Braves 2020 Player Review: Cole Hamels

Truth be told, I’ve probably spent more time producing this review than Cole Hamels has actually spent pitching for the Atlanta Braves. That makes evaluating his time with the team both tricky and incredibly easy at the same time.

Hamels signed with the Braves on December 4, 2019, on a one-year deal worth $18 million before COVID-19 shortened the season and prorated salaries across the league. That made him one of Atlanta’s largest acquisitions of the offseason, along with Marcell Ozuna and Will Smith.

Unfortunately, the bad news began not long after that. Essentially as soon as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in February, manager Brian Snitker announced that Hamels had hurt his shoulder and would not be available for at least three more weeks. Information got understandably dicey from there as to when the veteran lefthander would be available, but it was pretty clear that Hamels was not going to be ready anywhere close to the original Opening Day.

But that didn’t really matter, since the season didn’t actually start until four months or so later than originally planned. Except, Hamels wasn’t ready then, either.

In fact, the 36-year-old didn’t pitch for the Braves until September 16. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles, surrendering three runs on three hits and a walk with two strikeouts. The last out he recorded was a rocket off the bat of Renato Nunez, and his night was done after 52 pitches. That wasn’t too far off the mark of what the team was shooting for that night, essentially regarded as a Spring Training start of sorts to ramp up to the playoffs, so it wasn’t seen as a real setback.

However, that was all Hamels would pitch in the 2020 season. Just a few days later, he was scratched from a start against the Miami Marlins and was done for the season.

Now it would be easy to call the Cole Hamels deal merely “one of those things” in baseball. The Braves signed a veteran player to a usually risk-free, one-year deal, and it didn’t pan out. No way to avoid that, right?

In fact, it’s easy to see why the Braves would be drawn to Hamels. From his years in Philadelphia, they knew how devastating he can be on the mound. Furthermore, he got off to an incredible start in 2019 for the Chicago Cubs, posting a 2.98 ERA and 1.20 WHIP before an oblique injury on June 28. If you stop the tape there, you see plenty of evidence that Hamels had at least one more good year in him.

The tape doesn’t stop there, though.

After he returned from injury on Aug. 3, 2019, Hamels pitched just 42 innings in his last 10 starts of the season. In those starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP with opposing hitters averaging .315 with a .903 OPS. The eight homers he allowed over that time period works out to a 1.71 average per nine innings, well above his career average of 1.1.

Perhaps most damning in hindsight, though, were his remarks to NBC Sports Chicago, which were published the day before he signed in Atlanta. He was addressing his poor finish to the season and told reporter Chuck Garfien his shoulder was at least partially to blame for his struggles.

Then trying to come back, I knew that I needed to be back there because I was doing so well and so after healing up and not throwing a ball for almost 18 days, I rushed back into my throwing program and I was just never able to get my shoulder the right strength.

Hamels

Now, I’m not a MLB general manager, and I will most likely never be hired to fill that role. But when I saw how Hamels finished the year in Chicago after an injury, I had huge reservations about paying him $18 million to pitch in Atlanta. The numbers alone, coupled with the fact that he already had 14 seasons and more than 2,600 innings on that left arm, were enough to make me wonder if we had already seen the beginning of the end for Hamels.

So it’s not really hindsight, especially when the above assessment from the man himself was already public knowledge, to say that leaning on Hamels to fill a rotation spot was much riskier than the usual one-year deal. He outright said that the oblique injury was already wreaking havoc on the rest of his body, something that isn’t likely to get better at this stage of his career. It never felt like a great move, and the actual worst-case scenario played out in terms of on-field results.

A lot has been made about Hamels’ potential impact on the club, particularly young pitchers like Max Fried, that extends beyond the stat line. That sounds great and all, but according to many reports, he wasn’t even present at the initial Spring Training. Further, pitching coaches don’t make $18 million, and Josh Tomlin reportedly played a similar role for A.J. Minter and Kyle Wright at a fraction of the cost.

The starting pitching issues for the Braves are well-documented, and they don’t stop with Hamels. But when the other options at the start of the year included Fried and Mike Soroka as the only real locks, followed by Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright and Felix Hernandez, the team was set up in a way that they really needed Hamels to be at least reliable.

So the best hope going forward for the Braves is that they’ll exercise a little more caution in these one-year deals, particularly for veteran pitchers. Sometimes the writing is already on the wall, and the opportunity cost of filling a roster spot with a man who will never really help the team can be great.

18 thoughts on “Braves 2020 Player Review: Cole Hamels”

  1. Chief Nocahoma:
    December 3, 2020 at 7:47 pm
    A BJ thought exercise…

    Y or N on the following players on HOF at the end of their careers.

    Freddie Freeman
    Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Ozzie Albies
    Mike Soroka

    Just Y or N please.

    I’ll go
    Y, Y, N, N

    Albies and Soroka into the HOVG.

    Big D:
    December 3, 2020 at 9:18 pm
    I’ll be optimistic. Y, Y, N, Y

    Acuna for HOF:
    December 3, 2020 at 11:44 pm Edit
    N,Y,N,N

    I hope Freeman makes it. A lot of players face declines in their 30s that seem more abrupt that expected earlier and Freddie could decline by an expected amount, still be a great player for a long time, and still come up short. I think he will be hurt by playing 1B. I have to vote yes on Acuna based on my account name! Though I think he has the best shot. Just a lot of time to generate good counting stats. I would vote no on any young pitcher given the likely wide array of possible career trajectories.

    tdsays:
    December 3, 2020 at 11:55 pm
    The Braves are scheduled to play the Dodgers on Sunday, June 6, 2021 in Atlanta. Anyone want to predict the winning pitcher with any degree of certainty? At this point in their careers I think you can predict the HOF inclusion for Acuna, Albies, and Soroka with about the same degree of certainty. I think the speculation on the HOF candidacy for Freeman is starting to get interesting, but the other guys need a few more years.

