain if he did.

And it looks like he actually has a shot.