SDI Debate – Hamels or Greinke

The following is a debate between Dan Allsup (Shutdown Inning writer) and Peter Ellwood (Shutdown Inning writer) about one possible move we may see the Texas Rangers make in the offseason between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

 
Dan:

If the Rangers have the opportunity next winter to offer a long-term contract (of the 5 year, $110 million variety) to free-agents to be Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke, who do you give it to?

I say Cole Hamels.

Hamels is left-handed, 28 years-old, and a World Series MVP. I am not an advocate for really pushing playoff stats, as they provide small sample sizes and fluctuate with every start. However, Hamels makes it hard to overlook. Hamels has 13 career playoff starts, winning 7 of those decisions, with a 3.09 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

Those numbers are just slightly lower than the services Hamels provides over the 162 game grind. He has averaged 31 games started (minus his rookie year) per year, in which he has accumulated a career 3.39 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Also worth noting, he’s a control freak, as in he’s punched out 3-4 times as many guys as he has walked.

One of the greatest abilities Hamels brings to the table is his consistency. The high and low tides in his numbers are not a wide variation. Basically, Hamels alternates between being awesome or really, really good. And as we all know, left-handers typically fair better than right-handers in the ‘Temple’.

Hamels should also be an excellent fit in the Rangers clubhouse. He and his wife have a charity foundation, like a few other Rangers do on the team. He’s a similar age of many of the guys on the team. It would be an ideal scenario to add Cole Hamels to the rotation.

Greinke or Hamels would be an excellent addition to the Rangers. But, the stats, make-up, character and playoff success all tend to favor Hamels, in my opinion.

Peter:

I really like this imaginary world we’ve entered into where we get to hand-pick who we want to be the 2013 Opening Day starter for the Texas Rangers. I’m not sure if the Rangers sign either of these players in the 2012-13 offseason, but you know that they will be in the running for both of them.

I am not at all opposed to the choice of Cole Hamels. You can make a strong case for him being the better option, and you wouldn’t even need to dip into the “intangibles” that you’ve mentioned. His career ERA, WHIP, and K/9 are all extraordinary. And, as you said, he is left-handed, which is a plus. He also gets a higher rate of ground balls than Greinke, which is always important in the Rangers ballpark.

As you’ve said, Hamels is very consistent. He’s the safer bet. I favor Greinke because I see a much higher upside.

Hamels is, and always has been, a number two or number three starter on a solid rotation. Just like C.J. Wilson was, if Hamels is your Opening Day starter, he is your default “ace”, not a true “ace”. I think the Rangers are at that point in a franchise’s competitive level where they need a true “ace”.

Greinke has the abilities and the tools to be that ace starter. He has demonstrated this in his career. In 2009, on his way to the AL Cy Young, he put together one of the greatest pitching seasons we have seen this century (2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.5 K/9). In 2011, after recovering from an injury that limited him in May/June, he put up a 2.82 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 10.0 K/9 in July – October; once again showing his ability to be a dominant ace.

Both pitchers are the same age, and have about the same amount of wear and tear on their arms. If I’m going to invest a 5-year/$110 million type of contract in one of them, I want to put it into the guy who can be more than just my #1 starter. I want to invest that in the guy who could be my ace.

Dan:

I understand the point that Greinke has had the more impressive singular season. But ceiling? These guys are 28, they are what they are. Hamels is a consistent, borderline ‘Ace’. Greinke is regularly a notch below Hamels, with some flashes of being brilliant.

If we are hand-picking the Rangers number one starter for 2013-2017 I would pick Hamels over Greinke in fear that Greinke’s abilities and production would slip in that five year period. Greinke has a scatter-plot for his career WAR totals, while Hamels is typically in the 4-5 WAR range.

Greinke’s 2009 season was remarkable and it would create more certainty for me if he could replicate that production, but he hasn’t. Greinke posted a 9 in WAR that year, his second-best season wasn’t even half as successful- 2008, with a 4.2 WAR. For that reason, I have little faith that Greinke will ever reach that high-water mark again.

I do not think it’s a lock that Greinke continues on his current career arch either; his production has been very unpredictable. To just hand Greinke $110 million and expect greatness for five years would be ill-fated. I wouldn’t expect Hamels to be great for five years either, but the more consistent commodity would be ideal if you’re handing out $100+ million contracts.

I consider Greinke and Josh Hamilton as similar risks. Sure they have MVP/Cy Young potential, but how often do you see it, and are you willing to put $100+ million on one of them hoping you’ll get more good than bad?

However, I would hold-off extension talks with Hamilton, to earmark money for Greinke or Hamels. If I’m going to take a huge financial risk, I would prefer it be on a front-line starting pitcher, rather than a future DH.

Peter:

If you are able to predict what a player is going to do over the next 5 years, then you’re currently in the wrong line of business, and should consider an Assistant GM position, at least.

Yes, Greinke’s performance has been less consistent than Hamels. However, for the last 5 years Greinke has averaged 3.98 WAR, while Hamels has averaged 4.12 WAR (this is using baseball-reference.com WAR; using Fangraphs.com WAR the averages are Greinke at 5.1 and Hamels at 3.9). There is very little difference between the two over the 5-year period. If you were choosing to sign one player 5 years ago, looking back at it now you would have wanted to have Greinke. His 2009 performance is the kind that can carry a team to a championship. Hamels has been a nice piece, but not a season-changer.

There is no way to predict exactly what a player is going to do, and yes, Greinke seems to be more of a gamble than Hamels would be, but that doesn’t change anything. Greinke can still be dominant, and there is no reason to believe he won’t have another Cy Young season at some point. In 2011, he increased his strikeout rate and reached a career high K/9. Typically, a pitcher’s K/9 rate is supposed to go down the longer he plays, as the league adapts and learns about that pitcher.

Let’s not forget that there are risks with Hamels as well.

First, his consistency is great, but it also leads me to believe that it can only go downhill from here. Consistently providing the same results demonstrates that he is at his ceiling, and as he ages his production will only decrease. Greinke still has that upside. You may not like that you don’t know what you’re getting from him, but that’s the thing – he could very well surprise you and dominate the league again.

Second, Hamels has never pitched in the American League. With the DH position in the AL, it is much more difficult to succeed as a pitcher. Besides that, the balance of offensive ability is heavily shifting to the AL, especially with the moves of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Greinke, on the other hand, has shown that he can succeed in the AL.

Third, Hamels is currently on a stacked pitching rotation, falling behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in the pecking order. He hasn’t been the best pitcher on his team since 2009, when he recorded his worst single-season performance since he came into the league. I am not saying that his poor performance was a result of the additional pressure that came from being the “default ace” of his team in 2009, but maybe there is something there. At the very least, he hasn’t proven that he can be your lead horse. However, Greinke has been his team’s #1 pitcher for the last 5 years, and he has succeeded in that role.

Dan:

Well that settles it. The Rangers would be very fortunate to have a shot at either Greinke or Hamels next off-season. And there’s a possibility they could become available even before next winter, if things don’t break right for the Brewers or Phillies in 2012.

The Rangers have become a major player in recent years; which causes fans to brazenly claim a genuine pursuit after these two pitchers, nearly a year in advance. In years past, such a claim could have only been considered as delusional.

Peter and Dan are Staff Writers for Shut Down Inning. You can contact Peter at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @Peter_Ellwood. You can email Dan at Dan.Allsup@shutdowninning.com or Tweet him @SDIDan.

Dan Allsup

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