Cole Hamels could have signed with several different teams and help clarify the team’s rotation. Instead, he went to Atlanta and made a murky situation worse.
While Hamels has not been competing for a Cy Young for several seasons, he has been a production pitcher. Over the last 10 years, he has never posted an ERA over 4.20 (3.42 on his career) or threw fewer than 141 innings. The innings low point was this past season when he lost a month due to a strained oblique.
When he was on the mound, he was productive even with a 10-year low fastball velocity (91.4 mph). He posted a strikeout rate of 9.1 K/9 which is the 4th highest of his career. Additionally, he was able to keep his home runs in check with a 1.1 HR/9 during the juiced-ball season.
The elephant in the room was his career-high 3.6 BB/9 which pushed his ERA estimators into the 4.00 to 4.50 range. Steamer Projections see his ERA settling in at 4.50. It’s tough to find a single smoking gun for why his walk rate jumped but it is probably a combination of near career lows in Zone%, First Strike%, and, O-Swing%. He had been toying with walk rates in the low-3.0’s so it’s not completely out of place.
As for his pitches, he attacks hitters as he always has with four OK swing-and-miss offerings (four-seam, cutter, sinker and curve) and a league dominant change-up. Hitters are still swinging-and-missing on it 25% of the time. It an elite pitch.
Also, his pitches allow him to post a hidden hit suppression profile. His overall 48% GB% is decent but his pitches, besides the cutter, are on each side of the batted ball spectrum.
He throws the change and four-seamer a combined 55% and they are either generating either groundballs or popups.
Going forward, the Braves provide some positives and negatives but nothing that really moves the needle with me. I like that he’s on a team that wins with an above-average defense behind him. I’m not in love with the park but it could be worse.
Probably the biggest question going forward will be how he’ll age. I’m not worried since his number one weapon (change) doesn’t rely on going fast but slow. The walks are the only red flag and it’d be nice to see them drop down to 3.00. His current ADP sits at 297 just behind Reynaldo López, Jeff Samardzija, and Rich Hill. I’d take Hamels before all three of them. Overall, he’s a decent arm who owners should be able to use in 80% or more of his starts.
Next up is how Hamels affects the rest of the Braves pitching staff. I was a little leary of how the playing time would shake out and Jeff Erikson noted his concern.
Which (if any) #Braves young starter joins Mike Soroka and Max Fried as breakout pitchers in 2020?
— Jeff Erickson (@Jeff_Erickson) December 3, 2019
Right now, the rotation locks seem to be:
I would say that Foltynewicz and Fried aren’t 100% locks for the season if they start to struggle but, if healthy, they should start the season in the rotation. For the fifth spot, the Braves have five pitchers knocking on the door.
Name: Best Baseball America Rank, Projected Steamer ERA, NFBC ADP
- Ian Anderson: 24th, 4.68, ND
- Sean Newcomb: 24th, 4.45, 517
- Kyle Wright: 34th, 4.32, 506
- Touki Toussaint: 53rd, 4.48, 644
- Bryse Wilson: 80th, 4.21, 560
It’s five highly-touted starting pitching prospects fighting for just one job. Also, they are just waiting for one of the four in the rotation to falters or gets injured. I’m not even 100% sure Hamels is safe if he struggles. While he’ll have a longer leash, the Braves are trying to win and a 4.50 ERA or worse will not cut it.
It’s impossible to know who will get used the fifth spot and if they’ll keep it. The highly competitive situation also makes we worry about the playing time for the starters once they start struggling (hint: every pitcher does at some point) and how long of leash they have until they are replaced.
Simply, I’m completely staying away from them and looking for minor league pitchers will a clearer path to playing time. And by the look of their ADP, it seems fantasy owners in deep draft-and-hold leagues agree.
Overall, I like the move for Hamels but with everyone else fighting for playing time, they are all downgrades.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.