The calendar has turned over to March and it has been several weeks since Rangers pitchers and catchers first reported to Surprise, Arizona. Something that has been floated around as a possibility virtually all winter long for Texas has been entering the season using a six player starting rotation. The anchor of any potential structure of a Rangers rotation in 2018 is going to be Cole Hamels. After his first start of spring training on Saturday, the veteran pitcher made it known he is far from a fan of any such idea.
Hamels on the 6-man: “It’s not part of baseball. I know that’s the new, analytical side, trying to re-invent the wheel. … that’s just not what MLB is to me. That’s not how I learned from my mentors. That’s not the way I’m geared to pitch.”
— Gerry Fraley (@gfraley) March 3, 2018
There were more interesting quotes in an article from the Dallas Morning News’ Gerry Fraley:
“You throw in the six man, you might as well be in college. That’s what the college guys do, pitch once a week. Or go to Japan. You might feel physically sharper, but that’s not what you necessarily want all the time. You have to learn how to control your strength and aggression. Yes, it can be learned and taught. But I was not taught that way. I don’t think it’s appropriate for where I am at this stage.”
I’ve sat here and tried to think of the right way to express how these comments sit with me, a huge fan of Hamels since well before he arrived here in July 2015. The 34-year-old Hamels is obviously a great guy on and off the field. He and his wife run the incredibly charitable “The Hamels Foundation” and received a lot of praise for their generous donation of their Missouri mansion this winter to an organization that works with children with chronic illnesses and special needs.
Back on the baseball side, this stance by Hamels just strikes the wrong chord. He’s pitched in two World Series, winning one and winning the World Series MVP in 2008, and made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons with the Rangers. This is a guy that should be all about winning.
Frankly, manager Jeff Banister and the rest of the coaching staff and front office wouldn’t touch a six-man rotation with a ten foot pole if they didn’t think it would help the team win more games this season.
This stance by Hamels seems to be more out of concern of how it might affect him personally. The numbers don’t exactly back up any stance that an extra day of rest affects his performance in any major way. Normal rest (four days for a starting pitcher) has Hamels with a career 3.21 ERA and a 1.141 WHIP in 201 career starts. In 117 starts on five days rest (what Hamels might see a lot of the time with a six-man rotation if there aren’t off days that week), there’s only a slight change in his splits with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.162 WHIP.
His stats do take a significant dip when he gets six days of rest or more, but I would think the Rangers would likely pass on the sixth person in the rotation to get back to Hamels if there is a stretch in the schedule that features consecutive weeks with off days.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister said all the right things when asked by the press about his staff’s ace questioning the team’s potential approach to a starting rotation this season.
“There’s a lot of investment in him from myself and this organization. I love the fact that Cole continues to talk about it and explore it. We’ll continue to explore anything that’s going to help.”
Banister’s comments are right on the money with the team being in the position it’s in right now. The Rangers made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons as manager before the disappointing 78-84 result last season. The team understandably opted to go with a strength in numbers approach rather than breaking the bank on a risky investment in one of pitchers at the top of this past winter’s free agent class. The step now is to explore whatever possibilities can get this team back to where they want to be. That means the players need to be on board too.
After a 2017 season that was interrupted by injury and saw him post his highest career full season ERA mark of 4.20, it’s understandable that Cole Hamels wants to get back on the mound as soon as possible and as much as possible. A six man rotation might cost him a start or two over the course of a full season, but at the age of 34 and close to 2,400 career innings at the major league level, Hamels needs to put his pride aside and accept that a slight decrease in workload might not be the worst thing for him at this stage in his career.
If it helps him get back to the postseason sooner, there’s no doubt he’d take that.
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