I have to be honest, 2008 was the best year of my life. Young 22-year-old BWanksCB finished his senior year of college that spring—and let me tell you—I soaked up every last minute of that glorious final stretch. I had just begun drawing a real adult person paycheck that fall. Those paychecks were immediately spent on Phillies playoff tickets. I saw five games that postseason, including both parts of Game 5 of the World Series. I spent what felt like every night of October that year in a beer-soaked frenzy watching that team kick ass. Watching that team win, I, quite literally, thought I had the world by the balls and that anything was possible. And there was Cole Hamels, right in the middle of it, making it happen:
So you could imagine how this tweet got me feeling when I saw it today:
Hearing some chatter about a Cole Hamels possible reunion with phillies. It’s early, and unsure how serious the chatter is. But they love him. He loved it there (obvs) and has a home there so presumably he’d approve. Has control with no-trade list covering two-thirds the teams)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 3, 2018
My heart said: Get into the DeLorean and let’s go.
My head? Well, it said something entirely different.
In 17 starts this season, Hamels has a respectable 4.05 ERA, 9.15 K/9, and 0.4 WAR. You might look at those numbers and pair them with his big game experience to deduce that reacquiring such a pitcher who also happens to be a franchise icon makes perfect sense. Throw in the fact that he would also bring some balance to a starting rotation that’s currently without a left-handed arm, and, boom. Let’s get the fucking band back together and rock.
I’m always down to rage, but before we party like it’s 2008, I need to point out some potentially sobering red flags. In 102.1 IP this season, Hamels has already allowed 20 homers, which is two more than the 18 he allowed in 138 IP a season ago. The 20.6% home run to fly ball ratio he’s posted thus far in 2018 is by far the worst mark of his career, easily surpassing the 14% he posted two seasons ago with the Rangers. It also happens to be the worst mark among any qualified starting pitcher in baseball this season. And while that aforementioned 4.05 ERA is fine, his career-worst 5.00 FIP that also happens to be the ninth-worst number among qualified starting pitchers is a bit of a concern.
What’s more, he’s consistently allowing more hard contact than ever before. According to FanGraphs, Hamels is allowing hard contact on 44.1% of batted balls this season, which is up from his previous career-high of 36% a season ago.
Still, this isn’t meant to come across as a scathing condemnation of Hamels. He can still pitch, and if you drop him in the middle of a pennant race, I think he can be a valuable addition. It’s just that I don’t know if he provides a significant upgrade over what the Phillies currently have in their rotation. Consider this, entering Tuesday night’s action, the Phillies have four of the National League’s top-20 starting pitchers in WAR. Zach Eflin, their only starter not ranked, would be 12th, but doesn’t have enough innings pitched to qualify. Additionally, among starters with at least 50 IP this season, all five members of the rotation are in the top 30 among NL starters in FIP.
While WAR and FIP are certainly not the end all be all, they are two valuable metrics that quantify what your eyes have probably already told you this season, which is that this rotation is pretty damn good. It’s hard to say with any certainty that Hamels provides a meaningful upgrade to what the Phillies already have, particularly when some data suggests that he probably won’t.
At 45-37, the Phillies are about to embark on what should be a favorable stretch of the schedule, and there is very real reason to believe this team can make a legitimate postseason run based on their play to this point.
Undoubtedly, Matt Klentak is going to have to add prior to the July 31 trade deadline. While no general manager in the history of baseball would ever close the door on upgrading his rotation if the right deal presented itself, the Phillies have far more pressing needs to address.
Pat Neshek’s return figures to help a struggling bullpen, but it’s still an area of weakness. The team has also been connected to names like Adrian Beltre and Mike Moustakas in recent weeks— both would bring a needed upgrade at third base.
And don’t forget about right field, which has been a disaster for the Phillies this season. Aaron Altherr has had a miserable season, hitting only .174 with a .290 OBP and 13 extra base hits in 224 plate appearances. Of NL players with at least 50 plate appearances in June, he had the fifth-worst WAR (-0.5), third worst batting average (.140), and a league-worst 41.1 K%. I’ve long been a proponent of Nick Williams, but his production, too, is below replacement level despite some big moments. His .728 OPS in 215 plate appearances is functional, but doesn’t justify regular playing time. In fact, the combined -0.8 WAR the Phillies have gotten from their right fielders this season is the second-worst in the National League, and their collective -4 defensive runs saved is ninth-worst at the position.
Scott Kingery, J.P. Crawford, and Maikel Franco have drawn the most frequent and vocal criticism for their meager offensive output this season, but the lack of right field production has been flat-out debilitating to this lineup. The Phillies will likely play it somewhat conservative at the deadline by limiting the amount of assets they’re willing to part with in order to push a team with a win total currently projected somewhere in the low to mid 80s over the top and into the playoffs, and thus, I would argue that they should use those limited assets to address areas of need that will offer a more substantial improvement.
Do I love Cole Hamels? Yes. Do I think he can help this team? Probably, but while I would love to revisit 2008 in many ways, this move just doesn’t make much sense.