by Jeremy Tiermini
Despite a down season in 2013, Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies has remained as one of the most targeted starting pitchers on draft day. Using one of my favorite draft prep tools, the Average Draft Position tool from Fantasy Gameday, Hamels’ current ADP of 88.79 puts him in the late 9th round in 10-team mixed leagues and in the early 8th round of 12-team leagues. This has fallen slightly from the first version of Fantasy Gameday’s ADP of 58.33. Will news of Hamels’ latest setback make that ADP fall farther?
According to reports in February neither Hamels nor the Phillies medical staff was overly concerned about the injury, which was diagnosed as biceps tendonitis. While he was immediately ruled out for Opening Day because he was approximately one month behind in his throwing program, Hamels also indicated that he was healthy and repeated this mantra for the first three weeks of spring training, leading fantasy owners to believe this was not a major issue. In fact, the Phillies only expected him to miss 1 or 2 starts. After three bullpen sessions, however, this situation has changed and the uncertainty will have an impact on fantasy drafts.
While he did not report any new pain in the shoulder during his latest outing Hamels did complain about fatigue, stating the following: “I believe I threw 35 pitches. To my body it felt like a thousand. I think I pushed it a little too hard too quickly.” As a result, he will not throw from a mound again until next week, at the earliest.
There is some good news, as the pitcher indicated that he is not currently scheduled for either an MRI or a cortisone shot. “I’ve had all the tests done that they’re required to do and everything checked out,” Hamels explained. “And I knew nothing has gone wrong. I just think that just trying to get in the best possible shape that I can in sort of a rushed, competitive atmosphere, something’s going to not want to push it a little more so it prevents the injury, so ultimately my body’s telling me, ‘Hey, slow it down a little bit and start over in a certain way so that you can prevent injury but build up for the long haul.’” Did you get that? (Quotes came courtesy of Ryan Lawrence of philly.com, whose article you can read by clicking here)
Okay, so what EXACTLY was Hamels trying to say there? Speaking of muscle function, most people will associate the biceps with doing curls and flexing the elbow. During “overhead” activities, like the pitching motion in baseball, huge forces are created at the shoulder joint, especially to the structures that stabilize the joint. In regards to the stability of the shoulder, the biceps tendons are anterior stabilizers of the ball-and-socket joint. Injuries to these tendons could lead to, or mimic, injuries to other structures of the shoulder joint, such as the rotator cuff, the anterior shoulder capsule (which is composed of the same general type of tissue as shoulder ligaments, but it helps resist forces in multiple directions, where a ligament resists forces in one direction), or the labrum.
As a result of increasing the forces at his shoulder joint by ramping up his throwing too quickly, Hamels’ tendonitis flared up. While he and the team do not seem concerned, I AM. First, Hamels had his last start of 2013 on September 25. There was at least one month between his last 2013 start and the first onset of tendonitis in November, 2013. Next, it only took him three bullpen sessions during Spring Training to re-develop this overuse injury.
The Phillies are going to be cautious with him, as they have a huge financial investment in Hamels. He is entering the second year of a 6-year, $144 million deal and, oh yeah, they made him available for trade during the off-season. In either case, the Phillies will not want to damage what is perhaps their best asset. I foresee the best case scenario for Hamels to progress through his rest / rehabilitation process, starting 2014 on the Disabled List, and returning at some point in May. I do not know the exact throwing protocol the Phillies use for their pitchers so this is, again, my best guess to when Hamels will make his first regular season start.
If he does follow this plan I am guessing he misses 5-6 starts; his streak of six consecutive seasons of 30+ starts is certainly over. When projecting starting pitchers, I always err on the side of caution because of the volatility of their health. The best case scenario I project for Hamels is 25 starts, with a 3.50 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and 160 K. The Phillies don’t project to be a strong team so Hamels could fail to reach double-digit wins for the second season in a row.
If this situation is worse and the biceps tendonitis is a symptom of a more serious condition then the prognosis changes. While Hamels and the Phillies are following the line from the movie “Animal House” (“Remain calm…all is well! ALL IS WELL!!!), that does not mean you need to trust that when drafting your team. In 12-team leagues, ESPN has Hamels rated as a lower-tier #3 starting pitcher. For me, because I DO suspect there is something more serious going on, I am not drafting Cole Hamels as anything more than a fifth starter, which I generally draft around Rounds 17-18, and, in auction drafts, I won’t bid more than $6-7 for him. Starting pitchers like Matt Moore, Michael Wacha, Jon Lester, CC Sabathia and Zack Wheeler are very close to Cole Hamels in pre-season rankings and I would feel safer with any of them in my #3 or #4 starting pitcher spot.
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