What Is Cole Hamels Worth?

Cole Hamels is already on his way to another great season. Hamels’ performance is especially noteworthy since he’ll be a free-agent at the end of the season. While the Philadelphia Phillies have shown interest in locking up the 28-year-old lefty, talks with Hamels haven’t progressed much. If Hamels does reach free-agency, he — along with Zack Greinke — will be the most sought-after starting pitcher on the market. Based on their similarities, it wouldn’t be surprising for both players to receive similar offers.

We’ve already determined that based on Greinke’s career numbers, he will probably make somewhere between $140 million to $160 million on the open market. While there’s been talk that Hamels deserves the same amount of money — if not more — than Greinke, it’s unclear whether Hamels deserves to make that much. Hamels has performed well over his career, but he hasn’t been in the same class as Greinke.

When we sort all pitchers between ages 22 to 27, Hamels comes close to matching Greinke — but he comes up just short. During that period, Greinke’s 25.9 WAR just edges Hamels’ 23 WAR. Both pitchers have gotten off to strong starts this year, but Greinke already holds a bit of a WAR edge. So, unless Hamels really ups his game, he’s not likely to surpass Greinke’s WAR total by the time they both hit free-agency.

The problem with accurately valuing Hamels on the free-agent market is that many of the players who have produced similar value haven’t reached free-agency. The pitchers closest to Hamels in value all signed extensions with their teams. While Roy Halladay, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and Carlos Zambrano are all comparable pitchers, it’s tough to compare their extensions to what Hamels will make on the free-agent market.

Barry Zito is one of the few players that we can compare to Hamels. Both pitchers produced similar value through the same points in their career, both are lefties, and both reached free-agency at 28 years old. Though Zito was already in decline by the time he became a free-agent, he still managed to get a seven-year, $126 million contract from the San Francisco Giants.

But there’s actually a good chance Hamels will make more than that. Hamels has already produced slightly more value than Zito at this point in their careers. And since Hamels just entered his age-28 season, he should widen the gap this year. On top of that, Zito signed his deal six seasons ago. Since the market has changed, Hamels can expect to make more now.

And while it’s somewhat foolish to compare extensions to free-agent deals, Matt Cain‘s recent extension with the Giants helps us determine what Hamels might make. Cain just signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension. This gives us an idea of how much the market has changed since Zito signed his deal. Cain was able to make more money even though only one team was bidding on him. And for the purpose of this article, it’s extremely convenient that the same team signed both players.

Since multiple teams will be bidding on Hamels, there’s a good chance he’ll make more than Cain. But he still hasn’t been as good as Greinke. Still, the difference between the two is marginal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if both players made a similar amount of money on the market. It will be up to each team to decide which pitcher deserves the bigger contract once Greinke and Hamels hit free-agency.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

64 Responses to “What Is Cole Hamels Worth?”

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  1. Switters says:

    Even though I think it’s unfair, I bet Hamels gets more than Greinke because of Greinke’s documented history of mental health concerns.

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    • Harrisoned says:

      I think that is a valid point Switters. The reality is that some of the big-market teams, like LAD, NYY, BOS, etc. may shy away from even looking at Greinke because his personality would not be a great fit with them. Like it or not, GMs will take into consideration that Hamels is more experienced in a big, media-heavy market.

      Not to mention Hamels’ playoff stats (7-4, 3.09 ERA, 8.5 K/9 in 81.2 IP), compared to Greinke (1-1, 6.48 ERA, 7.0 K/9 in 16.2 IP).

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    • Derek says:

      It’s a valid point but I do not think that’s unfair at all.

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      • Chris Cwik says:

        I thought about putting that in the article, but I agreed with Switters. Greinke seems to have moved past those issues, and I don’t think he should be penalized for being “different.”

        Unfortunately, I do think some teams might shy away from him for that reason. And even though Hamels hasn’t produced as much value as Greinke, this is the main reason I could see Hamels making more on the market.

