Oh, hey, check it out! Those pesky Roy Halladay rumors have kick-started again, just as expected. Though the Toronto ace didn’t make his way to Philadelphia in lieu of Cliff Lee back in July, it sure hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning once more.
It’s not surprising. The Phillies still have J.A. Happ, Domonic Brown, Michael Taylor, Kyle Drabek, and Anthony Gose, all of whom were rumored to be part of one proposal or another drawn up by Joe Fan. It seems we need to add another name to that list, though, and this name is the most preposterous trade chip of all.
Really, we have a reputation in Philadelphia for having incredibly short fuses – and fuses with amnesia, at that – but this might just be going one step too far. Look, Roy Halladay is an excellent pitcher – an excellent pitcher – and one I’d love to have on my team. I think adding Roy Halladay to this pitching staff would be a dream come true. Literally. But to do this at the expense of Cole Hamels is absolutely absurd.
This is where ignorance of statistics really hurts. All a fair number of fans seem to look at with Hamels are his wins and ERA (48 and 3.67 in 116 starts to date) and somehow classify him now as something of a bust. Neither of those numbers are particularly impressive, no, but they don’t tell the whole story. I honestly feel like a broken record, but now that sites with more national exposure, like Baseball Prospectus, have published treatise on this very issue, more people seem to be taking notice and paying attention to the details between the lines (the linked article is fully viewable only by subscribers, but the relevant stats show before the jump).
Boiled down to simplicity, here’s what we have between 2008 and 2009 for Hamels:
- HR allowed per nine innings stayed the same at 1.1 (it actually dropped .06)
- Strikeouts per nine stayed the same at 7.8
- Walks per nine decreased slightly (basically, stayed the same) from 2.1 to 2.0
- Strikeout to walk ratio increased from 3.70 to 3.91
His peripherals are exactly the same – if not better – than they were in 2008, except for two numbers: hits allowed per nine and BABIP.
- Hits allowed per nine increased from 7.6 to 9.6
- BABIP increased from .262 to .321
Those are two massive jumps. How does that happen? More importantly, how does that happen when every other peripheral stat indicates that Hamels was the exact same pitcher from a year ago? You could cite the defense, for one. As good as the Phillies are as a defensive unit night in and night out, they just couldn’t turn as many balls in play into outs for Hamels in 2009 as they had in 2008. Look here. You can see that, in 2008, the defense behind Hamels did a great job of turning balls in play into outs (an efficiency rating of .741), but were considerably less effective in 2009 (a .683 rating). A drop of .058 is hefty.
By the way, the defintion of DER is as follows:
Defense Efficiency Ratio. The percent of times a batted ball is turned into an out by the teams’ fielders, not including home runs. The exact formula we use is (BFP-H-K-BB-HBP-Errors)/(BFP-HR-K-BB-HBP). This is similar to BABIP, but from the defensive team’s perspective. Please note that errors include only errors on batted balls.
Great. Super. Even with that out of the way, you’re probably still dubious. There has to be an explanation for the defense missing balls more in 2009, right? Hamels is probably giving up a whole lot more line drives, making the balls harder to field.
Well, actually, you’d be reasonable to assume that; you’d just be wrong. Hamels’s line drive percent fell a whole percentage point, from 21.8 percent in ’08 to 20.8 percent in ’09. He also induced more ground balls in 2009, and a good deal more infield fly balls.
Combine all of this, and you’d figure that Hamels’s ERA should have been closer to his 2008 figure of 3.09, and you’d be right. His xFIP for 2009 was 3.75: exactly 0.03 points lower than his xFIP for 2008. That stat, xFIP, is what a pitcher’s ERA “should” be, given his peripheral stats and normalizing his home runs allowed.
All of that is what’s important, not the ERA. A pitcher’s ERA is far too dependent on things not in the pitcher’s control (i.e., defense) to be the end-all statistic for performance. When every single other stat – save the lone stat that hinges almost exclusively on luck, BABIP – stays the same or improves from a solid year, you have nothing to worry about. This hand-wringing is for naught, and we as Philadelphians have every right to consider ourselves robbed if Hamels is dealt.
So, what kind of pitcher is the “real” Cole Hamels? The answer lies somewhere in between 2008 and 2009 in terms of ERA, but there’s still room for improvement. The kid’s only 25, after all. If you honestly, genuinely, want to trade a 25-year-old left-hander with those kinds of numbers and three more years of team control – he will have a fourth arbitration year in 2012, after his current contract expires – for a 32-year-old right-hander with one year remaining and no assurances of retention past next season, you’re nuts. You’re crazy. You’re jerking your knees and thinking that trading a cornerstone player for a one-year fix is worth it in the long haul.
The pure truth: it isn’t. One year of Roy Halladay is not worth sacrificing three years of Cole Hamels. Cole has proven himself to be an effective pitcher. Even this year, he was an effective pitcher that didn’t get a whole lot of good breaks. Prospects are a different matter; you risk trading them because they’re generally unproven at the Major League level. Hamels, though, is not a prospect. He is a proven commodity, signed affordably and under control through the 2012 season.
I want to win again as much as the next guy, but this is not the right way to go. Think twice, look at the numbers and realize just what kind of pitcher Hamels is: one you don’t dream of trading. That’s just the way it ought to be.