Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cole Hamels, Wealthy Gentleman

The Phillies have been struggling mightily. As this week, they had a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs. They have struggled to score and their pitchers have been good but not great. Cliff Lee has become a poster-boy for why 'Wins' is a lousy category. Sure, it does not help that the Nationals are going bananas (Gwen Stefani reference, ftw!), but being last place in the NL East is not easy to take for the Front Office and fans. Many fans assumed Ruben Amaro and company might try to move some talent in order to shake things up and try to change the losing ways. However, Cole Hamels is not going to be a part of that change, as he recently signed a six year, $144 million extension. This is an incredible amount of money, so how does this affect the Phillies? Is it a good extension? 

Obviously, this is a huge risk. Pitching is tough to predict and giving a huge chunk of money to a pitcher is crazy risky. However, the first item that must be considered is the amount of money given. Is he getting overpaid? $144 million over 6 years works to $24 million per season. Put aside the fact that the Phillies are paying four players (Halladay, Lee, Howard, Hamels) a lot and that this could (but shouldn't) pose cash flow problems down the line, this extension is right in line with other great pitchers. Matt Cain recently signed an extension for around $22.4 million per season. Johan Santana is getting paid $24 million this season. C.C. Sabathia has a contract worth about $23 million per year. Teammate Cliff Lee is getting paid ~$20-22 million per season, depending on how his option is taken. Also, considering Hamels was headed to free agency in the offseason, the Phillies would have likely had to bid higher to keep him. All in all, this puts his extension in the 'incredibly pricey but not an over-payment' range.

Ok idiot, you say, but is Cole Hamels worth Sabathia/Lee/Cain/Santana money? This season, Hamels is best in the group of the aforementioned 5 pitchers in K/9. Having already thrown 138.2 innings (second to Matt Cain in this group) he is continuing to be a dependable workhorse. In fact, he has not thrown less than 180 innings since he became a full-time starter in 2007. The concerning stat is his current FIP. At 3.65 he is fourth in the high-paid pitching group (Santana is last, in case you really care) and is a Hiroki Kuroda-level of 2.3 WAR.

Transitioning from the five high-paid pitchers to the entire MLB, Hamels still stacks up fairly favorably. Since 2008, he is 14th in WAR among starting pitchers and is in the top 20 in FIP. More impressively, he is 10th in total innings pitched and in the top 15 for games started. Translation, he is a steady, reliable arm. Yes, he might not be in the same dominant level of a Hallday, Lee, King Felix, or Kershaw, but he is not far behind and is going to give the Phillies ace-worthy stats over ace-worthy innings. It can be argued that $24 million is still too much (ie it is too much for anyone) but the market for him to get paid that amount- or more- definitely exists.

But what about the Phillies? Ryan Howard's horrific contract is still tying up money, as are the monster contracts to Halladay and Lee. Amaro, however, has show he is not afraid to pay a lot to keep home talent in Philly. Considering they still sell-out games at home, the cash is still flowing in and the risk of having money problems is not as big an issue as it would be for smaller market teams. Also, the Phillies NEED pitching. Need  pitching. Their hitting is getting old/injured/bad. People argue that they should be spending money on hitting, but I can see Amaro's argument that home-grown, cheaper hitting is available, so keeping Hamels in-house for another six years gives the Phillies a dominant rotation for years to come.

All in all, this is still a risky extension. $144 million is a ton of money and long-term pitching contracts are notoriously dangerous, but the Phillies are in no position to watch Hamels leave and have a potently terrible combination of bad hitting and semi-decent pitching (especially past Lee and Halladay). Will this blow up Ryan Howard-style or will it be a good spend? The next six years will tell, but the Phillies definitely are keeping an under-rated pitcher in their rotation.

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