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        Once you allow for the postseason, Hamels nearly closes the WAR-gap on Greinke. His career postseason stats look like they’re worth around 1.7 WAR (without making any allowance for superior opposition in the postseason), whereas Greinke’s are probably fractionally negative.

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        Aaron (UK), the other thing to remember is that Hamels has been in the playoffs quite a lot, while Greinke spent all but one of his years with the Royals. So Greinke’s playoff numbers are a… [everyone on Fangraphs shouts out the rest of this sentence in unison].

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        Yeah, I’m not worried about Greinke’s playoff numbers (what’s -0.1 WAR on top of +25.9?), just saying that Hamels’ good numbers are worth something and should be counted as such.

        Sure, he’s had more opportunity to play in the, something largely out of an individual player’s hands, but the value he’s given and the IP are still real.

        All things considered Hamels will almost certainly go for more than Greinke and that seems to me to be perfectly rational and defensible.

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    • Dr. J says:

      How is it not fair? It’s a documented mental illness that deals with serious relapses, that get worse with age (though medication helps). It is a business decision, like paying more for a car with less miles. When comparing like models, the one who has not been ‘sick’ will always get more money.

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      • JaysIn2012 says:

        As a psychologist (but baseball fan first), I think you need to be careful with what you say. Anxiety issues do not “get worse with age”. Mental illness is not governed by a simple arithmetic formula with a larger multiplier with reference to age. There are many factors that play into anxiety issues. Things such as medicinal intervention is only one facet of the treatment process. Beyond that, there is therapy (removing cognitive distortions), diet, excercise, environmental factors….. Anxiety is multifaceted and to be honest, a mystery in ways. The fact that he has made it back to the majors and has pitched well in recent years speaks volumes. This cannot be likened to a pitcher with a Tommy John history (something GM’s would no doubt consider). When you tear a ligament, it is torn, it can be fixed, but each successive stressor placed on that ligament is affected by the previous injury and subsequent repair. SOME mental health ailments do not work that way, anxiety being one of them. Someone can suffer from anxiety, and theoretically can manage their symptoms and not suffer from triggers (stressors) as they once did. The brain is a remarkable thing, hate to say it, but more remarkable than a ligament. While the ligament never forgets the stress it has endured, the brain has the capability to forget. Sidenote… my colleague argues with me that his anxiety still affects him because of his home/road splits. I counter that argument with two points: 1) every sports team in every sport enjoys home-field advantage… 2) does car-go have issues with anxiety

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      • Dan says:

        Like JaysIn2012 said, anxiety is, in many ways, a mystery. To me that means uncertainty, and there is more uncertainty with Greinke than Hamels. When you’re talking about two guys this good, it is splitting hairs, so give me the guy that doesn’t have the anxiety disorder history. Beyond that, I would pay more for Hamels because I think guys with dominant change-ups are likely to age better than guys who are more fastball/slider dependent.

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    • CabreraDeath says:

      Anything that may dampen or create doubt upon one’s performance – perceived or real – is a valid point to consider in determining a team’s offer to a player.

      This is a bottom-line business, not a charitable entity. If a team thinks that Greinke’s ‘issues’ would impede future performance – and some inevitably will – then such a concern should be taken into consideration.

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    • TimmyT says:

      Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates?

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  2. Hosehound25 says:

    Agree, I’d go as high as 90% that Hamels get more.

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  3. Paulie says:

    Hamels plays “old school baseball” so maybe that “grit” will get him an extra $10 in his contract. I’m sure Dusty Baker, Clint Hurdle, and other delusional managers will want a guy like that. #SarcasmFont

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    • Nathan says:

      That’s not sarcasm, it’s just sadly true. There are still lots of decision-makers that think this way.

      Also, how about the fact Hamels is a hard-throwing lefty? That probably makes him more valuable in the eyes many old-school thinkers.

