Shouldering the Load

twitter.com/JSalisburyCSN/status/289414094367367168

If you’re like me, seeing that tweet pop on your timeline last week was like sending a bolt of lightning through your chest. “Shoulder issue” and “Hamels” appearing in the same sentence is almost as frightening as the Three Scariest Words; those being “Dr. James Andrews.”

Everything seems alright, though. Ruben Amaro says he’s fine. We’re guessing Scott Sheridan is optimistic. Cole Hamels himself will probably tell you all is well and there’s no need for concern. On that, I’ll continue to hold my breath, but as for the comment that Hamels felt some of this discomfort toward the end of last season, was there any noticeable change?

To the eye test, I personally don’t recall Hamels looking adversely affected. The numbers seem to bear that out: a 3.32 ERA in 38 September innings with 44 strikeouts against seven walks are not typically the figures of an injured pitcher. He wasn’t given the Mark Prior treatment, either, throwing 110 pitches at most and fewer than 100 three times that month.

Of intrigue, though, is the note that Hamels’s overall fastball velocity dropped for the third consecutive season in 2012, down to 90.9 MPH from 91.2 in 2011 and 91.7 in 2010. September ’12 was also, on the whole, one of Cole’s slowest fastball months of the year, but no much slower than April that the concern pot should be stirred. Those same P f/x tables show that Cole’s FB movement hasn’t flattened out, either, so despite an uptick in line drives allowed against it, fewer fastballs left the yard for the ever-damaging dinger.

Above, we see graphical representations of Hamels’s horizontal (left) and vertical (right) release points, as documented over the years. The vertical graph shows little difference, but take a look at the horizontal graph on the left. At some point during the season (these graphs aren’t specifically detailed, unfortunately), Hamels reverted back to a release point more like 2011, slightly more three-quarter than over-the-top. While it’s not possible to tell given these tools exactly when this changeover occurred, there’s no clear statistical indicator (in terms of performance) that demarcates a noticeable change; Hamels was pretty consistent year-round.

I’m led to believe the front office when they say this issue is minor. At least, it’d better be.

Nothing Wrong with Depth Signings

The Phillies recently signed pitchers Aaron Cook and Juan Cruz, and have shown interest in infielder Ryan Theriot according to Jon Heyman. Cook has a 5.54 in 318.2 innings since 2010. Cruz had been an effective reliever with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 and the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, despite a high walk rate. Theriot has been on back-to-back World Series champion teams: the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and the San Francisco Giants last year, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of actual value. The duo of pitchers are the 11th and 12th non-roster invitees to spring training.

The Cook signing and interest in Theriot in particular have drawn the ire of Phillies fans, annoyed that the team’s biggest moves have been trades for a slap-hitting center fielder (Ben Revere) and an over-the-hill third baseman (Michael Young). The signings, though, don’t reveal anything about the team’s intentions; they are simply very low-risk gambles that are commonplace at this time of the off-season. Last spring, the Phillies opened up shop in Clearwater giving tryouts to Scott Elarton, Dave Bush, Joel Pineiro, Scott Podsednik, and Lou Montanez, among others. None of them ended up contributing to the Major League team.

Kevin Frandsen did. Frandsen was one of the many non-roster invitees and he turned out to be a great find, so much so that he was slotted in as the Phillies’ starting third baseman for 2013 until they traded for Michael Young. Jeremy Horst, another non-roster invitee (acquired in the Wilson Valdez trade), ended up being a key contributor to last season’s team as well, finishing with a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings.

The odds of a non-roster invitee helping out the way Frandsen and Horst did are very slim, but that’s why teams invite upwards of ten and commit little in terms of money, both guaranteed and non-guaranteed. You never know if a veteran, with the motivation of extending his career in any way possible, might have made some improvements during the winter. Since the risk is almost non-existent, the Phillies’ recent signings of Cook and Cruz, and their interest in Theriot can only be good things.