I was reading the local papers today for Phillies coverage. Came across the "Halladay/Hamels era begins" story, and it made me start wondering what people think Hamels "is" as a pitcher. Cole Hamels is still a really young player -- he just turned 26 a couple of months ago. The discussions about Hamels 2009 performance at this site and elsewhere have been extensive, with K/9, BB/9, BABIP, FIP, xFIP all examined, beaten to death, etc. We can't predict what he will do this year or further out, but, perhaps from some other angles, a further examination can help continue to develop some sense of conventional wisdom about him. This is more of a discussion of perspective than a statistical breakdown, which has already been seen here many times in many forms. Lord knows, I can't "out-Matt" Mattman.
Let's get some reference sources out there so you can open them in other tabs:
- Hamels @ Baseball Prospectus, with some career estimates through 2015.
- Hamels @ Baseball Reference: Career data
The ages of other pitchers in the Phillies rotation, or potentially so:
- Halladay - 32
- Hamels - 26
- Blanton - 29
- Happ - 27
- Moyer - 47
- Contreras - Radiocarbon dating suggests 38
- Kendrick - 25
The ages are of interest to me. Kendrick is the youngest of the 7, but not by much. My easy and obvious point is that Hamels is still really young. MLB experience puts him ahead of Happ/Kendrick in terms of starts, innings and "experience" but in just age, Hamels is quite young. Considering the impact of relatively recent theories of brain development in capital case law, for instance, it is fair to assess the degree to which he can be considered a finished product.
Traditional analysis and writing talks about "maturation" and "learning to pitch." I prefer to consider how learning to remediate maladaptive reactions to stressors (such as the oft-publicized "snapping of the glove" after close calls or the "glaring" after errors in the field) can continue to improve his performance. All of the maladaptations, incidentally, are contrary to the "California" label attached to Hamels.
Editorial points aside, is a demonstrative expression of emotion actually a bad thing for him? Would a more passe Hamels be more effective? If he can manage stress in a better way, does he perform better? Does less cortisol mean more-efficiently produced outs? Did we just not observe the traits because of his previous level of success? Adapting to and responding to challenge and failure in a positive way is a big developmental step for a lot of people, not just baseball players. Hamels may have been experiencing that last year on a big stage.
Players are not robots (excepting Mariano Rivera and Albert Pujols, evidently). The unfortunate example of Brett Myers may be Exhibit A in how this can be bad. The human factors clearly exist and unquestionably show up even in statistics -- if outs are not being produced efficiently by a pitcher, whether as a result of poor emotional regulation or a frayed labrum, it shows up in a lack of effectiveness. One thing that is hard to do is how you can come up with a useful statistical model, or even comparisons, in trying to ascertain if there is upside yet for Hamels or how the human factor characteristics can be tracked or monitored over time. Clearly, absent disclosure of detailed medical records, this can't really be determined except by anecdote, which is essentially saying that it can't be determined from afar.
I don't have a "theory of Hamels" yet that really satisfies me. The original article at philly.com got me thinking about "an era" involving Hamels and Halladay. That sort of posits that you have a remarkable duo. There were no "Eaton/Lieber era" articles that I recall, for instance. It also sort of assumes that Hamels is known as a high-performing product of some known qualities. I am less convinced that any of us knows that much about Hamels right now.
The main point that I am sure of right now is that Cole Hamels is still really, really young. I think a lot of fans forget that. I really wish that the team would try to make that point more often, even if only through subtle reminders.
What Hamels turns out to be in the long run as a pitcher is still very unclear to me. I hope that he may bring balance to the force, but conversely I also fear that he may bring balance to the force.
And just for fun:
- Halladay through age 25: 37-24, 575 IP, 116 ERA+, 1.393 WHIP, 9.3 H/9, 6.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 1.92 K/BB
- Hamels through age 25: 48-34, 736 IP, 121 ERA+, 1.176 WHIP, 8.3 H/9, 8.4 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.67 K/BB
My final thought is that if the Phillies hope to be good all the time and not just for a "window", then Hamels is going to have to be a big part of that. IIRC, Halladay will be here for 3 years, assuming the contract plays out. Hamel's years for ages 32, 33, and 34 are 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively. That's how young he is right now, and that is why everything we all "know" about Cole Hamels is still subject to enormous change down the road.