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  4. philly says:

    The WAR based comparison to Greinke says more about fWAR than the two pitchers relative talent and their likely future market imo. Greinke is a significant example of a player who has pitched below his peripherals the last few years. If you look at rWAR the edge clearly goes to Hamels.

    I don’t want to make this just another whose WAR is better loop, but I’d bet a fair amount that Hamels will receive a more lucrative contract if both become FAs. The market will likely prefer the rWAR narrative to the fWAR one.

    But the other interesting thing that skews the comparison is Greinke’s huge edge in their respective age 25 seasons where even by rWAR Greinke’s 10.1 season dwarves anything that Hamels has done. ANy interval that includes that season will give Greinke a significant head start that is difficult to close. But – at least by rWAR – Hamels has been better – and sometimes significantly so – in every season since. We should be careful about seemingly looking at long time intervals where a single season drives the conclusion. Let’s say we average fWAR and rWAR and call the two players essentially even from ages 22-28. If we get there because Greinke was 6 WAR better in the age 25 season, but Hamels was a significant 2 WAR per season better in the next 3 seasons, then I think we’re losing information in the aggregation process. When we’re talking about committing 9 figures for these players ages 29-35 seasons how much weight should we realy be placing on their age 25 seasons?

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    • cable fixer says:

      “If we get there because Greinke was 6 WAR better in the age 25 season, but Hamels was a significant 2 WAR per season better in the next 3 seasons, then I think we’re losing information in the aggregation process.”

      Agree, but even if you throw out Greinke’s amazing 2009…he actually still has accumulated more fWAR over the last 3 than Hamels…including in 2012.

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      I agree that Hamels will get paid more because 1) hes left handed and 2) he doesnt have a mental health concern stigma, but I disagree with your WAR arguments. it’s clear you’re partial to bWAR, and that’s fine (i typically am too), but I don’t think Greinke is a good example of why fWAR is flawed.

      For one thing, Greinke’s ERA was lower than his FIP/xFIP counterparts in 07, 08, and 09. I personally don’t believe his 2010 strand rate are 2011 HR/FB are dangers regarding future performance. both seem like outliers to me. Even ignoring they underlying stats and going simply by WAR totals, Greinke outperformed Hamels in every year since 2008 except for last year. He’s already out fWARing him in 2012 as well, though thats splitting hairs.

      I think Hamels will get more money, but not a lot more, and not necessarily for the fWAR flaws that you have pointed out.

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      • Nathan says:

        For what it is worth, I don’t think this shows the OPs partiality to bWAR, I think the bigger point is that old-school thinkers in the game will look at statistics that correlate more nicely with the bWAR numbers when they judge the two players.

        As in, they’ll see the last two seasons where Greinke has an ERA in the low 4s and another in the high 3s, while Hamels is low 3s and high 2s.

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  5. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    I remember when the positional power rankings projected hamels at 3.5 WAR on the season…. ahhh good times.

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  6. mcbrown says:

    Career WAR is not a good metric for comparing the two pitchers in this context – Greinke accumulated 4.8 WAR before Hamels even made it to the majors, but teams aren’t going to compare them based on what they were each doing in 2005. It is only by coincidence of subsequent missed time by Greinke that their career WAR happens to be comparable.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      I didn’t compare them by career WAR. I looked at their performances between their age-22 and age-27 seasons. That’s when Hamels became a full-time player.

      Over those years, Greinke has still been a little bit better.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Hamels has a lower ERA than Greinke during that span. fWAR is based off FIP. I’m guessing most teams still care more about ERA than peripherals.

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      • batpig says:

        “Over those years, Greinke has still been a little bit better.”

        ONLY if you look at fWAR / FIP. Hamels has a better career K-rate, SwStr%, BABIP, xFIP, and SIERRA, plus the traditional stat ERA. And they both have equivalently awesome control. And Hamels’ reputation comes pitching in a major market for multiple playoff / WS teams.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Why would you mention K rate? That’s already included in FIP.

