Cole Hamels stands out as the most critical piece for the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
SportsRadio WIP is running with a series of debates called “Once and for All” where they (supposedly) put to bed some of the biggest topics in recent Philly sports history. Easily the best debate on the list is the question of which player was most important for the Philadelphia Phillies when they captured the 2008 World Series. The candidates are numerous, but there is ultimately a single correct answer.
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And that answer is Cole Hamels.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard were all critical components for that squad, and removing any of them from the 2008 club would be akin to taking out a vital organ. The Phillies most likely don’t win it all if they don’t receive contributions from this trio of hitters. But I can tell you for certain that the Phillies would not have won if Cole Hamels didn’t deliver a workhorse regular season followed by a fantastic playoff run. There’s a reason he was named MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series.
If you swapped Hamels out for a league-average pitcher, the Phillies probably don’t even make the postseason in 2008. So much for a parade. At least the Phillies had other bats in their lineup who were chipping in, like Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, but the rotation would have been borderline abysmal if Hamels hadn’t been able to elevate it. He took on all the tough assignments, logged a ton of innings, and allowed the Phillies to succeed even on days when their trademark offense was sluggish.
More than almost any other team in recent memory, the 2008 Phillies hit their way to a title, but their team ERA was actually quite good. A lights-out bullpen was a big factor, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without Hamels giving them a breather every fifth day. His durability and consistency from start to finish in 2008 paid dividends for every facet of the team.
Jimmy Rollins earned a Gold Glove in 2008, but his offense that year was actually down more than you probably remember it, so I feel like that precludes him from the conversation of being the team’s most important player in 2008 specifically.
I’m as big a fan of Ryan Howard as anyone, and he finished second in NL MVP voting that year, putting up a league-leading 48 home runs and 146 RBI. But 2008 was pretty indistinguishable from some of the other seasons he had over a five-year span, so I can’t say that his typical production was the top reason that the Phillies climbed the mountain.
And then there’s Chase Utley, the most beloved Phillie in a generation, and for good reason. He had what was probably the best overall season of his career, and he was the most valuable player on the team according to advanced metrics. His innate baseball ability and his offensive production at second base are things that you just couldn’t replace. But in a move that’s tantamount to saying “Sorry, Jesus”, I’m going to have to pick against Chase simply because he had some good support around him in the lineup. Yes, he made it even better, but he didn’t have to carry everything on his back.
Cole Hamels, however, rose to the challenge completely without anyone else to fall back on. He ate up more than 15% of the innings for the team in that regular season, then was responsible for over 28% of the playoffs. Maybe when Hamels finally cracked at the end of 2009, it was because of the heavy load he’d been dealing with for almost two full years, but he came through 2008 with flying colors, which is all we’re concerned about here.
Let’s also avoid the semantics of “most valuable player” versus “most important player” that some people might tend to get into. Any way you slice it, Cole Hamels was the player who most contributed to the Phillies parading down Broad Street on Halloween Day 2008. Still, it was a total team effort for the World … Champions.