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Cole Hamels might be better off in a six-man rotation

Despite his protestations against a six-man rotation, and an appeal to tradition, Cole Hamels has performed better when given extra time between starts
Credit: Jerome Miron
Feb 21, 2018; Surprise, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) poses for a photo during media day at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, hello there!

I know it's been awhile since you've seen my words on your screen. Boy a lot sure has happened since I played the role of rebellious proletariat, screaming at the ivory skyscrapers of upper crust billionaires about field turf.

That was almost two whole months ago. Since then, the Rangers didn't sign Yu Darvish (Boo!) but did sign Bartolo Colon (Yay!). They didn't sign Jake Arrieta (still might, but Yay!), did sign Tim Lincecum (Yay?), and apparently will eventually sign Julio Pablo Martinez (Yay!).

Now spring is here, players have taken up residence in Florida and Arizona gearing up for the new season. Meaningful games are still a month out, but until then we'll gorge ourselves on seeing players like *checks Spring Training roster frantically* Ronald Herrera, Juan Centeno, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa play inning after inning.

Beggars can't be choosers. Baseball fanatics have been itching since Houston won in November. Mix that with an abnormally slow/collusion-y off season, and there's been reason enough to wait for sun drenched games full of hopefuls and also-rans.

Then, like a beacon from the heavens came down a surprise from...well Surprise.

After a pedestrian start Cole Hamels spoke to reporters post game and oh dear reader, look at what he said when asked about the six-man rotation.

“'It's uhhh… it's not part of baseball.'

“I know that's the new analytical side of trying to reinvent the wheel,” Hamels continued matter-of-factly, “but I was brought up in the minor leagues on the five-man. That's what I've designed and conditioned for. That's the mental side of how you prepare, how you get ready for games, how you condition your body. (When) you throw in the six-man, you might as well be in college (…) or go to Japan. That's just not what MLB is to me, that's now how I learned from my mentors, and that's not the type of way that I'm here to pitch.”

Hamels says more, we'll get there, but let's start with this. In his prolonged way, Hamels is breaking out an oldie but goodie rhetorical device of “Well this is how I/we have always done it, that's how it needs to be done.”

It doesn't feel like I need to debunk that line of thinking, but because I feel like it here's a non-comprehensive list of things that MLB did things the way they always did we'd be without. Not how they are right now, because the league is different than it was in 1903. Here's what you wouldn't see:

  • The designated hitter
  • Night games
  • Televised games
  • Indoor stadiums
  • Black people (And Latinos, Asians, you get the idea right?)

Aside from arguing that one of those things is largely missing already, the fact of the matter is letting anything solely be governed by “Well we've always done it this way” is nonsensical and not worth entertaining more than it has been in this article. It's just not.

With that swept aside, let's move on to this part of Hamel's comments:

“It can turn into a seven-day—even though it could be a six-man rotation—it could turn a seven-day (with days off), and that's what I don't think any of us are comfortable with, because …that's college right there. And I've never prepared for that, never had to learn that, and to learn it this late, and where I am? Yes, maybe if I was 40 trying to still hang on, I'll do anything (they) want, but…” he trails off.

A fair assessment of the situation is that not only does Hamels not WANT a six-man rotation, in his own mind he doesn't NEED one. That he's good the way he is, changing that would be a bad idea, that the way it's always been is optimal.

Let's focus in on the core idea, that Texas will be using six different starting pitchers. That means on average, each starter will get five days off between starts. Sure you'll have days off that'll change the timeline, but the overall situation will be five days off. So that's what we're operating under.

In his career Cole Hamels has made 201 career starts on four days rest, 117 on five days rest. That means Hamels' preferred method of pitching will have the higher sample size, but 100 plus major league starts feels more than enough to make a cursory judgment on a hypothesis.

What follows are career numbers for Hamels on four days, followed by five days:

ERA: 3.21 to 3.31

WHIP: 1.41 to 1.62

SO/9: 8.6 to 8.3

OPS allowed: .672 to .670

SLG allowed: .382 to .376

OBP allowed: .294 to .286

While the pitching numbers are higher, the hitting numbers are lower, and both fluctuations are small enough to make the conclusion that in his career Hamels is roughly the same pitcher he's always been regardless of rest.

Of course, there's a small flaw in this.