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  7. jumpshot says:

    we’re forgetting to mention that hamels is left-handed. left handers get ginormous contracts even when comparable to right-handers because they’re a novelty. hamels will end up being the richest pitcher in all of baseball, even more than lee or sabathia.

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  8. Part says:

    Hamels has become a significantly better pitcher since he developed a cutter. Using pre-2010 stats aren’t particularly relevant to what he is now and what he is likely to be

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    • QS says:

      Precisely why Hamels will out-earn Greinke. All this talk about WAR forgets the actual pitching involved — Hamels has become consistently dominant thanks to his cutter. Hamels three years ago is irrelevant at this point. Greinke is dramatically more inconsistent between starts and has yet to duplicate his Cy year. Secondly, Hamels has a much more durable repertoire of pitches (changeup/cutter vs. slider/curve/cutter). Third, postseason success will matter to the big bidders.

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  9. phoenix2042 says:

    I think that we are giving front offices a bit too much credit. I doubt that most front offices use WAR, fWAR or rWAR. I think that most of them look at ERA first and foremost, and then probably innings pitched as they want a workhorse. And there is some consideration of peripheral, I’m sure, but I have a feeling that ERA vastly outweighs everything else, and the other stuff comes into play only as a tie breaker.

    Hamels’ ERAs in the three years before free agency are: 3.06, 2.79 and currentyly 2.17.
    Greinke’s are: 4.17, 3.83, and currently 2.70.

    Deservedly or not, most teams will see Hamels as a much better true talent pitcher, no matter what WAR says. And whether it is fair or not, all large market teams will have at least in the back of their heads, if not at the forefront of their considerations, that Greinke might have issues in a large market. No large market team considering sinking 150m or more into him will just dismiss that. Hamels, in this market, should make way more than Greinke, even if it is unfair.

    On a separate note, I’m not sure how many large market teams will even be bidding for these guys. The Yankees have to shed payroll, not add it. The Red Sox are at the end of their payroll space. The Mets are in big financial trouble. The Phillies don’t have a ton of money to throw around, although they may pay up because Hamels is home grown. Texas probably has enough to think about with a ton of players hitting arbitration soon, not to mention getting Yu Darvish. SanFran doesn’t have the payroll space, and neither does Detroit, Anaheim, Miami (I’m assuming), and I don’t think the Cubs are ready to spend without a core of good players to build around. The Dodgers should be bidders in free agency, but other than that, it’s teams like STL, MIL, CLE, TOR, WAS, ATL. Do you see any of these teams ponying up 160 million dollars for a pitcher?

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    • Harrisoned says:

      Actually, I don’t think you’re giving GMs enough credit. WAR is actually now used by both agents and teams during arbitration cases, so I don’t think it is unreasonable at all for teams (other than maybe 1-2 of the really archaic ones) to review their WAR and FIP ahead of pure ERA and record.

      As for large market teams, clearly the Dodgers will be in the market to add payroll after spending so much for the team and an impending monster TV deal with Fox or Time Warner. Boston is unlikely to get involved but they will sign some FAs this offseason, since they are shedding a couple of big contracts (Dice-K, buyout/trade Youkilis, Jenks). The Yankees are always possibilities, especially given the state of their rotation right now. The Cubs could use a starter too. The Nats have not been afraid of spending payroll and if they have a good rest of the year, it’d really energize the fanbase to steal another star from the divisional rival Phillies. Houston needs a front-line starter and their new TV network should give them a ton more cash.

      There will be plenty of bidders for Hamels and Greinke. Hamels will go somewhere big – likely LA. I could see Greinke going to a midwestern team though, just because some bigger teams might shy away given his makeup concerns (be they perceived or real).

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        The Yankees and Red Sox will add some free agents, but probably not big ones. The Yankees especially will not as they need to be under 189m by 2014 and adding Hamels or Greinke for 21-24m per year will not allow that. Houston is in no position to be buying free agents. Neither are the Cubs. Nats and Jays I could see sneaking one of them, while LAD takes the other.

