What Is Cole Hamels Worth?

Cole Hamels is already on his way to another great season. Hamels’ performance is especially noteworthy since he’ll be a free-agent at the end of the season. While the Philadelphia Phillies have shown interest in locking up the 28-year-old lefty, talks with Hamels haven’t progressed much. If Hamels does reach free-agency, he — along with Zack Greinke — will be the most sought-after starting pitcher on the market. Based on their similarities, it wouldn’t be surprising for both players to receive similar offers.

We’ve already determined that based on Greinke’s career numbers, he will probably make somewhere between $140 million to $160 million on the open market. While there’s been talk that Hamels deserves the same amount of money — if not more — than Greinke, it’s unclear whether Hamels deserves to make that much. Hamels has performed well over his career, but he hasn’t been in the same class as Greinke.

When we sort all pitchers between ages 22 to 27, Hamels comes close to matching Greinke — but he comes up just short. During that period, Greinke’s 25.9 WAR just edges Hamels’ 23 WAR. Both pitchers have gotten off to strong starts this year, but Greinke already holds a bit of a WAR edge. So, unless Hamels really ups his game, he’s not likely to surpass Greinke’s WAR total by the time they both hit free-agency.

The problem with accurately valuing Hamels on the free-agent market is that many of the players who have produced similar value haven’t reached free-agency. The pitchers closest to Hamels in value all signed extensions with their teams. While Roy Halladay, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and Carlos Zambrano are all comparable pitchers, it’s tough to compare their extensions to what Hamels will make on the free-agent market.

Barry Zito is one of the few players that we can compare to Hamels. Both pitchers produced similar value through the same points in their career, both are lefties, and both reached free-agency at 28 years old. Though Zito was already in decline by the time he became a free-agent, he still managed to get a seven-year, $126 million contract from the San Francisco Giants.

But there’s actually a good chance Hamels will make more than that. Hamels has already produced slightly more value than Zito at this point in their careers. And since Hamels just entered his age-28 season, he should widen the gap this year. On top of that, Zito signed his deal six seasons ago. Since the market has changed, Hamels can expect to make more now.

And while it’s somewhat foolish to compare extensions to free-agent deals, Matt Cain’s recent extension with the Giants helps us determine what Hamels might make. Cain just signed a six-year, $127.5 million extension. This gives us an idea of how much the market has changed since Zito signed his deal. Cain was able to make more money even though only one team was bidding on him. And for the purpose of this article, it’s extremely convenient that the same team signed both players.

Since multiple teams will be bidding on Hamels, there’s a good chance he’ll make more than Cain. But he still hasn’t been as good as Greinke. Still, the difference between the two is marginal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if both players made a similar amount of money on the market. It will be up to each team to decide which pitcher deserves the bigger contract once Greinke and Hamels hit free-agency.





Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Mark Freeman
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Mark Freeman

Even though I think it’s unfair, I bet Hamels gets more than Greinke because of Greinke’s documented history of mental health concerns.

Harrisoned
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Harrisoned

I think that is a valid point Switters. The reality is that some of the big-market teams, like LAD, NYY, BOS, etc. may shy away from even looking at Greinke because his personality would not be a great fit with them. Like it or not, GMs will take into consideration that Hamels is more experienced in a big, media-heavy market.

Not to mention Hamels’ playoff stats (7-4, 3.09 ERA, 8.5 K/9 in 81.2 IP), compared to Greinke (1-1, 6.48 ERA, 7.0 K/9 in 16.2 IP).

Bob
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Bob

We’re going to use 16 IP as a valid sample size, for anything?

RationalSportsFan
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We’re not, but perhaps some old-school GMs might.

Ben Cherington
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Ben Cherington

Gotta have a guy who won’t choke in September.

Derek
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Derek

It’s a valid point but I do not think that’s unfair at all.

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)

Once you allow for the postseason, Hamels nearly closes the WAR-gap on Greinke. His career postseason stats look like they’re worth around 1.7 WAR (without making any allowance for superior opposition in the postseason), whereas Greinke’s are probably fractionally negative.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman

Aaron (UK), the other thing to remember is that Hamels has been in the playoffs quite a lot, while Greinke spent all but one of his years with the Royals. So Greinke’s playoff numbers are a… [everyone on Fangraphs shouts out the rest of this sentence in unison].

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)

Yeah, I’m not worried about Greinke’s playoff numbers (what’s -0.1 WAR on top of +25.9?), just saying that Hamels’ good numbers are worth something and should be counted as such.

Sure, he’s had more opportunity to play in the, something largely out of an individual player’s hands, but the value he’s given and the IP are still real.

All things considered Hamels will almost certainly go for more than Greinke and that seems to me to be perfectly rational and defensible.

Dr. J
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Dr. J

How is it not fair? It’s a documented mental illness that deals with serious relapses, that get worse with age (though medication helps). It is a business decision, like paying more for a car with less miles. When comparing like models, the one who has not been ‘sick’ will always get more money.

JaysIn2012
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JaysIn2012

As a psychologist (but baseball fan first), I think you need to be careful with what you say. Anxiety issues do not “get worse with age”. Mental illness is not governed by a simple arithmetic formula with a larger multiplier with reference to age. There are many factors that play into anxiety issues. Things such as medicinal intervention is only one facet of the treatment process. Beyond that, there is therapy (removing cognitive distortions), diet, excercise, environmental factors….. Anxiety is multifaceted and to be honest, a mystery in ways. The fact that he has made it back to the majors and has pitched well in recent years speaks volumes. This cannot be likened to a pitcher with a Tommy John history (something GM’s would no doubt consider). When you tear a ligament, it is torn, it can be fixed, but each successive stressor placed on that ligament is affected by the previous injury and subsequent repair. SOME mental health ailments do not work that way, anxiety being one of them. Someone can suffer from anxiety, and theoretically can manage their symptoms and not suffer from triggers (stressors) as they once did. The brain is a remarkable thing, hate to say it, but more remarkable than a ligament. While the ligament never forgets the stress it has endured, the brain has the capability to forget. Sidenote… my colleague argues with me that his anxiety still affects him because of his home/road splits. I counter that argument with two points: 1) every sports team in every sport enjoys home-field advantage… 2) does car-go have issues with anxiety

Dan
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Dan

Like JaysIn2012 said, anxiety is, in many ways, a mystery. To me that means uncertainty, and there is more uncertainty with Greinke than Hamels. When you’re talking about two guys this good, it is splitting hairs, so give me the guy that doesn’t have the anxiety disorder history. Beyond that, I would pay more for Hamels because I think guys with dominant change-ups are likely to age better than guys who are more fastball/slider dependent.

CabreraDeath
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CabreraDeath

Anything that may dampen or create doubt upon one’s performance – perceived or real – is a valid point to consider in determining a team’s offer to a player.

This is a bottom-line business, not a charitable entity. If a team thinks that Greinke’s ‘issues’ would impede future performance – and some inevitably will – then such a concern should be taken into consideration.

TimmyT
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TimmyT

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