Hamels Scare Should Provide A Lesson

I don’t brag about being right often; I prefer to let words speak for themselves. But I want to bring up the topic of unnecessary overuse of the starting pitching again to reinforce a point, because it’s very important* — at least, I think it is. Several times this year, Charlie Manuel has been criticized on this blog for some questionable decisions regarding the pitching staff. He redeemed himself recently, but I once again took umbrage with a Manuel decision during last night’s game against the Florida Marlins.

* Important inasmuch as anything about baseball can be deemed important.

The start of the game was delayed an hour and 15 minutes due to rain, meaning starters Cole Hamels and Chris Volstad had to make sure they stayed loose enough to take the mound later than they expected. Hamels was brilliant, holding the Marlins to one run and three hits through seven innings. Of the 99 pitches he threw, 17 of them caused batters to swing and miss (17 percent, a season-high), according to Brooks Baseball. Overall, he struck out six and walked one, while lowering his ERA to 2.49 and earning his ninth victory of the season.

Along with Hamels’ stellar performance came a surge of offense. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Domonic Brown combined for five home runs. The Phillies scored in every inning except the second and eighth. After the seventh, the Phillies were up 9-1. FanGraphs gave them a 0.3 percent chance to lose the game. The game was so over that the Marlins hadn’t faced a situation with a leverage index greater than 0.65 since the top of the fourth inning, when Logan Morrison led off with the score at 4-1.

Situations like that — eighth inning, up by eight runs — are why you have David Herndon on your roster. It is the typical spot for a mop-up reliever. In fact, if the Phillies had a slightly larger lead, using an infielder to pitch (ahem, Wilson Valdez) would have been justified.

A few weeks ago, I joined Spike Eskin and Chris Johnson on “What’s the Word?” on Phillies 24/7 HD radio. (You can listen to the entire segment here.) At the time, I had written two consecutive articles criticizing Manuel, so that was the basis of much of the discussion that morning. They asked for my thoughts on the risk-reward of pulling a pitcher too soon, to which I said, “I think you always err on the side of safety.”

Manuel did not err on the side of safety last night, as he sent Hamels back out to the mound for the eighth inning, to cinch that last 0.3 percent. On most nights, Hamels gets through the inning with little effort, and I look like a grouch on Twitter for whining about it. Unfortunately, the lack of caution last night came back to bite the Phillies. After walking Wes Helms to lead off the eighth, Hamels conferred with catcher Carlos Ruiz, then left the game with what would later be diagnosed as tightness in the middle of his back.

The good news is that Hamels is confident that he will make his next start — it is not a serious injury. It easily could have been, though, and it is a lesson to be learned for Manuel and anyone out there in the “rub some dirt on it” crowd. There is no reason to take unnecessary risks in mid-June with a division lead, and certainly not in the eighth inning of a game in which your team leads by eight runs.

Andrew Carnegie once said, “The wise man puts all his eggs in one basket and watches the basket.” The Phillies, who are paying a combined $67 million to their Opening Day starting rotation (40 percent of the team’s payroll), would be wise to watch their basket closely.

Hamels photo courtesy Ted Berg’s amazing “Embarrassing photos of Cole Hamels” gallery.