Free Agent Profile: Cole Hamels

The first time I heard about Cole Hamels, I was a freshman in college. A good friend of mine was from Philadelphia and she told me about this up and coming pitching prospect the Phillies had. Lefty, big upside, killer change up. I was intrigued, looked into him, as much as one could look into a prospect in 2006. Since then, Hamels has been my favorite non-Yankee pitcher and I’ve long wanted the team to acquire him. This offseason, they’ll have a chance in free agency.

A One Year Deal?

Hamels will turn 36 on December 27 and has already turned in a pretty great career. Since his debut in 2006, he’s racked up almost 2700 innings, 2558 strikeouts, and a 3.42 ERA (123 ERA+). With a career 59.6 bWAR and 51.6 fWAR, he’ll at least be in the Cooperstown conversation whenever he calls it a career. This is his first time in free agency and according to Jon Morosi, via Hamels’ agent, Hamels “intends to pitch for at least five more seasons.” As a mid-late thirties pitcher, getting all five of those years in one shot might not be horribly realistic. However, he’s indicated that he’s willing to take a one-year deal with a win-now club. This definitely fits the bill for the Yankees; a one-year deal would give them their desired payroll flexibility and Hamels is good enough that he’s an upgrade for the rotation. But does that mean he’s worth it?

Some good, some bad.

Every year since Statcast has been a thing (2015), Hamels has seen a steady rise in his exit velocity against. It started at 86.9 and was at 89.2 by the end of 2019. Additionally, with the exception of a dip in 2016, his average launch angle against has risen from 9.1 to 10.6. Over the same period, his hard hit percentage has also gone up steadily from about 33% to about 40%. Moving to the hard-hitting AL East and Yankee Stadium would probably not be a great fit, given those numbers. It’s not all bad, though.

According to the chart up there, we’ve got some positives when it comes to Hamels’ pitches. For example, his changeup still has a solid swing and miss rate, as does his curveball. Despite his ‘advanced’ age, Hamels is still having success with his out pitches and that’s always a good sign. Additionally, his chase miss percentage–the rate on which batters chase pitches out of the zone–has stayed pretty steady on his change and curve over the years:

His ground ball rates have also stayed high, pushing 60% with his change, curve, and sinker, as well as about 45% with his cutter over the years.

The overall numbers don’t look fantastic, but there are signs of hope in the pitch data, especially when it comes to his out pitches. So…

Does he fit?

I hate to be this way, but, maybe?

It’s hard to ignore some of the concerning trends with his exit velocity and launch angle. There’s also a potential JA Happ vibe–an older lefty with previous success who just doesn’t quite work for the Yankees over a longer stretch (even if it’s a one-year deal).

But on the other hand, Hamels is a better pitcher than Happ in pretty much every way. He was better at his peak and is better in his decline, so he’d likely continue to be better. There’s also a chance that he’s better than a still kinda sorta rehabbing Jordan Montgomery at the back end.

Whether it’s the Yankees or some other team, Hamels’ market is going to be decided by what happens with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, as well as Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. While he’s pretty similar to the latter two, they’re more highly regarded and may go first. Perhaps some team that misses out on or doesn’t pursue one of the former two,though, can snag Hamels. That’s probably the only way he makes it to the Yankees, unless I just wish for it hard enough.


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1 Comment

  1. RetroRob

    Good profile, Matt. You did touch upon the fear I have with Hamels. It’s the JA Happ vibe. My fear is the Yankees would eat salary and trade J.A. Happ, and replace him with the new J.A. Happ. That may not be entirely fair. Hamels has been a better pitcher throughout his career than Happ, but it’s entirely possible that Happ 2018 was a better pitcher than Hamels 2019. Hamels has pitched in the A.L. and the DH league in a park–the Rangers home park–that is more offensively driven than Yankee Stadium. It wouldn’t be anything new for him. That said, his last two seasons in the AL. he had a 4.20 ERA/4.62 FIP in 2017 and a 4.72 ERA/5.20 FIP in 2018. We’d have to go back to 2016 to find the last time he was a front-line starter in the American League, and that will be almost four years in the past by the time he throws his first pitch in 2020. Returning to the A.L. and specifically the A.L. East two/three years on could definitely be disastrous if he slips more.

    Those concerns out of the way, I could be convinced to move to Camp Maybe like you, but only if other options are exhausted first.

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