By: Noah Wright
Before the 2018 deadline, lefty starter Cole Hamels was clearly on the decline. He had an injury filled 2017 season, plus when he was healthy he didn’t pitch well, and he was not pitching well at all with the Rangers again in 2018. He had a 4.72 ERA, 5.20 WHIP, and 1.373 WHIP through 114 and a third innings. Plus his home run rate rose to 1.8 per 9. It was the next step of decline for the former ace. Before 2019, he didn’t have an ace level season since 2014 when he had 2.46 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 1.187 WHIP, a .6 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 8.7 K/9 through 204 and a third innings with the Phillies. It was almost certain that his $20 million option for 2019 would be turned down in favor of his buyout clause. But then, something amazing happened.
At the deadline, the Rangers sent Hamels over to the Cubs for Rollie Lacy, Eddie Butler, and Alexander Ovalles. Hamels then went on a role for the Cubs. In 76 and a third innings, Hamels looked like an ace. He had a 2.36 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and 1.100 WHIP. Now part of this could be traced back to the move away from Arlington. The Rangers’ stadium is extremely hitter friendly. Last season, it gave up nearly as many home runs, and more runs than to Coors. It was fairly evident that Arlington had a bit of an impact on his numbers. He had a 4.42 ERA, and .787 opponent OPS at home, but a 3.07 ERA and .700 OPS when his team was a guest. Regardless, Hamels’ great production with the Cubs put his option into question. Sure he had pitched well, but the option was far from cheap. $20 million for 1 season could be a large risk. His 76 and a third inning was a small sample size, and the $20 million could be used to fix other holes like relief pitching. Plus the fact that 2019 would be his age 35 season wasn’t helping Hamels either. The Cubs were reluctant to give him the $20 million, and it has easily paid off.
Hamels is continuing his ace like results from the season prior. Through 84 and two thirds innings, Cole has a 2.98 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and 1.181 WHIP. His home runs have also been a non-issue this season, having a .7 HR/9 rate. He also has solid strikeout and walk rations. This season, he has an 8.8 K/9 rate and 3.2 BB/9 rate. If he were to keep this up all season, it would be the third time in his career his ERA has stayed below 3. The last time he did that was 2014. Hamels has also amassed an outstanding 52.8% groundball rate. That would be a career high for the former all-star. His homerun/flyball percentage has also been a near career low 10.4%. Opponents, both lefties and righties, are having trouble with Hamels as well. Currently, he holds a .225/.295/.636 opponent batting line. His only real loss this season came on June 2nd when Hamels pitched 7 innings, gave up 1 unearned run(!), walked just 2 batters, gave up 2 hits and struck out 4.
The Cubs’ decision to give Cole Hamels that $20 million has more than paid off. Jon Lester and Jose Quintana have been a bit shaky in 2019. Yu Darvish looks like a shell of his former self. Really it’s been Cole Hamels and Kyle Hendricks carrying this rotation for the Cubs. Currently, Hamels is a 2.4 WAR player. Plus the fact that Hamels averages about 6 innings a start helps the Cubs bullpen as a whole. His shortest start was 4 innings on May 27th when he gave up 6 earned runs, but his last 3 starts have been 7, 8, and 7 innings.