“Gold” Hamels, Blue Jays and Red Flags


Reuben Amaro’s announcement that the Phillies might consider paying down some of Cole Hamels’ contract in a trade seems designed to bring additional, budget-constrained, teams onto the auction floor.  His reference to Alex A when talking about his stress levels further begs the question:  are the Blue Jays in on Hamels?  And if they are not, should they be?

I guarantee I’ll get more grey hairs from my daughter [taking her driving test] than any trade talks with Mozeliak, Anthopoulos and Cherington … Amaro

Hamels has been a great pitcher over the last few years.  His fWAR of 21.9 from 2010-2014 is the 6


highest in baseball, and he averaged over 200 IP over that 5-year period.  But, as the saying goes, a smart GM does not pay for past performance.  Hamels’ contract runs for four more years (plus an option year) at a value of $100 million, and Amaro has stated that he would expect to get multiple top prospects back in return.

It is significant that, despite (rumoured) extensive talks, teams such as the Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers have not yet pulled the trigger.  Could this have something to do with some troubling red flags that have appeared in Hamels’ 2015 statistics?

First, the usual caveat.  Hamels has only had 5 starts and pitched 31 innings, so drawing conclusions from such a small sample is dangerous.  But not as dangerous as taking on $100 million of payroll, and giving up prospects, without at least examining these trends.

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Hamels has an excellent 3.19 ERA over these five starts.  But his FIP is 5.56, due in part to an increase in BB/9 from a career average of 2.30 to 4.65, and of HR/9 from a career 1.02 to 2.03.  The problem so far this season appears to be with Hamels’ fastball.  He is a true 4-pitch pitcher, with a fastball, cutter, curve and change.  He has thrown four-seam fastballs roughly 55% of the time in the past, so that pitch is an important part of his repertoire.  Problem is, the effectiveness of this fastball seems to be declining.  From 2010-2012, Hamels’ fastball had a PITCH/fx rating of above average.  In 2013 and 2014, that rating declined to slightly below average.  So far in 2015, the rating has declined further, to by far the lowest value in his career.

Cole is an intelligent pitcher, and appears to have compensated by decreasing the use of the four-seamer (from 55% in 2014 to 41% in 2015) while increasing the use of the cutter (from 14% to 22%).  But could this presage a change similar to the one James Shields experienced in 2014?  Even though this change appears to be working for Shields, it is still very dangerous for a team to trade for a pitcher when they do not know what they are buying.

There are other flags:  Hamels’ 2015 BABIP of .192 indicates that regression is likely, and his 2015 Steamer and ZiPS projections average a 3.55 ERA and a 3.2 fWAR – good, but not elite.

The bottom line?  A famous investor once said “There are no good stocks and bad stocks.  Just underpriced and overpriced ones.”  The same is true of baseball players.  Hamels is a fine player, and would be a welcome addition to pretty much any mlb staff.  But only at the right price.  And it appears that, at least in the eyes of the Blue Jays, that price is not yet right.

Next: Blue Jays Morning Thoughts: Marco Estrada making push for bigger role?