Use That Arm Delicately
The Phillies swept the Braves in Atlanta once again, carried by starter Cole Hamels, who went eight and two-thirds innings, struck out seven and only allowed one run courtesy a ninth-inning, two-out RBI double from Brian McCann. He was one out away from a complete game shut-out, and it was obvious that manager Charlie Manuel was going to let Hamels attempt to get it. Was it a good decision?
We know that managers make decisions based around the ability to achieve a statistic. This is especially evident with the save. Most managers will only use their closers to start the ninth inning with a lead of three or fewer runs per the save criteria in the MLB rulebook. Some managers like to give their pitchers the ability to get that “CG SO” at the risk of throwing more pitches than necessary, putting strain on the pitcher’s arm and increasing the risk of injury.
Cole Hamels has had a colorful injury history, and if he goes the entire 2008 season without getting injured, it will be his first. Last season, Hamels averaged 99.6 pitches per start; it was nearly 102 before he got injured in mid-August. Looking over his 2007 game logs, here are the breakdowns for his pitch counts in his 28 starts:
Fewer than 100: 10 (36%)
100-109: 7 (25%)
110-116: 11 (39%)
Hamels is averaging 104 pitches per start this season. Here are the breakdowns for his 18 starts this season:
Fewer than 100: 5 (28%)
100-109: 6 (33%)
110-119: 4 (22%)
120-125: 3 (17%)
Going into his start in Atlanta, Hamels ranked 13th among all Major League starters in Pitcher Abuse Points, a statistic formulated by Baseball Prospectus that is, based on the title, self-explanatory. The 125 pitches needed in his eight and two-thirds innings against the Braves aren’t going to make Manuel’s use of Hamels look any better.
Thankfully, Manuel was smart enough to remove Hamels once the possibility of a shut-out was gone and didn’t keep him in just because there was only one out left.
Hamels is scheduled to make two more starts before the All-Star break — on the 8th vs. St. Louis and on the 13th vs. Arizona — and we have to hope that Manuel wises up between now and then regarding his use of Hamels. With Brett Myers pitching in Triple AAA and J.A. Happ subsequently taking his place at least for now, a 45-year-old Jamie Moyer, a thus far lucky Kyle Kendrick, and perennial underachiever Adam Eaton in the rotation, the Phillies can’t afford to lose Hamels to injury or to have him pitching at a lower level simply because Manuel wanted him to get some extra notations in his line score.