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Cole Hamels to Chicago Cubs - Fantasy Implications

It did not feel like we would ever get here, but  Cole Hamels was finally traded by the Texas Rangers. Very little in baseball has been more up and down than Hamels' performances this season, but the Rangers finally found a trade partner in the Chicago Cubs, who were willing to give them the return they desired. The Rangers traded Hamels and cash considerations for right-handed pitchers Eddie Butler and Rollie Lacy as well as a player to be named later.

The Chicago Cubs rotation now bolsters a nice collection of names. Cole Hamels will join Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks and the currently injured Yu Darvish. When all of those pitchers are firing, there will not be many better five-man rotations in the majors. Heading down the stretch and then into the playoffs the Cubs are going to have a lot of possible starting options.

The question is what does this move mean for Hamels and his fantasy value? Going from a team that could lose 100-games to a team fighting to make the playoffs should at least boost his potential to win games but what about the other numbers? Will we see an increase or maybe even a decrease in value? Below is a deeper look into Hamels’ value as part of the Cubs rotation, along with the impact his departure will have on the Rangers’ rotation and his owners across different fantasy leagues in the short and long term.

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Rest of Season Value

It has been an incredibly mixed year for Hamels. Over the season as a whole, he has a 4.72 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 114 1/3 innings with 114 strikeouts. While the strikeout numbers are nice, those ERA and WHIP numbers are the worst of his career so far. A big driver of that terrible ERA has been surrendering 1.81 home runs per nine innings pitched. That is a long way above his career average of 1.04 HR/9. However, there was a 10-game stretch this season where Hamels looked to be back to his old self. In those 10 starts, Hamels put up a 2.81 ERA in 64 innings with 58 strikeouts. The HR rate was still an issue during those starts, with 1.55 HR/9 surrendered during that time. During that period his FIP and xFIP were 5.18 and 4.61 respectively, suggesting he was not pitching as well as the numbers were indicating.

A big part of the problem for Hamels has been his ability to pitch at home. Throughout his time with the Rangers, his form in Arlington has been an issue. In 2016, his home ERA was 4.40 compared to 2.40 and his wOBA on the road was .069 lower than at home. In 2017 the contrast between home and road were not as stark, 4.06 ERA on the road compared to 4.35 at home. However, in 2018 the home and road split has become even wider. In 59 innings at home, Hamels has a 6.41 ERA, a .387 wOBA and a .555 slugging percentage. In comparison, on the road he has a 2.93 ERA, with a .308 wOBA and a .382 slugging percentage.

Those numbers are potentially good news for Hamels fantasy owners following this trade. Getting out of that ballpark in Arlington has the potential to see Hamels return to his old levels. In addition, Hamels has made six career starts in Wrigley, throwing 41 innings with a 3-1 record, a 1.76 ERA and 40 strikeouts. In the two of those six starts to happen in the last four years, he has thrown one complete game shutout and an eight innings shutout. Over those two starts he has thrown 17 innings, struck out 20 and has not surrendered a single earned run. Statistics do not look much prettier than that for a pitcher.

Overall, Hamels is moving to a better team and getting away from a ballpark where he has struggled massively in two of the last three seasons. This trade has the potential to put Hamels right back in the top-20 fantasy pitcher discussion. However, he will need to work to prevent giving up home runs at anywhere near the rate he has so far this season.

The Cubs Rotation

The acquisition of Hamels is going to be bad news for one current member of the Cubs bullpen. As with any addition of a starting pitcher, there is the case of someone having to lose a spot in the rotation. On rare occasions, an addition can fill a hole in the rotation but usually it is bad news for someone. In this case, the two pitchers who could potentially lose out are either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Montgomery. The front-runner to lose his spot now is Chatwood who has a 4.98 ERA in 94 innings. The biggest issue for Chatwood has been lack of control. Yes, he has 82 strikeouts but he has given up an incredible 85 walks. For that reason the Cubs may decide he needs some time in the minor leagues to get his control back. However, that does not mean Montgomery is safe either, as he is now the man vulnerable when Yu Darvish is ready to return from injury. Yes, he only has a 3.73 ERA but he has struggled to strike guys out with just 51 in 82 innings, giving him a 4.59 SIERA. The lack of strikeouts greatly limits Montgomery's fantasy value so him remaining in the rotation is no great benefit to fantasy players


Dynasty Value

At this point, the dynasty value for Hamels is relatively small. At age 34, with 2476 2/3 major league innings under his belt, there is a good chance he does not have many more seasons left performing close to this level. However, a good performance from Hamels to end the season should at least ensure he remains in the majors the next couple of years. Right now he has a team option in his contract for next season at least.

It seems likely at this stage that Hamels has at least one and possibly as much as three to four years left as a high level starting pitcher. Even if he struggles the remainder of this season it is likely that at least one team in the majors will be willing to take a gamble on his talent and experience. As a fantasy owner of Hamels in dynasty leagues, there is not much you can do right now. Trying to sell an aging player who has struggled this season will not net you much in return. However, if he pitches well the next couple of months at Wrigley Field then he may be someone worth looking to move to a contender in late August or September. A trade late this year may present the last opportunity to get long-term fantasy assets in return for Hamels. Beyond that, the only reason for owning Hamels is if you are a contender this season and believe this move to the NL will boost his value.


What about the Rangers?

Moving Hamels offers the opportunity for the Rangers to get their young pitchers time in the major leagues for the remainder of the 2018 season. They seem committed, for the time being, to sticking with Yovani Gallardo and Bartolo Colon as two pieces of their roster. Martin Perez is auditioning for his long-term future and Mike Minor has the potential to be a solid piece of the rotation going forward, or at least a tradeable asset, be it this season or next.

The pitchers who should benefit with the chance to show their stuff in the majors are: Ariel Jurado, who will start Saturday, and Yohander Mendez, once he is back in the Rangers good books. However, neither of those young pitchers offer as anything more than possible spot starters in favorable matchups. Neither of them are particularly high strikeout pitchers meaning that their ceilings are extremely low. In terms of fantasy relevance, the best thing would be for the Rangers to turn back to Doug Fister once he returns from the disabled list. However, even Fister has struggled this season, with a 4.50 ERA and just 40 strikeouts in 66 innings.

Despite the gaping chasm in the fantasy value in the Rangers rotation and the loss of a rotation spot for either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Montgomery, the potential improvement we could see in Hamels fantasy value makes this trade a net-positive for fantasy.


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