        And do they really use WAR in arbitration hearings? I had no idea! You may have just restored (some of) my faith in MLB!

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      • Jon says:

        Free agency is a second-price auction, so the prices will be set by the second-highest assessment, not the average. Two archaic teams is enough.

        Speaking of which, I wonder how many teams properly shave their bids to account for the winner’s curse?

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        The Nationals are likely to bid on Greinke, but they’re not going to make an offer to Cole Hamels. Not after Mike Rizzo called him chickensh*t.

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    • Monroe says:

      You are severely misunderestimating the modern day front office’s use of advanced metrics.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        I’m not sure if you’re trying to be ironic because you said “misunderestimating”

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      • Bill says:

        Don’t knock my favorite portmanteau.

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      • gweedoh565 says:

        I totally agree with Monroe, un-ironically and with the correct word (underestimating).

        Obviously each team is different, but they’d be insane and horrible at their jobs if they neglected to use all the information available to them. Which is why most all of them do.

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    • Bob says:

      I wouldn’t count Milwaukee out of the bidding entirely, especially for Grienke. They have a number of large contracts coming off the books after this season, and they offered $120 million to CC Sabathia when he was here. $150 million might be stretching them past the comfort zone, more because of the years involved rather than AAV, but I expect them to put forth a solid offer.

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  10. rogue_actuary says:

    I may have picked this up reading Keith Law, but I also wonder about Hamels having future expected value in excess of Greinke because his change up is so good. It’s not a pitch that you need to muscle.

    A second point is that Greinke has been unlucky during his last year and a quarter in the NL. His BABIP is .320 to Hamels’ .262. His K/9 is at (a staggering) 10.25 (vs. Hamels at 8.41. But his strand rate and HR/FB are both significantly worse than Hamels. 70.6% / 11.5% to Hamels’ 79.8% / 9.6%. The result is that Greinke’s xFIP is 2.51 vs. Hamels’ 2.99. This figures are all from 2011 through 2012 YTD.

    For a little context, Greinke’s five fourths of a year of xFIP at 2.51has only been topped by Curt Schilling (2.21) and Randy Johnson (2.44) in their 2002 season.

    I don’t think I had realized that Greinke is… possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now.

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    • The Real Neal says:

      You can’t use a FIP based statistic on Grienke, because he’s bad at controlling balls hit in play, and apparently doesn’t as pitch as well with runners on base. Juse looking at SIERA (AKA FIP for non-dummies) Hamels is the better pitcher.

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  11. monkey business says:

    I agree that Cole is somewhat undervalued by this because of his recent addition of the cutter, but there is also how he wants to go back West, and limiting your contract cities is always bad for business.

    Also, you might want to read up on game theory to avoid making statements like, “Cain was able to make more money even though only one team was bidding on him.” This is how you play this game: Cain has two options, sign now or wait to become a FA. If he becomes a FA, he can expect to make X, but with probability p he will get injured / flop this year and make Y. He therefore has expected payout from waiting of

    E(FA payout) = p * Y + (1-p) * X

    Any offer less than his expected FA payout is therefore not worth it for him. Thus the main difference between a FA contract and a extension is the size of p and how much less Y is than X. In a sense, the team can offer insurance to the player… but lets not get into risk aversion just yet. Just an acknowledgement that other teams were implicitly involved in the bidding on Cain/an extension.

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  12. Eminor3rd says:

    I think Greinke is the better pitcher, but there’s absolutely no way on planet Earth that he gets more money than Hamels.

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    • Bill says:

      I agree, but I don’t think he is undervalued enough to make him affordable to the Brewers or any other small market team. I think the specter of his anxiety issues will make the Yankees shy away, despite their need. Maybe Boston, as well. I think this could be a good opportunity for a undesirable destination (like Baltimore because of Pete the Theif) to be able to get him at his true value while still paying him more than other teams are offering.

