The Hamels Scare

Entering spring training, the Phillies were set in four of their five starting pitching slots, with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot would be up for grabs between Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ, newly acquired Chan Ho Park, and prospect Carlos Carrasco. Kendrick and Carrasco have both struggled in limited action thus far, while Happ and Park have done nothing but impress. In fact, their duel might be making more headlines in Philadelphia if it weren’t for the fact that Hamels recently took a plane ride back home to get a tight left elbow examined.

Hamels insists that the “injury” is nothing serious and that he should be okay for his opening day start on April 5th against the Braves. Apparently, he feels fine while pitching and does not experience any soreness, tightness, or tenderness following an outing, but has slight discomfort in between innings. Many will be quick to point out his elevated workload and its role in this situation, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

In 2006, Hamels logged 181.1, 73% of which occurred at the major league level. The following season, Cole pitched a total of 190 innings including his lone postseason start against the Rockies. This past year, however, he combined 227.1 regular season innings with 35 more in the playoffs to surpass his 2007 total by just over 72 frames. In the process, his name found its way into several columns discussing the Verducci Effect, which theorizes that young pitchers experiencing a significant increase in workload are more vulnerable to injuries.

Despite Hamels’ insistence that the issue might be overblown, he is not going to risk his entire season in order to toe the rubber on opening day. If, for whatever reason, his left elbow has more damage than meets the eye, both Park and Happ will end up in the rotation to start the season, rendering their current competition moot. Unfortunately, this would not be a consolation for anyone outside of either Park or Happ, as the Phillies will need a healthy Hamels to have any shot of making the playoffs, let alone repeating.

This is not the first time Hamels has had to battle with the injury bug and CHONE seems to recognize this, suggesting that the World Series MVP will make just 29 starts. Despite the dropoff in playing time, his forecast calls for a higher strikeout rate while sustaining the walk rate, FIP, and strand percentage. Hamels is a true ace in every sense of the term, and despite both his and Amaro’s subtle hints at annoyance that this story is making plenty of headlines, even the slightest talk of ailments to the lefty is going to set the Phanbase into a frenzy of speculation.

If everything that has been said is 100% accurate, then Hamels will not miss any time to start the season, will kick off the entire major league baseball schedule, and cause a logjam in that final rotation spot, causing either Park or Happ to start the season in the bullpen. More updates as they come.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

10 Responses to “The Hamels Scare”

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  1. Matt B. says:

    FIP 3.72 is quite a bit higher than his actual ERA of 3.09.

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  2. Bill B. says:

    I like FIP as much as anyone but when projecting Hamels’ performance, it’d be bad not to include the Phillies’ elite defense in the equation. They were +74 last season according to Dewan’s +/- and while it will certainly regress a bit, it will still be well above average, saving quite a few runs for Hamels and the other starters.

    According to FanGraphs, Hamels was worth 4.6 wins last season. I believe that is adjusted for replacement level but correct me if I’m wrong. And most projections have Happ and Park being above replacement level. The drop from Hamels to whoever gets bumped into the rotation (i.e. the loser of the Happ/Park duel) is large, but not quite as large if, say, it was Hamels to Adam Eaton. In other words, losing Hamels might result in a loss of three wins or so.

    The Phillies can certainly win the division with or without Hamels. It’s tougher without Hamels, of course, but not impossible. Now, if Chase Utley had to sit out the season, that would stick a bigger fork in the Phillies.

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    • Eric Seidman says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      You’re much higher on our team than I am if you think they can certainly win the division without Hamels for a full year. If he misses 3-4 starts, sure, no sweat, but color me very skeptical of their chances if he goes down for a very extended period of time.

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      • Bill B. says:

        Statistically speaking, they certainly can as long as Happ and Park are as good as most of the projections have them being, which is in the low 4’s in ERA. If the Phillies are projected to be, say, a 91-win team, then Hamels’ ~4.5 wins and Happ/Park’s ~1.0 or so would put them at around 87-88.

        That would put them right in the mix once again to win the division. Of course, I see the bullpen and overall defense regressing a bit, so it’s a bit harder.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        I doubt that they would win the division with 87-88 wins. Also FIP underrates Hamels (and a lot of good pitchers). He allows so few base runners that his mistakes (walks, HRs) don’t have as negative of an effect on him as it would on another worse pitcher.

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  3. Eric Seidman says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Plus, I don’t see them as a 91-win team. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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    • don says:

      According to the data here
      the Phillies as a team last year had collectively rather bad luck on balls in play. Only Werth had a BABIP higher than expected, and the team as a whole was about ~.020 below what would be expected. It could be something about Citizens Bank Park, though the opposite was true of the team’s xBABIP in 2007, so it was probably chance. A ~.020 BABIP difference over a whole season would be 70-80 base hits, which is what, ~50 runs? That would probably cover the expected regression in fielding.

      I do think that being without Hamels for much of the season would hurt their chances to win the division but they might still be in the wild card race. Now if they can only avoid giving 50 starts to replacement level pitchers…

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      • MattS says:

        You’re right. The Phillies’ hitters BABIP last year was ridiculously low for their odds. I did a post at TheGoodPhight back in August about this, breaking it down hitter by hitter. Have a look if you want: . In general, the point was that nearly everyone had been unlucky on balls in play despite maintaining their performance on other statistics that are traditionally correlating with good BABIP. The offense should be a bit more productive this season. I think 91 wins is pretty reasonable with Hamels. Chone and Pecota seems to see the Phillies as a high 80s win team, but they don’t take into account things like Jayson Werth playing a full season, and neither have any real way of projecting Jamie Moyer at all. Pecota also seems weirdly low on the Phillies pitchers and weirdly high on the Mets hitters too but I think the former is a mixture of underestimating the Phillies’ defense and the latter is a result of Pecota overestimating the likelihood of BABIP improvement for fast hitters like Reyes and Beltran.

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  4. Matt B. says:

    I don’t know if he’s trying to pitch to contact a bit more, but his LD% at 22% is pretty high. His O-ZONE contact % was also higher (maybe lefties rolling over the change up to 2nd base). His stat set just seemed odd. K rate lowering again is a red flag for me at his age.

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    • MattS says:

      LD% has about the same correlation with the following year’s BABIP as the previous year’s BABIP does. O-Contact rate up is a legitimate argument, but that’s probably already taken into account with his K-rate drop.

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