Defending the Cole Hamels Contract

Brian Garfinkel

Quit nitpicking the Phillies third best homegrown pitcher ever (behind Robin Roberts and Grover Cleveland Alexander).

Over his career Cole Hamels has been cheered and maligned. Much of it has had to do with what has been considered a lax attitude on the mound and off the field. But he has been dominant on the mound, and since 2010 he has posted the 5th highest WAR of any pitcher in the major leagues. But since he signed a 6 year $144 million extension in the summer of 2011, his critics have had a new point of contention to use against Hamels.

Early in May, Corey Seidman wrote a piece for CSN that Hamels had not lived up to his contract. Seidman points out that since signing the deal Hamels has the 44th ERA and is the 6th highest paid pitcher (in total contract value). Since the past month and expanding to the entire 2012 season Hamels has the 28th ERA (not including Sunday's start). However there are some serious holes to this argument.

ERA Doesn't Tell the Whole Story:

Over the past few years the Phillies defense has declined at an alarming rate. The 2013 Phillies were one of the worst defensive teams in history, and they have only made a couple of minor improvements. During the past two years Cole Hamels has a 3.74 ERA, good for 64th among starting pitchers. But if we rerank the pitchers by FIP, Cole Hamels comes in at 3.27, good for 22nd among major league starters.

In 2014 (including Sunday), Hamels has a 9.06 K/9, his best since 2010, and a 3.31 BB/9, the worst of his career, but also a 0.70 HR/9, by far the best rate of his career. All together Hamels has a 3.22 FIP, which is in line with his best years.

Cole Hamels Durability is Underrated:

The most underrated stat for starting pitchers is innings pitched. The ability for a pitcher to keep your relievers out of the game, not only limits their exposure, but it allows you to shorten the games pitched by your more marginal starters. Since 2008 Cole Hamels has pitched the 9th most innings of any starting pitchers (and only 8 innings behind #6), behind only Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, James Shields, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Matt Cain, and Mark Buehrle. During that time period he was the 3rd youngest behind only Felix and Cain. In this age of pitching injuries and uncertainty, that kind of reliability is a reason why the Phillies have been able to compete despite an aging and declining roster.

Looking at Pure Contract Numbers Is not a Good Measure of Value:

It is really easy to just look at players with big contracts and immediately declare that they are not a value any more when compared to the full population of players. This ignores the fact that there are stark differences between FA and pre-FA contracts. So to get a full picture of value lets take the Top 30 pitchers by FIP from the earlier search of 2013-2014.

Now lets factor out the pitchers that have not yet hit FA or signed a long term contract: Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Mat Latos, Andrew Cashner, Lance Lynn, Henderson Alvarez, Tyson Ross, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Zimmerman, and Doug Fister.

Player Age 2014 Salary Years Total Salary $/year
Clayton Kershaw 26 4 7 215 30.7
Zach Grienke 30 26 6 159 26.5
Felix Hernandez 28 22.9 7 175 25.0
Cliff Lee 35 25 5 120 24.0
Justin Verlander 31 20 10 219.5 21.9
Cole Hamels 30 22.5 7 153 21.9
Adam Wainwright 32 19.5 5 97.5 19.5
Anibal Sanchez 30 15.8 5 88 17.6
A.J. Burnett 37 15 1 16 16.0
Tim Hudson 38 11 2 23 11.5
Bartolo Colon 41 9 2 20 10.0
Yu Darvish** 27 10 6 56 9.3
Chris Sale* 25 3.5 5 32.5 6.5
Hyun-Jin Ryu** 27 4.33 6 36 6.0
Madison Bumgarner* 24 3.75 6 35.6 5.9
Francisco Liriano 30 6 2 7 3.5

* Pre-Arb extension including FA year ** Signed as an international FA

It is fair to say that Cole Hamels is paid a lot. But when you look at the true FA contracts for elite starting pitchers (which doesn't include Sabathia 8/$182 and Matt Cain 6/$133), Hamels is not only paid fairly, but is actually towards the bottom of the scale for starting pitchers. He will never be cheap, but the FA market has determined that top starting pitchers are paid a lot for their services.

Using Fangraphs conversion of WAR to dollars Hamels since from 2007 to 2013 has been worth 15.2, 19.5, 16.3, 14, 20.7, 20.1, and 20.8 respectively over those years. With continued contract inflation, Cole Hamels contract has looked like a better value each year.

The Lure of the Unknown Prospect:

Any conversation of Hamels inevitably degrades into talk of what the Phillies could have gotten in trade and Seidman dives into this realm of thought as well.

However, if you recall, at the time the Phillies extended Hamels, there was a portion of the fanbase that thought the Phils should instead trade him with hopes to re-sign him after the season. They could have netted several intriguing prospects. How would Martin Perez, for one, look in a Phillies uniform right about now?

To Corey's credit, this was before Perez headed for an operating table and Tommy John surgery. But even that highlights the issues with trades for young players, as they are uncertain and volatile. The other players the fanbase hollered for included Mike Olt and Jurrickson Profar, neither who has established themselves as a major league presence. For similar value just look at what the Brewers acquired for Zach Grienke. They received an inconsistent SS (Jean Segura), a reliever who had Tommy John (Johnny Hellweg), and a starter/reliever with major control issues (Ariel Pena). Profar still might look nice going forward, but none of the other players move the Phillies competition window in any capacity close to what Cole Hamels can provide.

In the end Cole Hamels is not a Top 5 pitcher in baseball, but he is paid the market price to be a top of the rotation starting pitcher. If the Phillies have any illusion of competing over the next 3-4 years, to replace Hamels would cost more than the Phillies are paying him. Hamels is the best pitcher to pitch his entire career in the Philadelphia organization and we should start to view him as that player, despite the fact that he has only been the "ace" of one team (a World Series championship winning team). Stop complaining and just enjoy one of the lone bright spots on a horrible baseball team.

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