Trading Cole Hamels: Pt 3 – The Value of Hamels

You can find part 1 of this series (Surplus Value) here and part 2 (Valuing Prospects) here

Now that we have the basic theory of surplus value it is time to determine what Cole Hamels is actually worth.  Dave Cameron has contended that there isn’t more than $5,000,000 in surplus value in the contract.  The Phillies disagree and have asked for essentially the largest prospect haul of recent memory.  It all comes down to how you value Hamels going forward.  Here we will look at Hamels value with WAR and how that translates to surplus value and then a quick look at Hamels as a pitcher.

Here is just a quick rundown of Hamels’ contract going forward:

2015 – Age 31 – $22,500,000
2016 – Age 32 – $22,500,000
2017 – Age 33 – $22,500,000
2018 – Age 34 – $22,500,000
2019 – Age 35 – $20,000,000 team option ($24,000,000 vesting option with $6,000,000 buy out)

rWAR vs fWAR

When it comes to pitchers, there is no good estimation of value.  The two main schools have thought revolve around a defense independent model and a runs allowed model.  It is hard to say the truth is in the middle because of how these metrics affect individual pitchers.  Here is how they treat Hamels over the past 5 seasons, we have Baseball Reference’s WAR (bWAR), Frangraph’s WAR (fWAR), and Fangraphs RA/9 WAR (raWAR):

Average WAR5.564.085.18

We can see immediately that over the past 5 seasons bWAR and fWAR disagree on Hamels by almost 1.5 wins a year.  Going forward we are going to call this our ceiling for Hamels in terms of future production.

Looking into the Future:

Lets start with the only projection system released for 2015, here is what Steamer say Cole Hamels will do in 2015.


The problem with projections is that for pitchers they have to take in a wide variety of potential outcomes, and for a player of Hamels’ age that includes injury.  Thus you get a projection that is in the middle of outcomes.  Based on Hamels’ history and other pitchers, he is unlikely to pitch 182 innings and decline to this level, instead you are more likely to see him pitch closer to his average or miss significant time due to injury.  I am going to part from Steamer at this point because it only has the 2015 projection and we want to look out to 2019.

Lets start with a simple projection where Hamels goes the way of many recent good pitchers and just falls off a cliff around his age 34 seasons so his acquiring team gets average Hamels performance for 2015-2017 and then a zero in 2018 and then buys out the option.

Average WAR (2010-2014)5.564.085.18
Remove A Year Average (2015-2018)

Now let’s go to just simple pulled out of thin air projection and say that Hamels declines from his 5 year averages at 90% a year (which gets us close to Cameron’s stated 15 WAR over the next 5 years):

Average WAR (2010-2014)5.564.085.18
Total WAR (4 Year)17.20875612.6280116.03262
Average WAR (4 Year)4.3021893.1570024.008155
Total WAR (5 Year)20.491880415.0372119.09136
Average WAR (5 Year)4.098376083.0074413.818271

Now this is an extremely crude projection system.  I would love to use something more sophisticated, but I don’t have access to that right now.  But this does show a steady decline (which we know rarely ever happens).

$/WAR and Surplus Value:

For the purpose of this article I am going to use 2 forms of $/WAR.  The first is Matt Swartz’s calculated $/WAR estimate for the 2014 season, you can find an amazing breakdown of the calculation here as well as a  breakdown of the second $/WAR calculation which is what Fangraphs uses.  Swartz comes to a calculation of $7.6 M/ fWAR and $7.7 M / rWAR, Fangraphs comes to ~$5.5M per WAR in their value calculations on their stat pages, though Cameron does contend that he thinks that $/WAR could shift more towards $7M per year, which is what we will use for our calculations.  There is a disparity here, and if you want to know the reason behind, go now and read Swartz’s piece.  So lets take all of our projections and plug them in with our $/WAR and find some surplus value.


Swartz $/WAR (7.7M/yr and 7.6M/yr)
Projection SystemWARAverage WAR (4 yr)Average WAR (5 yr)Total WAR (4 yr)Total WAR (5 yr)Surplus Value (4 yr)Surplus Value (5 yr)
Lose a YearbWAR4.173.8916.6819.4532.43639.765
Average 90%bWAR4.
Fangraphs $/WAR (7.0M/yr)
Projection SystemWARAverage WAR (4 yr)Average WAR (5 yr)Total WAR (4 yr)Total WAR (5 yr)Surplus Value (4 yr)Surplus Value (5 yr)
Lose a YearbWAR4.173.8916.6819.4520.7626.15
Average 90%bWAR4.

There is a lot of disparity here with results at 4 years ranging from 55+ wins of surplus value to -11.5 wins of surplus value.  As I will get to in the next piece on potential trades, that is a gap of more than Byron Buxton, which is a lot for teams to reconcile.  Given the large disparity here, there isn’t too much of a cohesive argument to make on a definitive value for Hamels, but in many ways that is the core of the debate.  We have almost no context for a player of Hamels’ caliber with a long term deal being available on the trade market, especially coupled with a rapid inflation in contracts as more money comes into the game.

Lets Leave WAR and Talk About the Player:

As we can see the numbers can tell a whole lot of different stories depending on how you want to manipulate them.  So lets look at what we do know. Here is Hamels’ average fastball velocity over his career.


The general trend for starting pitchers is that their fastball velocity will decline over time, in Hamels case it has been slowly increasing (he also threw the hardest pitch of his career in 2014).  It isn’t just the fastball, all of his pitches (except his cutter) have ticked up in velocity over recent years.  The start of the uptick began in 2010 when he added the cutter to his arsenal.  On top of the fastball, Hamels’ changeup continues to be rated one of the best in baseball and by pitching metrics is one of the Top 5 most valuable pitches on a per pitch basis.

So what has this velocity done for Hamels?  In 2014 his GB% went from 42.7% to 46.4% and his FB% went from 36.7% to 31.1%.  His BABIP still continues to be around .300 (.285 career and .295 the past two seasons), but what has happened is he has seen a steep decline in his HR/9 numbers and his HR/FB rate.  In turn his FIP continues to decline each year and he set a new personal best for ERA with a 2.46 in 2014.

After two mediocre starts coming off an injury this spring Cole Hamels from a pure R/9 perspective as the 3rd best LH SP in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.  From the eye test he was dominant in every start and was part of a combined no-hitter.  Additionally, since Hamels is left handed and has that elite changeup, many of predicted that he should age better than other pitchers who are more reliant on their fastball velocity and power stuff in order to succeed.

So How Does This all Fit Together:

It is all subjective and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something (including me).  You can manipulate the data to create a narrative, you can point to historical declines in pitcher velocity and effectiveness, and you can point to a dominant 2014 season.  The first part of any trade negotiation for Cole Hamels is going to be how he is valued.  It is pretty clear the Phillies see him as a true ace that has been one of the most consistently dominant pitchers in baseball since 2007.  If the other team doesn’t see him as that it is going to be difficult for the teams to see eye to eye here.  It may be that this trade doesn’t work for all organizations and their viewpoints, but the results of a trade if it happens could make us reevaluate the truths we have behind how we value a player of Hamels’ caliber.

Up next, making up trades for Hamels.

Photo by John Riviello

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.