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Cole Hamels and Nietzsche's Eternal Return: Phillies 3, Nationals 2

Although Hamels did not record the all-important win tonight, his efforts undoubtedly offered a significant contribution to the Phillies win over the Nationals in extra innings.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The most cited claim to fame for the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s is that (an irresponsible misinterpretation) of his work influenced the Nazi ideology. Unless you’ve taken a philosophy course in a continentally-inclined, i.e., fun, department, you’ve probably never had occasion to question the characterization of Nietzsche as a raging, moustachioed anti-semite.

The purpose of this recap isn’t to tell you that you should reconsider that interpretation of Nietzsche’s ouevre (although you should). Instead, the purpose of this recap is to provide a digestible summary of tonight’s Phillies game offer non-professional and unfounded evaluations and suggestions regarding Cole Hamels’s psychological state.

With that purpose now made crystal clear, let’s turn our attention back to Nietzsche. Once you get beyond the National Socialist appropriation bullshit, one of Nietzsche’s more controversial and discussed ideas is that of the eternal return (or eternal recurrence). While it is commonly interpreted as a cosmological doctrine stating that the universe eternally repeats itself, the correct interpretation (this is a blog, not a journal) of this idea requires seeing it as a psychological doctrine. What Niestzche essentially asks of the ubermensch is that he will the repetition of every moment of his life.

This is an easier charge for some than it is for others. For most professional athletes, for instance, this willing probably comes relatively easily. For Cole Hamels, however, it might not. Despite a 3.28 career ERA (125 ERA +), Cole Hamels has averaged only 12 wins per season. Since Hamels is still alive, despite the level of misfortune he has suffered due to poor luck, it is likely he is as well disposed to life as the character Nietzsche suggests in the following:

What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and
say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it you will have to live once
again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every
pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small
or great in your life must return to you...' Would you not throw yourself down and
gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once
experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are
a god, and never have I heard anything more divine.' If this thought gained power
over you, as you are it would transform and probably crush you; the question in
each and every thing, 'Do you want this again and innumerable times again?'
would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you
have to become to yourself and to life to long for nothing more fervently than for
this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (The Gay Science, 341)

Hamels was not crushed by the portents of this demon. That is evident by his continued insistence on pitching in major league baseball games as a member of the Phillies. In some ways, Hamels' acceptance of that fate requires an understanding of the statistical principle of regression toward the mean. If he keeps pitching at an elite level--and he is #elite despite what the hot takes may deem--innumerable times again, that meaningless W-L% will match his true ability.

As statistically-inclined fans, we believe that things like that will work out in the long run. The eternal return, or the infinite sample, is the creed by which sabermetrics fundamentally affirms. Hamels, in the single return that is the human condition, is subject to the whims of things like small sample variance. The acceptance of the eternal return and the infinite sample is his salvation.

Tonight, and throughout his career,  he hasn’t benefitted from that acceptance:

Those things even out. Despite our best efforts, our lives are subject to the vagaries of chance. Hamels is an indication of that. The Phillies won tonight, largely as the result of Hamels’s excellence at his craft. Tonight, Hamels' pitching line was 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K and a no-decision. Statistical principles indicate that, most of the time, that performance will produce an almighty pitcher win. Tonight, Hamels did not receive that affirmation of his ability. With the 2015 Phillies offense, some superficial statistics may not reflect his true ability. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball; smart people know this.

Although, the Phillies won the game on an Odubel Herrera double in the bottom of the 10th, Cole Hamels, despite yet another data point indicating his elite status, did not receive appropriate accolades for his effort. He likely received some fractional wins in his WAR, but not in the all-or-nothing world of pitcher wins.

If tonight were repeated innumerable times again, with a league-average offense and a league-average defense, he would receive the win most of the time. But, not tonight. Such is life for Cole Hamels. Such is life for many of us. Such is life.

Fangraph of under-appreciation:

Source: FanGraphs

Other Notes:

  • Sean O’Sullivan starts tomorrow afternoon against Max Scherzer.