These numbers are largely based on a previous version of Hamels, not the one that exists now. It's not fair to base the 2018 image of Hamels on the picture painted largely by a version of him that's younger and better.

To that end let's shrink our sample size, making it 2015 to present. That's three years, 88 total starts, and most important all of them over the age of 30. Those numbers, while less numerous than everything from 22 on, are more accurate to the pitcher that Hamels is today. That matters, since that's the player who will be either helped or hurt from a potential six-man rotation.

Let's start in 2015, looking at again stats starting on four days rest moving to five days:

ERA: 3.61 to 2.31

WHIP: 1.117 to 1.000

SO/9: 9.5 to 9.0

OPS allowed: .655 to 5.77

SLG allowed: .357 to .313

OBP allowed: .298 to .264

Now 2016, his first full year in Texas:

ERA: 3.65 to 3.30

WHIP: 1.396 to 1.229

SO/9: 9.1 to 8.9

OPS allowed: .719 to .698

SLG allowed: .390 to .388

OBP allowed: .328 to .310

2017 now, his worst year as a pro baseball player:

ERA: 4.72 to 2.20

WHIP: 1.264 to 0.980

SO/9: 6.2 to 7.7

OPS allowed: .757 to .532

SLG allowed: .436 to .265

OBP allowed: .320 to .267

There's something about the 2017 numbers that we need to explore, but overall a fair conclusion to draw is that Cole Hamels since 2015 has been better on five days rest than four days. That this thing he publicly and unequivocally rejected is something from which he has benefited since he crossed over the 30 year bridge.

The numbers last year are particularly jarring, and there's a reason for that. Hamels only made 24 starts in 2017 due to his injury, only five of those coming on five days rest. So, what we have in that regard is a smaller sample size than we would want.

I'm not as concerned about that as I normally would be. Part of that is the other years, where a more normal workload showed his numbers improving with increased rest giving me confidence that this trend is worth treating as valid.

The other is that if Texas goes to a six-man rotation, keeping Hamels on five days rest, he would start less just by common sense. Less starts means theoretically Hamels could let loose in those reduced outings, instead of managing over a longer season. Which means that Hamels could treat it almost like a starter who converts to reliever, just on a larger scale.

He could cut it loose more, put more into the starts that he has. He'd have less wear and tear on his body, while giving it more time to recover. For a player only getting older and coming off a year hampered by injury, that all seems like a win.

Maybe Hamels doesn't know he's better with more rest. I would find that hard to believe, considering that with all the information out there, both from the team and independent sources. In this day and age, I'd go so far as to say if you don't know these things about yourself it's a detriment. For an older player, anything that can help you maximize your talent and body should be used.

I don't think it's that. I hope it's not at least, because it'd be disappointing. In my mind, this is Hamels' pride poking through.

He's coming off his worst year as a pro, a year where he missed time due to an injury which for him NEVER happens. By his comments, the comments of his manager, his teammates, the organization, and his check every two weeks he's expected to be the lead starter on this team. Now more than ever, since the only starter on the team better than him is gone.

Enjoy Chicago, Yu. Miss you buddy.

Inside the head of Hamels, there's a chance that by endorsing the idea of an expanded rotation, he's copping out. That it would give the appearance that he's not a workhorse, that he's happy to work less for his money and happy to take what would be considered by some as the easy road.

Which would make sense, because nothing else does. The basic rhetorical idea of what he said holds no water, and the numbers back up that he'd be better with less starts and more rest. The only option left is Hamels projecting a gladiator-style self image in the interest of maintaining the facade that he's still tough and hasn't lost his step.

If that should be the case, allow me to drop a quote from Marcellus Wallace.

“Pride only hurts, it never helps.”

Texas doesn't need a Cole Hamels concerned about anything except being the best Cole Hamels he can be every time he takes the hill. He seems to think that the best him is on four days, whereas I'd argue that's more just what he's familiar with and been conditioned to think. Hamels' rant is the result of a baked in mindset inflexible to change and newness.

The reality is Hamels isn't getting any younger, and judging by his overall numbers he's not getting any better. If there's a chance of latching onto anything that prolongs the window of good/great Cole Hamels, nobody should want that more than him.

Do you think the Rangers have the personnel to experiment with a six-man rotation or should they stick with a more traditional staff? Share your thoughts on the rotation with Samuel on Twitter @thesamuelhale.