Leave Cole Out of It

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.

Cole Hamels.

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.

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22 Comments

Filed under Offseason 2009-10

22 responses to “Leave Cole Out of It

  1. Blockie, Friend of the Blog and Sometime Fantasy Sports Antagonist

    Completely agree. Those that want to run Hamels out of town are out of their minds, especially given the fact that he’s one of only 2 World Series MVP’s to win the award in a Phillies uniform. Even with a “what have you done for me lately” mentality, that cannot be ignored (at least not yet). Hamels is an excellent pitcher who still has the potential to be an elite arm in this league. Let’s all just take a deep breath and realize what we have in Hamels and let him continue to develop and grow (still 2 years away from his physical prime!)

  2. Paul Boye

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this mentality is always bad. In this case, though, it doesn’t fit. Hamels isn’t a 33-year-old veteran with an expiring deal, he’s a 25-year-old under control for three more seasons. He’s a piece that can help us transition from one era to the next.

    And people want to run him out for a season that wasn’t actually as bad as it appears!

  3. Badfinger

    One of the things I noticed anecdotally this year is that 1) Cole seemed to have trouble finishing guys off down 0-2 or 1-2. Instead of putting them away or staying low in the zone to induce weak contact I saw a lot of high-but-not-high-enough fastballs get fouled off and then one would get put in play and fall for a hit. That’s where he got into the second part of trouble. Cole’s always given up home runs, but far more often than not it’s with no one on base. He got onto runs multiple games this year where he’d get 2 easy outs, give up a texas leaguer and an infield single, and then give up a 3-run bomb (or 2 run double) where last year he’d be out of the inning with the same kind of contact. Completely personal observation, but it was over more than a dozen games and also noticed by other people who regularly saw his starts.

    I’m looking around more, but I’d be interested to find if his pitches-per-inning is up even if his total pitches per outing was similar, or if he had many more at-bats where the opposing hitter saw more than a certain number of pitches (6 perhaps, or 8?) and see if it has any significance.

  4. Paul Boye

    Interesting question. I have access to Cole’s Inside Edge report card from 2009, and here are some highlights in relation to your thoughts:

    http://bit.ly/3VfBAi

    His “efficiency” score is a B, but his numbers are really not bad, all told.

  5. Dave

    I just don’t see the Jays ever wanting Cole Hamels. He is just not what the club wants. Anthopolous is dedicated to the youth movement, which is tied to the reduction in payroll movement, which is tied to the expectation that they wont compete until 2011-12. Hamels just does not fit into this plan and the idea that the Jays would ask for Hamels is very outlandish. The Jays don’t have the cash or desire to trade Halladay for anyone who is making any kind of money right now – and yes, I acknowledge that Hamels is an awesome pitcher, but if we wanted an awesome pitcher we’d just keep Roy. So don’t fear Phillies fans, trading Hamels for Halladay is not even in the realm of possibilities.

  6. Johnny Blaze

    re: Badfinger

    I’m not much for anecdotal observations being used in discussion, but IMO, this one has some legs. I saw the same things in Cole’s start. Philly announces pointed it out too, in regards to how he’d get 0-2 alot and guys would be able to foul off alot of pitches – drive up the pitch count – and then work out a hit.

    Hopefully refining that curveball would help him here as RHHs have stopped diving over the plate chasing the changeup for strike three. The curveball would be a great pitch to drop in the zone and “freeze” alot of guys on a strikeout, or could be a swing and miss pitch if he keeps down enough.

  7. Jonathan

    I agree with your broader point — that Hamels pitched as well this year as he did last year and it would be foolish to downgrade him because of wins and ERA.

    But Hamels has changed for the worse in one regard since he came up with the team – the velocity of his fastball is down; it dropped noticeably from year one to year two and was sown again this year, though just slightly (according to data at FanGraphs). As someone whose relies so much in his changeup, a loss in fastball velocity can, in my eyes anyway, lower his ceiling. His first year he looked like someone who could be among the top few pitchers in baseball. The past two years he looks more like someone who is and will be a very good pitcher but not someone who reached that top echelon. Roy Halliday may be considerably older but he also throws considerably harder — an extra 2.4 mph on his fastball. You’ll find similar numbers for other top echelon guys (Greinke, Hernandez, Velander, to name three).

    I live near Toronto and can tell you (though you know this already) Halliday and Lee would be a devastating combo; they both combine talent, brains and execution in a way that’s a joy to watch. Unless you’re a Mets fan.

  8. Paul Boye

    Good point, Jonathan. A slower fastball is never a good thing, even if your changeup stays far enough away in terms of velocity.

    I wonder, though, how much of the average velocity drop was still due to the hangover effect from 2008 and coming into 2009 not at 100 percent effectiveness. I suspect we’ll find out one way or another early in 2010.

  9. sometimesphylan

    The dip has been ever, ever so slight from 2008-2009. At most it’s gone down 1.1 mph since 2006. Given that the sweet spot for a fastball-changeup combo is anywhere from a 9 to 12 mph difference, I doubt it’s a big deal. If it declines at a steeper rate I’d be worried, but this doesn’t seem like an issue.

  10. mickden56

    My package to the Jays for Halladay:

    JA Happ
    Travis d’Arnaud or Sebastian Valle
    Jarret Cosart or Trevor May
    Anthony Gose

    A Front Four of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Blanton, in my opinion, would make up for the loss of Happ, and leave the fifth slot to any combination of Moyer, Kendrick, Park, maybe Drabek later in the season.

