2021 MLB Free Agents: Cole Hamels Will Find a Home

Among this year’s list of 2021 MLB Free Agents is veteran lefty pitcher Cole Hamels. Hamels is drawing interest from several teams according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman:

Hamels is entering his age 37 season and his 16th year of Major League Baseball. But this year is coming after a season where he battled injury and only made one appearance that lasted a mere 3-1/3 innings. However, signing Cole Hamels could help impact a club both on and off the field.

2021 MLB Free Agents: The Cole Hamels of Days Past

Cole Hamels has had quite a career. A four-time All-Star over the course of 10 years, the World Series MVP back in 2008, and seven straight seasons eclipsing the 200 innings pitched mark, Hamels from 2006 to 2016 was a guy any club would have loved to have in their starting rotation.

During 2017 with the Rangers, Hamels’ 200 inning streak came to an end, and the first year that Hamels didn’t post at least 3 fWAR since his rookie year in 2006. This regression was due to a strained right oblique muscle which sidelined Hamels for eight weeks.

The first half of 2018 saw Hamels struggle, pitching 114-1/3 innings for the Rangers to the tune of a 4.72 ERA and a 5.20 FIP. But just before the trade deadline in late July, the Rangers traded Hamels to the Cubs, and the change of scenery did him good. In 76-1/2 innings for the Cubs in 2018, Hamels dropped his HR/FB% almost a whole 10% and posted a 2.36 ERA and a 3.42 FIP. 

In 2019, the Cubs kept Hamels’ workload low, having him start 27 games but only pitching 141 ⅔ innings. Still, he was more than a serviceable starter, posting a K% above 9 for the first time since 2015 and accumulating 2.5 fWAR.

Hamels signed with the Braves for the 2020 season, but as referenced before, he battled injury all year and only made one appearance over 3 ⅓ innings. Still, the leadership and mentorship Hamels brought to the locker room and starting rotation was invaluable. 

The Braves ace pitcher of 2020, Max Fried, has long been compared to Cole Hamels. In an interview with the Associated Press, Fried made mention of wanting to pick Hamels’ brain and help improve his changeup, and Hamels stated that it’s “only fair that he share knowledge from his long career”. 

The mentorship of Fried worked. In 2019, according to Baseball Savant, Fried’s changeup gave up a batting average against of .400, a slugging percentage of 1.300, and a wOBA of .669. In 2020, those numbers drastically improved with a batting average against of .200, a slugging percentage of .200 (singles only club), and a wOBA of .174.

2021 MLB Free Agents: Cole Hamels Is Still Valuable

The 2020 season was the only time in 15 seasons that Hamels didn’t reach at least 100 innings pitched, and his failed rehab could be in part due to the COVID shortened season where we saw Spring Training start and stop, take time off, and start again. Had Hamels had access to the training staff for a full nine months after the pitchers and catchers report, his 2020 performance on the field could have looked very different.

Hamels is obviously not the pitcher he used to be, but he could still prove extremely valuable to teams as one of the 2021 MLB Free Agents. A team looking for a veteran to eat innings and help young pitchers should be more than willing to take a flier on Hamels.

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Garrett Allen
Garrett Allen is a recent college graduate from Valdosta State University and is now pursuing a Masters of Science in Strategic Sports Analytics at the California University of Pennsylvania. Born and raised in Georgia, he is an avid Braves fan and has a particular interest in prospect development.

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