Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cole Hamels - Part II

Cole Hamels - Part I

So as far as I can tell there are three critical factors above all else that come in to play when debating the merits of a Cole Hamels promotion: 1) how will the promotion impact him physically?, 2) simple question, but is he ready to pitch important innings at the big league level?, and 3) Who gets bumped from the rotation to make room for him?

The question of health, injuries, and durability is beyond me – back issues aside, I see no other major red flags in his injury past that would make me doubt he can remain as healthy pitching in the big leagues as he has been healthy thus far in the minors. Aside from him potentially breaking his left humerus again, which can happen anywhere at anytime…we know by now that this risk has been there since they drafted him and will never go away, so I have little concern about any adverse effects big league pitching (as opposed to minor league pitching) will have on his health. Again, I say that the question of health is really beyond me – believe it or not, I’m no medical expert so take what I say like you would with anything a hack like me rambles on about.

Is Cole Hamels ready to pitch for a contending team in the big leagues?

All signs (and stats) point to a big yes. I happen to think he is ready right now, but would only call him up this instant if the big league club truly needed him. Does the big league club truly need him? Debatable. The pitching was terrible in the early going of the season and Madson and Floyd’s struggles were a big part of it. That being said, I’m inclined to stick with the beleaguered duo for three more starts (giving them each 8 total on the year) before casting either aside. Perhaps a closer look at Hamels’ minor league numbers will provide some insight about his readiness – I’ve separated big league quality guys (highly subjective move on my part) from the rest of the AAA lineups that Hamels has faced. There is also the team OPS rate for the opponents:

First start at AAA: April 27 – Norfolk:
Lastings Milledge (top prospect), Victor Diaz (big league caliber hitter): 1-7, BB, 3 K

Second start at AAA: May 2 – Richmond:
Tony Pena (big league experience, future backup), Brayan Pena (big league experience, future backup): 0-7, 2 K

The lineups of these two teams are pretty terrible. Norfolk currently as a team OPS of .582. Richmond has a team OPS of .631. They rank last and second to last in those categories respectively. On the plus side, of the four players I’ve highlighted as big league quality (either in the past, present, or future), Hamels has more than held his own (they are a combined 1-14, with 5 K, and 1 BB).

How does the current minor league schedule look assuming Hamels sticks around?

May 7 – Syracuse: Jason Phillips (big league caliber), John Hattig (impressive AAAA player), Sergio Santos (once a top prospect aiming for redemption), John-Ford Griffin (similar story as Santos’, but now too old to be a prospect)

Syracuse ranks fourth to last in OPS as a team (.664).

May 12 – Ottawa: Fernando Tatis (former big leaguer), Val Majewski (future backup)

Ottawa ranks third to last in OPS as team (.656).

May 17 – Rochester: Shawn Wooten (former big leaguer), Terry Tiffee (future big league bench guy), Jason Bartlett (should be the Twins everyday shortstop), Jason Tyner (former big leaguer), Jason Kubel (Twins most advanced hitting prospect coming off of injury)

Rochester is sixth (out of 14) in team OPS (.718)

May 23 – Indianapolis: Brad Eldred, Jose Bautista, Rajai Davis (all three guys are useful prospects mishandled over the years in the Pittsburgh system)

May 28 – Louisville: Matt Kata, Alex Sanchez, Terrence Long [EDIT: Long has since been released], Cody Ross (all four [EDIT: three] guys are former big leaguers)

Indianapolis and Louisville rank eighth and ninth in team OPS (.699 for Indy, .695 for Louisville).

What does that all mean?

It means that in Cole Hamels first four AAA starts, he just so happens to face off against the four worst hitting teams in the league. This is surely no coincidence and the Phillies should be commended for handling his promotion to AAA perfectly. His most difficult test figures to be the Rochester game on May 17th – their lineup has five quality hitters with major league experience. After that start, Hamels will have five AAA games under his belt and won’t be scheduled to pitch again until May 23rd. Here’s how the Phillies rotation looks up until that date:

May 5: Floyd
May 6: Madson
May 7: Lieber
May 9: Myers
May 10: Lidle
May 11: Floyd
May 12: Madson
May 13: Lieber
May 14: Myers
May 16: Lidle
May 17: Floyd
May 18: Madson
May 19: Lieber
May 20: Myers
May 21: Lidle
May 23: ?

I think May 23, 2006 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium will be the date of Cole Hamels first major league game. Following this course of action would give the Phillies three more opportunities to see Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd pitch before making a decision on which young starter could potentially be moved in favor of Hamels. Moving Madson to the bullpen and Hamels to the rotation may be the move that is best for the team in the short-term, but the long-term impact on giving up on Madson as a starter and yo-yoing him back to the bullpen could create severe negative feelings. Moving Floyd to make room for Hamels could have an equally troubling long term effect – Floyd would be sent to Triple-A before even being considered for a big league bullpen spot…can the Phillies really afford to risk screwing with their old top prospect’s head with a demotion just to accommodate the new top youngster? This is a complicated matter (well, complicated for baseball anyway) that will be very interesting to see play out – the next three starts (my own number, could be more or could be less) will be huge in determining the fates of three of the Phillies top young pitchers.

For the record, the fact that I happen to have tickets to the Mets-Phils game at Shea on the 23rd is merely an extremely lucky coincidence...


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