Quick observations on the occasion of the latest Cole Hamels trade

When the Phillies traded Cole Hamels to the Rangers in 2015, it felt like a big deal. Texas was in the playoff hunt, and Hamels went 7-1 in twelve starts for them down the stretch. The return for Hamels (plus Jake Diekman) was voluminous in that it was comprised of six players. If you squint or are a dedicated Phillies or Rangers fan you might recognize a couple of those names.

Last night, the Rangers, decidedly not a contender just three years later, chose to ship Hamels up to the Cubs. The teams have not officially confirmed the deal, but reports indicate that the return includes minor-league pitcher Rollie Lacy, a second pitcher who is “not a prospect,” [UPDATE: Eddie Butler, a pitcher who’s split time between the majors and Triple-A for the past four or so seasons; cash considerations also provided] and a player to be named (even) later.

What are the Cubs getting in the oft-heralded Hamels? In short, a starting pitcher in decline. Hamels had an excellent run with Philadelphia, but he’s been something a little less than excellent since. His 2017 (4.20 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 5.47 DRA) was his worst MLB season to that point (0.2 WARP), and he’s been even worse in 2018 (4.72 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 6.26 DRA, -0.2 WARP).

As news of the Hamels trade was breaking last night, some people contended that things would be better for Hamels in Chicago because Wrigley Field’s friendly confines are friendlier to pitchers than the Rangers’ home in Globe Life Park. There’s not nothing to that idea: offense played up in Arlington more than anywhere else in 2018. Wrigley hasn’t exactly been a run suppressor, though, as it too favors hitters. Hamels may see some comparative venue-based benefit as he moves north, but it likely will be negligible over a couple months.  (One possible estimation of the magnitude of the difference is the difference between his FIP (5.20 on FanGraphs) and xFIP (4.18) in light of the slightly wider spread between Globe Life and Wrigley looking just at home runs, though Wrigley still is playing hitter-friendly in that regard.) And, of course, metrics like DRA and WARP (which, for pitchers, is based on DRA) already account for park factors.

Another thing I noticed last night as news of this transaction began to leak out was that Hamels is allowing a 23.2% line-drive rate, almost 4.5% over last season and a career high. That isn’t something that is park-specific, nor is it something for which Hamels really can share responsibility with his teammates. Hitters are squaring him up this year.

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Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

baseball notes

Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current issues in the sport.   Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: Forget what you know

This year’s Detroit Tigers are far from perfect, but they’re off to a good start on the strength of their starting pitching and the bats of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, (increasingly) Victor Martinez, and (once again) Austin Jackson.

The weak link– the bullpen– has been both very obvious and very weak. Hoping for some addition by subtraction, the club sent onetime-closer Jose Valverde down to the minors, and a more focused “closer-by-committee” approach has emerged, centering around Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly, with an emphasis on not misusing Phil Coke.

One of the criticisms of manager Jim Leyland is that he likes to have go-to players to fill defined roles, and nowhere is this more applicable than in his handling of relief pitching. In short, Leyland wants to have one guy be his guy when it comes to closing out games in the ninth inning. His unwillingness to deviate from that approach has had exceedingly frustrating consequences when The Closer is someone less effective than the likes of a Craig Kimbrel or, say, a 2011-vintage Valverde. (This is especially true because the Tigers have trouble scoring late in games. If the bullpen blows a lead late, this team is unlikely to mount a comeback.) Even though fans would like to see Leyland be a bit more nimble with the way he utilizes his personnel, some of his attitude surely has rubbed off on them. The fans want to have someone who can be The Closer too.

Buster Olney launched a thousand blog posts with his suggestion that current Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon might make a good fit in Detroit. Papelbon has a great reputation as a closer, and, as Buster writes, “there are no questions about whether he could handle October,” which is where the Tigers’ expectations reside.

Team owner Mike Ilitch has shown little resistance to spending money on this iteration of the team, which means that the large contract that’s scaring other teams away from Papelbon is unlikely to be an issue in Detroit.

My opinion is that, if the Phillies are willing to part with Papelbon without demanding much beyond the absorption of his contract, the Tigers should get him. If his steady hand can turn these cardiac kitties into some cool cats come playoff time, it’ll be worth it.

That said, it probably is worth taking a look at how Papelbon would stack up with his new teammates if he were to catch a ride to Motor City this season.  Continue reading

Bay of Cigs: A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger

Buster Olney reports:

Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers have reached agreement on a new contract that could exceed $202 million, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Verlander’s deal, which would make him the highest-paid pitcher in the game, is for seven years and worth $180 million, sources said. A vesting option for an eighth year could push the deal to $202 million.

Verlander, who would have been eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 season, had recently said he wouldn’t discuss a new contract if a deal didn’t get done by the end of spring training.

Verlander celebrated with a baby tiger (above). Additional details are not known.

In other pitching news, the team sent relief prospect Bruce Rondon back to the minors and announced they’ll begin the season with a “closer-by-committee” approach. The seven-member committee reportedly does not include Rick Porcello, who was listed as part of Detroit’s starting rotation. As mentioned last time, I was a bit concerned that management might give him the relief job, but since then, Jonah Keri assuaged my fears about that prospect,

and yesterday’s announcement makes it look like that possibility will not come to pass. Still, it would be nice to have one go-to guy who is reliable, even if he isn’t quite the unicorn on a waterslide that was 2011 Jose Valverde. Look to people far more qualified than I to say whether GM Dave Dombrowski, a personnel master of the first order, can bring in someone capable of holding down the job. For now, though, I think Dombrowski has earned a weekend off after locking up Verlander for the meaningful future.

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Previously
Bay of Cigs: The Departed – 3/14

Jim Leyland’s ALDS Game 5 lineup

When a reader told me he’d seen Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland wearing a suit on TBS last night, I knew something was awry. Earlier in the day, ESPN Insider, Vanderbilt graduate, and Vermonster Buster Olney reported that Justin Verlander would not start Game 5 against the Yankees in New York, and that Don Kelly would start at third, with Magglio Ordonez in right field.

I’ve only ever seen Leyland in a baseball uniform, includng hat, or some other Belichickian attire like a windbreaker pullover or hooded sweatshirt, so to see him dressed as pictured above somewhat shocks my brain.

Less shocking, but still surprising, were Leyland’s starting lineup choices. That Verlander would not start was expected. In the playoffs, you have to be able to count on your number two starter in a must-win game, and Doug Fister is more than competent to handle that task. I’m still scratching my head over the Kelly/Ordonez decision, though, and I’m trying to figure out which came first. Both mostly play right field. Ordonez has been an offensive power in the past, but he generally has cooled off in the last year or two. Kelly usually is described as a defensive replacement, meaning that he does not hit especially well, although he has been making good contact in this series.

Leyland had been working a similar pairing at third base with the recently acquired Wilson Betemit and longtime Tiger Brandon Inge. Like the Kelly/Ordonez pairing, one (Betemit) is the better hitter and the other (Inge) the defensive replacement. Also like Kelly/Ordonez, Betemit’s bat has cooled off in this series, while Inge’s has heated up.

In a vacuum, Leyland’s decision to start Kelly and Ordonez is not necessarily strange, but when examined together with the consequence of that decision– both Betemit and Inge on the bench– I have a hard time understanding it. Which is why I, unlike Leyland, wear a suit most of the time and don’t manage a baseball team. Still, I hope the Tigers aren’t getting away from what got them to this point.