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      • Bob says:

        The Brewers have a number of large contracts coming off the books after this season. They will have the payroll flexability to retain Grienke if they wanted to. The bigger question is if they are willing to offer a contract with as many years as he will get from a team better able to absorb the contract if it doesn’t pan out.

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  13. DrBGiantsfan says:

    It seems to me that any exercise appraising value in a rapidly inflating market is about as reliable as appraising a house in 2006.

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  14. Joebrady says:

    Hamels almost has to get more. Most of the teams with money are going to look for pitchers that pitch well under pressure. Everything about Greinke says he is looking for comfort.

    Besides the playoff stats previously posted, how about

    Road ERA Hamels 3.48 Greinke 4.22 indicating that Greinke likes the comfort of pitching at home.

    Against teams > .500 Hamels 32-25 3.30; Greinke 36-51 3.92

    At Yankee Stadium, the world’s biggest pressure cooker
    Hamels 3.00 .840 OPSa; Greinke 0-3, 11.29 ERA and maybe a 2.400 OPSa

    You can value the stats anyway you want based on SSS, but this, combined with his history, screams out that he has a high risk factor for performing in a pressurized environment.

    As a RS fan, if the NYY sign one guy this winter, I’d want it to be Greinke. The numbers never guarantee anything, but this guy looks like an extraordinary risk to me.

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  15. Isaac says:

    Although purely as a pitcher I prefer Greinke, there is more than that when it comes to deciding if you should give in excess of 120 million to a player. Hamels has been very good in all his time in the majors, except for one year, so he is worth a lot of money. Factor in the mental issues for Greinke, and the fact that lefties who are aces are less common and Hamels ends up with the bigger contract. Gun to my head, the Yankees sign both of them to seven years and 140 million….

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  16. Joebrady says:

    And Zito shows you why you never use career numbers to valuate a pitcher. In is first four seasons, he had 3.12 ERA, an 1.181 Whip, and a 2.10 K/W. In the last three seasons, he was 4.04, 1.330, with a 1.80 K/W. And even that overrates him as his K/W declined virtually every season, and was 1.53 in his last season. That’s Aaron Cook territory.

    The SFGs might’ve actually gotten lucky. His H/IP, BB/9, K/9, and HR/9 are almost identical to his last year in Oakland. So SF is lucky that he aged well and has shown little decline.

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  17. payroll says:

    What, no age-velocity graphs or regression patterns? Here I thought the question posed might actually be answered.

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  18. ColeHamels1510_740M/770V says:

    I deserve every last penny. I could have gotten an investment banking job at Goldman with my intelligence, but God has cursed me with the ability to bewilder and deceive Major League hitters.

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  19. ColeHamels1510_740M/770V says:

    Oh wait, I am bad at math; I bet I am too stupid to hack it at Math 55. I guess being a MLB pitcher is the only vocation for me.

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  20. Robbie G. says:

    If Philly is still playing .500 ball and looking kind of hopelessly old shortly before the trade deadline, don’t you have to listen to offers for Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels? Philly has multiple positions that are manned by very rapidly declining veterans and the farm system does not seem to be providing any replacements in the near future at these positions. Don’t you have to suck it up and trade these two guys for prospects, preferably some prospects who are hopefully going to be able to make the 2013 roster?

    Plus, Philly has already demonstrated that it can trade away a dominant starting pitcher and, less than a year later, bring him back via free agency (Cliff Lee). So you can always try to do that again, if you really think you can afford to sign Hamels. It will be interesting to see what happens but I can’t say that I have a lot of faith in Ruben Amaro, Jr. to act rationally here.

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  21. Steve A says:

    Personally, I don’t trust pitchers past ~32 who rely heavily on speed and hard breaking stuff (Greinke). There are pitchers who can redefine their pitching styles, but I certainly trust Hamels more over the course of a six or seven year contract. Theoretically, past performance should be completely disregarded in determining these contracts.

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