Cole Hamels: Trade Target?

Hamels' next press conference might not be with the Phillies - Rich Schultz

Dave Cameron recently pointed out (for the one thousandth time it seems) that the Phillies need to realize that it might be time to re-build given the state of their roster. He points out that Cole Hamels might just be their best shot at getting back a few impact prospects.

Dave Cameron's article isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the team, but teams often have to make tough decisions about their future. The Phillies' roster is somewhat of a mess, given that it was the oldest in the National League last year and their win total was disappointing at just 73 wins. Only the lowly Miami Marlins were able to lose more games than Philadelphia, a team that is not so long removed from being an annual threat to win the World Series. The future is pretty bleak too, as FanGraphs projects them to win just 77 games in 2014, a small but inconsequential improvement from last season. Looking further down the road, the Phillies seem to be in even worse shape, as ESPN ranked them 27th in their future rankings with the MLB roster receiving just 7 out of a possible 30 points and the minors not faring much better, with 8 out of a possible 30.

The logic behind trading Lee, as detailed by Cameron, makes sense:

With the rising prices in free agency, $22.5 million per year for a pitcher of Hamels' caliber could be sold as a bit of a value, and he's young enough that he could be an appealing target both for contenders looking for a midseason upgrade as well as teams with a longer-term view that just want to add a high-quality starter without having to get into a free-agent bidding war.

Hamels has been an excellent pitcher for quite some time now. He has produced 28.4 fWAR since becoming a full time starter in 2007, and has never posted an fWAR below 3.5 in a full season (in 2006 he posted 2.4 fWAR over 132.1 IP as a rookie). His batted ball rates reinforce his reliability, as his GB% and FB% have hovered right around 43% and 37.5%, respectively, for nearly all of his career. He routinely strikes out between 3.5 to 4 times as many batters as he walks and hasn't posted a FIP above 3.50 since 2010.

Did we mention reliability? Hamels has started at least 31 games each season for the past six years, and only once didn't reach 200 innings pitched during that span. One more crazy stat - Hamels has only posted a FIP-, ERA-, or xFIP- above league average once in his career. In 2009 his ERA- was 102 (2% higher than league average) but it seemed to be an outlier as his FIP- (87) and xFIP- (86) were both much better than league average that year.

How does Hamels do it? He primarily throws a four-seam fastball and a circle change, but mixes in a cutter, sinker, and curveball to keep hitters off balance. Hamels has thrown his fastball nearly 50% of the time over his career, but his usage has dropped off in recent years. Last season he threw four-seam fastballs about 40% of the time, complemented by his change up which hitters saw nearly 25% of the time. Hamels has recently shown a strong preference towards his cutter which he threw over 18% of the time last season. He complemented those three pitches with sinkers (9%) and curveballs (7.5%) to keep hitters off balance.

You might think that a mix consisting primarily of a four-seam fastball, a cut fastball, and a change up wouldn't be effective for a starter, but Hamels is willing to throw all three pitches to any hitter at any time. Exhibit A: a change on a 3-2 count to a left-handed hitter (typically a change is used against opposite-handed batters).

Hamels-change-final_medium

via assets.sbnation.com

Hamels is a unique pitcher who is so dominant with his three best pitches that he finds little use for his breaking ball. His ability to throw a tailing four-seam fastball along with a cutting heater allows him to work the edges and keep hitters on their toes. The change is just plain filthy, and is undoubtedly his number one weapon.

Cole Hamels is due $22.5MM per season through 2018, and has a $20MM option for 2019 with a $6MM club buyout. It's conceivable that his 2019 option could vest given his durability to this point in his career, but it's also too far down the road to determine that right now.

All the Phillies need is for Hamels to come back from his should soreness and pitch well over the fist half of the season. At that point any contending team, and even a few bubble teams, would be chomping at the bit to acquire the talented lefty. The Phillies need some serious help to re-build their roster. Like usual, Cole Hamels could be at the center of their plans; just not in the way he has been for the first 8 years of his career.

***

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball-Reference.

Jeff Long is a writer at Beyond The Box Score and Baltimore Sports and Life. You can follow him on Twitter at @BSLJeffLong.

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