Is Cole Hamels a Truly Elite Pitcher?
The baseball internet-verse has been spinning out a lot of propaganda about Cole Hamels lately.
Last week, ESPN's Jim Bowden ran through four potential trades for Hamels, all of which would be drastic undersells from the Phillies' perspective. Fangraphs has been churning out some amazing material in recent days (I'm not using "amazing" in the most positive sense here), including one in which they minimized the value of Hamels by knocking the level of his competition, and another in which they use their "surplus value" metric to say that an even-up swap of Hamels for Boston prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston's fourth-best prospect according to Baseball America, would be a fair deal.
There seems to be a disconnect going on here, and I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page here.
Cole Hamels is elite and shouldn't be shipped out for pennies on the dollar.
Look, I know the "Ruben Amaro is an idiot" meme is a fun one right now. Amaro has reportedly misjudged the market with some of his other players recently, and he was either too slow to recognize the rebuild that is currently underway or wasn't in a position of strength to tell his higher-ups that it was time to move forward. He's made lots of mistakes, although it's unclear how much of them were of his doing and how much were mandated from the suits above.
But maybe we can lay off the "Ruben Amaro is a dumb GM" mantra long enough to recognize that not giving Hamels away for next-to-nothing is the right move.
And for those who don't think Hamels is one of the game's elite pitchers, you simply haven't been paying attention.
Since 2006, only nine pitchers have accumulated more fWAR than Hamels' 34.4. And keep in mind that Fangraphs' version of WAR utilizes Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which has historically been worse than Hamels' actual results (ERA) on the field, with a career FIP of 3.48 that is higher than his career ERA of 3.27.
Baseball Reference (which uses ERA to calculate their WAR figure) says Hamels has been worth 40.4 WAR during the course of his career, sixth-most in all of baseball since 2006.
And if you look at his numbers among all starters since 2011, his fWAR of 17.0 is tied for seventh (the same as Jon Lester by the way), and his bWAR is 22.4, which would be tied for third. His 2.98 ERA over the last four seasons is eighth in all of baseball, he's seventh in innings pitched, and his 809 strikeouts is also seventh-best.
This doesn't factor in his career in the playoffs. In 13 postseason starts, he is 7-4 with an ERA of 3.09. But if you take his disastrous 2009 season out of the mix (a clear outlier season), his postseason ERA is 1.72 in nine starts over four different postseasons (2007, '08, '10, and '11).
And if we're strictly looking at the here and now, Hamels' 2014 season was one of his best. He posted an ERA of 2.46, struck out 8.71 batters per nine innings, threw 204.2 innings this season, yet finished with just a 9-9 record and netted a nERD of 1.91, 21st among pitchers. And his bWAR of 6.6, which was drastically higher than his fWAR of 3.8, was tied for 4th (with Chris Sale) among all Major League pitchers this year.
Let me state that again. Only Clayton Kershaw (7.5 bWAR), Corey Kluber (7.4), and Felix Hernandez (6.8) had better Wins Above Replacement totals than Hamels, according to Baseball Reference.
This is not to say that Hamels is "better" than Lester or Max Scherzer. This is simply to say that Hamels is at least "as good" as those guys.
Hamels' contract pays him $22.5 million a year over the next four years (through his 34th birthday), for a total of $90 million, with vesting options for 2019 in the mix as well. That's significantly cheaper than the six or seven-year deals that Scherzer or Lester are going to be seeking, and probably about the same length that Shields will cost. However, Hamels is a superior pitcher to James Shields and a bit younger too.
The Phillies are right to ask a lot for a potential Hall of Fame arm, one of the few players left to come out and see play baseball in Philadelphia. They shouldn't be looking to sell him for whatever a team is willing to cough up.
Yes, he is their best trade chip, and yes he is the best chance the team has an injecting themselves with some youthful talent. But that is all a moot point if the young talent they get back isn't elite.
Some national writers seem to want Hamels moved just for the sake of moving him and seem willing to criticize the Phillies, and Amaro by extension, for failing to do so.
Not this time. Not here. Cole Hamels is elite, and it's time he be recognized as such.