I love both of these dynamic 24-year-old lefty starters in terms of fantasy potential, but when it comes to deciding between the two of them for 2008, one statistic makes the decision pretty simple for me: walk rate.
Kazmir BB/9 was 3.9 in 2007, 10th-worst among qualifying starting pitchers, which largely contributed to his sub-standard 1.38 WHIP. Even while he dominated down the stretch, going 8-3 during his final 15 starts, with a 2.38 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 124 K in 94.1 IP, his walk rate was a pedestrian 3.6/9.
Hamels had no control issues – his miniscule BB/9 of 2.1, 14th-best among qualified starters, coupled with a BAA of .237 put his season WHIP in 183.1 IP at a tidy 1.12. He was dominant down the stretch as well, going 4-1 over his final nine starts, with a 2.45 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 51 K in 58.2 IP.
Concerns about a potential for injury does take some shine off of Hamels' potential, but Kazmir has never been considered an iron man – Hamels dealt with a sore elbow in 2007, Kazmir a sore shoulder in 2006.
I fully expect Kazmir to challenge for the league's lead in K's again this season, but you shouldn't overestimate the impact of that one stat. Hamels' career K/9 (9.2) isn't too far behind Kazmir's (9.7), and I'm expecting him to best Kazmir in W, ERA, and WHIP for the second consecutive season.
This is a reasonably close race between two of the best young arms in the game, but Hamels and his walk rate are the choice.
There's a reason why Kazmir's last name begins with a 'K.'
The once cherished Mets top prospect has blossomed in relative obscurity in Tampa. In 206.2 electric innings last year, the reigning AL strikeout king tallied a line that could drive any fantasy owner's libido wild: 13 W, 3.48 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 239 K. Yes, at first glance, his WHIP totals are abhorrent, but in his final 94.1 innings Kazmir posted a dramatically improved 2.96 BB/9.
More importantly, his change in mechanics erased serious doubts about his health. If he can continue to keep the ball in the park (0.78 HR/9 in '07), show increased improvement in groundball percentage ('06: 42.0, '07: 43.1) and refine his command, he'll become one of the most desired pitching commodities in fantasy.
Undoubtedly, Hamels will be significantly better in WHIP and has a more favorable chance at 20 wins than Kazmir. But, the Rays tosser will likely dwarf Cole the Camel by some 30-40 punchouts and post a comparable ERA. Also, keep in mind, the probability of Hamels logging significant DL time is real. In his brief career, he's been plagued by persistent back, shoulder and elbow issues.
Because the Tampa rocket launcher is available on average some 10-15 picks after Hamels in 12-team mixed drafts, he's a wiser, safer source of strikeouts.
Oh, and for those concerned about Kazmir's impending MRI results on his left elbow, don't be overly concerned. Tampa Bay trainers believe the injury to be nothing more than a "hyperextension" after the prized southpaw passed strength tests.