Cole Hamels has signed with the Braves on a 1-year deal for $18M. A 14 year veteran, Hamels is coming off a good, if inconsistent, year with the Cubs that saw him go 7-7 with ERA and FIP both about 4, good for 3 WAR. He turns 36 in a couple of weeks and is noted as a gym rat with a fabulous work ethic. His repertoire is very similar to former Brave Dallas Keuchel except that Hamels throws more fastballs and gets about 12.5% swings-and-misses on his pitches which is significantly better than Keuchel. The walks trended up to 3.5 per nine last year which is troublesome but it could well be a one year blip.
Given his long history as an above-average-to-elite performer in MLB, I thought I’d do a Keltner List to see where Cole currently stands.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?
Hamels was never the best player in baseball.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
At his peak, Hamels was the third wheel to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. He was the best player on the Phillies after Halladay’s injury and retirement.
3. Was he the best player in baseball (or in the league) at his position?
While Hamels was never the very best pitcher in the game he has long been one of the top15 or so guys in baseball.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Hamels was a key component of the Phillies World Series winning team a decade ago. His trade to the Cubs in August 2018 is credited with turning around the Cubs season.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
A 35 year old Hamels put up 3 WAR last season. He still has plenty in the tank.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No. that would be Bonds and Clemens
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Cole is still about 50 wins shy of where modern consideration for the Hall of Fame begins for pitchers. Bill James’ Favorite Toy method gives him about 20% chance of 210 wins and 8% of 225. OTOH, he is only 442 strikeouts shy of 3000. The toy gives a 55% chance on this one.
8. Do the players numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Currently he is at 59.6 WAR on bref. While this is much better than Jack Morris, it is in the lower tiers of generally acceptable resumes at this time. Fortunately, he has time. 3 more seasons like 2019 likely get it done.
9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Not really. Citizens Bank is a tough park to pitch in but as a lefty he largely avoided the ridiculously short right field fences.
10.Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Hamels got votes in 9 different seasons for the Cy Young Award, peaking at #5 in 2011. He finished in the top 10 on 3 other occasions.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
He was named to 4 All Star teams. The average Hall of Fame Pitcher has about five.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
At his peak, Hamels was putting up 5.5-6.5 win seasons. Many pennant winning teams have had worse leaders.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Strangely, Mariano Rivera did not begin the current fashion for cutters. Since nobody could throw it like he did they didn’t even try. Hamels was the model for many of today’s stars that have adopted the pitch, including Dallas Keuchel.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Hamels runs a charitable foundation that provides funds for early childhood programs in Philadelphia and abroad. He and his wife donated their 32,000 square foot $10M mansion in Missouri to Camp Barnabas, a christian camp devoted to children with special needs or chronic illness. He has never been thrown out of a game or suspended by MLB. He has a reputation as a great teammate.
Conclusion: 3 more years of current production gets him in the discussion. Let’s hope he overachieves in 2020.