Cole Hamels in Danger of Being Overworked

Cole Hamels has been the definition of a workhorse throughout his Phillies career. He’s tossed 200-plus innings in five out of his last six seasons, and that sixth was 183 1/3 innings in 2007. In 2008, Hamels logged 227 1/3 innings along with an additional 35 in the playoffs. If there’s one player to whom the term “overworked” wouldn’t apply, it would be Hamels.

Hamels, however, is now 30 years old and only a couple months removed from tendinitis in his left shoulder. Upon his return, manager Ryne Sandberg and Hamels’ own mediocre performance limited his workload, as he tossed 86, 106, and 98 pitches in his first three starts of the 2014 season. However, he threw 133 pitches in seven innings against the New York Mets on May 11. At the time, it was easy to understand why Hamels started the seventh inning even though he was already at 111 pitches — the bullpen was and still is wholly unreliable. It was no surprise when the ‘pen snuffed a two-run lead, allowing three in the bottom of the ninth inning for a walk-off loss in Queens.

Hamels’ work load in the next three starts wasn’t so bad: 90, 91, and 99 pitches, all seven-inning performances. Over his last two starts, though, Hamels has logged 125 pitches each time. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this chart shows how unprecedented that is for Hamels over his nine-year career:

The data:

Year # GS % of Starts
2006 0 23 0.0%
2007 0 28 0.0%
2008 1 33 3.0%
2009 0 32 0.0%
2010 1 33 3.0%
2011 1 31 3.2%
2012 1 31 3.2%
2013 0 33 0.0%
2014 3 9 33.3%

Despite having made around four fewer starts than his peers, Hamels leads all starters in a stat from Baseball Prospectus called Pitcher Abuse Points as well as in “stress”.

The Phillies still owe Hamels $96 million through 2018. This season is shot, so why risk damaging the most valuable part of the team going forward? If the Phillies contend at all in any of the next three years, it will be because of Hamels. No one wants to watch the bullpen any more than they have to, but it will be better for the team in the long run.

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