  11. Paul Boye

    Mick,

    Unfortunately, the likelihood of any package that doesn’t involve one or more of Brown/Drabek/Taylor in a Halladay trade likely won’t work, no matter what else is included within it. I like May, and I think d’Arnaud is better than his ’09 performance, but without one or more of the top flight guys, I doubt Anthopoulos listens for more than a minute.

  12. mickden56

    Paul,

    I would be willing to give up Brown or Taylor. It would be a gamble, but at least we know Halladay isn’t Larry Jackson or Ivan DeJesus. And if I had to do that, though, I’d take Gose out of the deal.

  13. Jaysin2020

    If any team gets him I hope its the phillies, Doc can go on short rest, having him paired with lee and a better effort/result for Hamels the phillies will smack the smug look off the face of any yankee fan. (or smack the rolls off the back of sabathia’s neck, either or works.

    Doc’s agent wants a deal for doc in order to waive his no trade clause. If thats the case and doc becomes more then a 1 year rental (mind you phils get to picks if he leaves) I would say the deal should be

    JA Happ
    Brown
    and Taylor/Gose

    I dont think it would be wise for the Phils to give up drabek and happ. Although as a jay fan I wouldnt mind it. Reality is that the Yanks are retooling as always, if the land lackey or chapman, the phils have to address their rotation in order to compete. . With lee and doc in the rotation you would barely even need a bullpen.

  14. Brian

    I believe Philly fans were a little supprised how good Lee was. Make no mistake Halliday is in another league. To get him you need to give something back. Halliday plays the Yankees alot and beats them consitantly. THE PHILLIES WILL NOT WIN THE WORLD SERIES WITHOUT HIM PERIOD. Sign Figgins great, but it won’t make a difference unless you have Halliday.

  15. Frigginirishloons

    Really Jays…Taylor and Brown? Are you out of your mind? I think mick had it right…plus Werth. Taylor is ready. Bring him up to play right. I love Werth and all but I think that could get the job done.

  16. Frigginirishloons

    I don’t see the Phils signing Figgins. He’s a lead-off man and there’s no way Jimmy will want to hit anywhere else. Even if he did…where would you place him then…and Shane for that matter? He doesn’t fit. If they have to make a change at third, I’d rather it were Beltre. He’s a much better match for the Phils, IMO. Besides, if they sign Figgins they would not be able to afford even entertaining the idea of acquiring Halladay.

  17. leeforpresident

    First off: excellent article, Phrontiersmen. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Hamels is a great pitcher and he is extremely young. I have no doubt in my mind that Hollywood will bounce back next year.

    As far as Halladay goes, i really don’t see the jays trading him until the deadline. At that point, it’ll come down to top tier teams looking for that one piece to put them over the top (i.e. the phils). However, I absolutely wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded during the winter meetings, and I still think the phils will be frontrunners to land him once again, even if it does come down to the trade deadline. I absolutely agree with Boye: it’s going to take AT LEAST one of brown, drabek, and taylor. however, prospects are exactly what they are: prospects. halladay is a proven commodity. 32 years of age is not ancient in baseball. Pitchers are like defensemen in hockey: if they take care of themselves, in many cases they play (pitch) better in their 30’s. he’ll also be pitching for another 8 years easy, barring a horrible career-ending injury (knock on wood). The guy conditions himself perfectly and works like a well-oiled machine.

    So when it comes down to it, I would definitely package any of the prospects to get Doc. I totally (and respectfully) understand how people would disagree. Just my opinion.

  18. phillip phan

    No one has mentioned the intangibles. Hamels has turned into a spoiled little brat who complains about post season start times and whines when his great defense makes an error. He has lost the respect of his teammates. His comments were a slap in the face to everyone in the Phils organization. He probably has to sit down to take a leak! In addition you can’t expect to win consistently when you throw two-three change-ups per at/bat.

  19. Frigginirishloons

    I agree, Phillip. While he could very well bounce back, talent wise, his attitude is utterly unprofessional and unacceptable. I certainly don’t want to see a self-important, drama queen, SP on this team (a la Beckett).

  20. Paul Boye

    I think all of this being made of Hamels and his attitude is at once overblown and redundant. People who tracked him through the minors knew he was already sort of a headcase – much like we’ve heard with young Kyle Drabek in the past – heck, he lost almost an entire year because he got into a fight and broke his hand back around when he was 20 or so. He’s done a great job of not being a total headcase in the majors.

    And we have a tendency to make enormous mountains of molehills. The guy comes off a great year, starts getting a ton of bad breaks during the season and then gets another one in a NLCS game, and he vents his frustration with a simple toss of the arms. He was frustrated, he let it slip for one second, and he gets killed. I don’t think this makes him some sort of cancer or whiner. And the comments about not being able to wait for the season to end came directly after telling the media how much he wanted the ball in Game 7 and how much he wanted to win. But, of course, no one remembers that.

    We need to back off, not get so personally offended by every little slip-up in character by every guy, and just move on. Dude won the WS MVP; of course he was going to get sponsorship deals and appearances (both of which take about one day each to complete). What was he supposed to do, say no? We’d lay into him for that, too.

    Let cooler heads prevail. There’s nothing problematic about what Hamels does, and we needn’t worry ourselves trifling over these petty things.

  21. DixieWrecked

    Cole Hamels is a cry baby. I lost all respect for him when he threw his hands up in the air when Utley over threw Howard for the double play, and also when he said he couldnt wait for the season to be over with. Ship his ass to Toronto! Cole isnt and never will be half the pitcher Doc is.

  22. I dont usually reply to posts but I will in this case. WOW!

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