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

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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:

Name ERA IP K% BB% GB% HR/FB xFIP
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.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”