Yu Darvish

Philadelphia at Chicago Cubs

Rangers land ace left-hander Cole Hamels from Phillies


MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan had the majority of the major scoops on this one. It’s a massive two-team, eight-player blockbuster deal that will net the Phillies a frontline starter for this year and years to come while injecting more young talent into the Phillies’ under-construction minor league system.

Rangers get …

SP Cole Hamels
RP Jake Diekman

Phillies get …

C Jorge Alfaro
OF Nick Williams
SP Alec Asher
SP Jerad Eickhoff
SP Jake Thompson
SP Matt Harrison

Hamels can help the Rangers down the stretch this season — they’re not completely out of the hunt for the second American League Wild Card — and he’ll pair very well with Yu Darvish in the long term. Hamels, 31, is under contract through 2019. Philly has agreed to eat some of the cash that he’s owed.

In return, the Phillies get an impressive haul of prospects. Alfaro is a power-hitting, big-armed catching prospect who could be a star if he develops better plate discipline. Williams is a well-rounded outfielder with big upside, and Thompson has posted promising numbers in the lower levels of the minor leagues (the 21-year-old has struggled this season at Double-A). J.J. Cooper of Baseball America says all three would probably crack an updated top-100 ranking of the game’s best prospects. The other players are more of throw-ins — especially Harrison, who has chronic back issues and is still owed around $30 million. By accepting him in the trade, the Rangers no doubt increased their package of talent.

Remember when the Indians demoted Danny Salazar to Triple-A? He’s back and dominating

danny salazar getty

Despite striking out 120 batters in 110 innings as a 24-year-old last season the Indians sent Danny Salazar to Triple-A at the end of spring training. They quickly realized their mistake, calling him back up two weeks into the season, and he’s been dominant ever since.

Sunday afternoon Salazar gave up a leadoff home run to Brian Dozier and then retired 21 consecutive Twins hitters on the way to seven innings of one-run, one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts and zero walks against one of the hottest-hitting lineups in baseball. For the season he has a 3.27 ERA and 48/5 K/BB ratio in 33 innings, which is incredible.

At age 25 he has a a 3.78 ERA with 233 strikeouts in 195 career innings, for a rate of 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Among all active starters that ranks as the highest strikeout rate through age 25:

Danny Salazar        10.8
Yu Darvish           10.4
Stephen Strasburg    10.3
Jose Fernandez       10.3
Tim Lincecum         10.2

Decent company to keep.

Control was always an issue for Salazar, but of late he’s been pounding the strike zone, trusting his top-notch raw stuff, and relying more and more on a split-finger changeup that induces tons of swinging strikes. And he’s emerging as a 25-year-old ace. Not bad for a guy the Indians deemed not worthy of cracking the Opening Day rotation for a team that currently has the second-worst ERA and worst record in the league.

Someone with the Yankees wonders if Cole Hamels is still an ace

Cole Hamels

There was an interesting snippet in Jon Heyman’s column for CBS Sports:

Yankees people shot down rumors that they are thinking more about Cole Hamels now that Tanaka’s out. “Not looking,” one Yankees person said. Another wondered if Hamels is still an ace, or merely a big name.

Before getting into the accuracy of Hamels’ designation as an ace, it is important to recognize two factors here. One, an anonymous team source wouldn’t be quoted for saying something obvious like, “Cole Hamels is good.” Secondly, this anonymous team source is not exactly the most impartial judge of talent, as the Yankees would like to pay as little as possible for Hamels. Talking him up in the media, even anonymously, works against that task.

Anyway. Hamels, 31, has four years and $96 million remaining on his contract with the Phillies. Comparing his level of talent with other elite pitchers, he is significantly cheaper. That’s even true if he requires an acquiring team to guarantee his $20 million option for the 2019 season, which would tack on an additional $14 million (since the $6 million buyout clause is already factored in), putting him at $110 million over five years.

Three of Hamels’ peers signed big contracts in the off-season. James Shields, 33, got a four-year, $75 million contract from the Padres. Jon Lester, 31, got $155 million over six years from the Cubs. Max Scherzer, 30, signed a seven-year, $210 million contract with the Nationals. Here’s how Hamels stacks up with the trio since the start of the 2012 season, per FanGraphs:

Cole Hamels 3.06 671.0 23.7% 6.5% 44.5% 10.5% 3.32
Max Scherzer 3.15 651.0 28.5% 6.9% 36.5% 8.3% 3.18
James Shields 3.28 714.1 21.6% 6.1% 46.2% 10.5% 3.48
Jon Lester 3.74 660.0 21.3% 6.8% 45.4% 9.5% 3.56

By ERA, Hamels is the best of the group and it isn’t particularly close after Scherzer. However, prior to 2015, Hamels is the only one who benefited from throwing against opposing pitchers instead of a designated hitter. That’s why ERA retrodictors like xFIP are useful. But even there, Hamels is a peer of Scherzer’s and a superior to Lester and Shields. If one considers Scherzer to be an ace — and his contract would seem to indicate that — then it would seem one would also have to consider Hamels an ace. That’s certainly the case if such a designation is given to Shields and Lester.

Let’s expand the scope a bit. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Hamels is one of 12 pitchers (min. 500 innings) to have an adjusted ERA (a.k.a. ERA+) of 125 or better. ERA+ adjusts for league and park effects and sets average at 100. A pitcher would be penalized a bit for pitching at Petco Park and given extra credit for pitching at Coors Field. Hamels is tied at 125 with Adam Wainwright and David Price. Zack Greinke, Yu Darvish, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister are only a point or two above the trio at 125. All of them, perhaps with the exception of Fister, would be considered aces. Therefore, one might conclude, Hamels too is an ace.

For a number of reasons, including his struggles in 2009 and the Phillies’ inability to provide him with run support, Hamels has been underappreciated for most of his career. It’s a strange case considering how dominant Hamels has been in the playoffs. He earned World Series MVP honors in 2008 to help the Phillies overcome the Rays in five games. He also has a career 3.09 ERA with a 77/21 K/BB ratio in 81 2/3 post-season innings. It is interesting to note Hamels hasn’t gotten nearly the amount of adulation other players — Derek Jeter, for instance — got for being productive when it mattered most.