    Alex Remington (Another Alex R.)says:
    December 4, 2020 at 12:03 am
    Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y,Y

    Timo says:
    December 4, 2020 at 2:52 am
    @22 so funny you are mentioning the Dodgers game in June 6 – I have booked a flight last week to watch the Dodgers weekend series. So, I can happily predict that the Braves will beat the Dodgers with Smyly being the winning pitcher.

    YYYN

    JamesD84 says:
    December 4, 2020 at 7:24 am
    I don’t think any of them has a 50% HOF chance right now, so NNNN, unfortunately. Acuna looks to have the best chance, but injuries worry me for his long-term prospects. Adding up all the <50% chances, I expect that one of the four will make it.

    Nick says:
    December 4, 2020 at 9:34 am
    YNNN

    People are assuming way too much on Acuna, and there really isn’t a whole lot to indicate that either Albies or Soroka will, at this point.

    Freeman’s MVP has put him over the line for me right now, though his chances aren’t that much over 50-50.

  2. Great write-up.

    I liked Hamels at $18M for one year when it happened. What I didn’t know was his health, so I’m not sure what the Braves knew or didn’t know about Hamels’ health that made them shell out that kind of money and essentially be left with nothing. It’s one thing to throw money at an aging hurler who loses his effectiveness; it’s another to bring a guy in from free agency who seemed to have not been healthy the whole time.

    Very frustrating, and essentially a mistake that led to us not winning a World Series. I feel like the addage “there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal” sort of goes out the window when you spend 1/7 of your payroll on a 37-year old with an injury history, and he proceeds to continue his injury history. Morton is a much better bet to at least be a league average starter, at least.

  3. I know this isn’t most of y’all’s thing and that is normal. I, however, am not normal and for our Weekend thread, I’ve posed a question to social media and Jeremy Timmerman and I will discuss each scenario. So, if you can find some Christmas Spirit, comment your proposal below.

  4. At 23 Ozzie already has the beginnings of a good HOF case. Only 1 HOF player on his most similar list (Lazzerri) but his comps begin at 940 which indicates he is already unique to a great degree. I fully expect a run of 5+ WAR seasons in the next few years.

  5. The challenge, Ryan, is to find a team that actually can find a use for Ender. I will assume that no team needs him as a starter in center, so we will assume he would fill a platoon corner position/4th outfielder role.
    The candidates:
    Snakes — they have 2 MLB quality outfielders (David Peralta and Cole Calhoun) although Peralta is injury prone. The kids they played last year were…not good. Trade is Ender and AJ and $2M for Julio Frias (LHP at A ball)
    Pirates — They have less than nothing in the outfield. Trade is Ender and $4M for Gregory Polanco and Jared Oliva (4th outfielder). This lets the buccos off the hook for $ owed on Polanco while we net a decent 4th outfielder.
    The humane society — return is some furball while they are just looking for someone who can roll over.
    Beethoven — this joke might just be getting old…

  6. The joke is definitely getting old and so is Ender on this team. I’ll refrain from future Ender trade pieces after this weekend’s. That’s a Braves Journal promise.

    It’s a long offseason, fellas, and I’m all ears on idears.

  7. That would help. Also trade for Matt Chapman and resign Marcell. DH is inevitable, don’t you think?

  8. Back on the HoF discussion–it’s true that none of our guys has a better than a 50% chance of making it. Freddie is on pace, but only if his next 10 years can be as productive as his first 10 years. Very few players are as good through their 30’s as they are through their 20’s, although his closest comp, Eddie Murray was. I think Freddie has a better chance than most of pulling that off.

    Ronald, Ozzie, and Soroka are simply two young to project. The HoF requires longevity, and too much can go wrong over the next decade. But it’s their youth that makes their HoF prospects intriguing. It’s pretty remarkable to have three such talents 23 and younger. As snowshine points out, Albies is in a position to put together several great seasons in a row. Acuna even more so. And if Soroka can stay healthy, he can be pretty special.

    We are very fortunate to have these four guys. And as Rob has reminded us, they are also very fun and easy to root for.

  9. This is off topic but because there are so many music afficionado’s on this site I’ll ask this question.
    Why do the Kinks get so little love as one of the best rock n roll bands of all time? Been listening to a lot of their stuff recently.

  10. Great band! I nearly lost my hearing after sitting up front at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta when they played there for their “Superman” tour in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Seriously, my ears were ringing for a couple of days. I’ve always thought that “Stop Your Sobbing” was an underrated song.

  11. Something Else by the Kinks is an absolutely unbelievable album, one of my favorites ever. Lola, Village Green Preservation Society, Arthur, that band had a ton of great albums.

  12. Funny, I have really gotten into the Kinks this pandemic. So much great music, and Beer, out there, had some time to actually appreciate some of it.

  13. The Kinks were brilliant. They practically invented punk in 1965 with You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, and Tired of Waiting. And Ray Davies’ satiric sense and humor are unmatched: Lola, Sunny Afternoon, Well Respected Man.
    They may not be as famous as the Beatles, the Stones, or the Who, but they are in the same league.

  14. Hamels knew he was injured and cashed in anyway. Didn’t even bother after that to help mentor the kids. Douche.

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