When Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman were traded for six players, very few anticipated that the Phillies would get any pieces that could contribute immediately, yet alone match the production of the center piece of the deal, Hamels. Yet, with the usual disclaimer for small sample sizes, etc., the Phillies acquired a player that has nearly been as valuable for them as Hamels has been for the Rangers.
Here is the obligatory blind taste test for demonstration purposes:
Player A: Seven starts, 44 IP, 2-3 record, 7.98 K/9 IP, 2.44 BB/9 IP, 3.07 ERA, 3.66 FIP
Player B: 11 starts, 74.2 IP, 6-1 record, 8.44 K/9 IP, 2.53 BB/9 IP, 3.86 ERA, 3.80 FIP
Some quick math in your head (hint: Eickhoff wasn’t called up right away) should let you guess that Hamels is Player B. But the comparison is pretty apt: while Eickhoff hasn’t had as many starts since making his MLB debut, he’s averaged ~6.1 IP per start versus Hamels’ ~6.2, while their rate stats are very comparable with Hamels edging out Eickhoff in K/9 IP but Eickhoff taking control in BB/9 IP. Eickhoff has a lead in ERA but that is sort of a skewed comparison considering Hamels has faced more DHs while their FIP is pretty close.
What is most important to consider in all of this is that Hamels has been of value for the Rangers. Since trading for Hamels, the Rangers are 37-20 and have rocketed up the AL West standings. According to Baseball Reference, Hamels has been worth 1.3 wins while FanGraphs’ version of WAR pegs him at 1.2. So it isn’t like Hamels has pitched poorly and Eickhoff has matched poor numbers, rather Eickhoff has matched a pretty good pitcher.
Coming into the season, Eickhoff’s name was not found among the Rangers’ top prospect lists (read: omitted from most Rangers’ Top 20s) despite what one blogger called “tree trunk legs” that help Eickhoff stay in the low 90s with his fastball. Eickhoff’s success in the minor leagues, and continued success in the Majors, will be directly tied to how many ground balls he can induce. His 35.2% ground ball rate in the Majors is slightly lower than his minor league average heading into 2015 (42.27% according to this scouting report/chart) and should he be able to continue to increase the number of ground balls he throws, he could be a valuable contributor to the Phillies in the starting rotation.
What does all this mean? Well, in the long run? Maybe a little bit but probably not a whole lot. Eickhoff has a long way to go but the Phillies will have him at an affordable salary for quite a while to find out if they have a capable starting pitcher. Best case scenario, Eickhoff turns out to be a pretty solid middle of the rotation guy for an affordable price. Make no mistake about it, either, contenders need those pieces whether it is a contending Phillies team in two or three years or if the Phillies ship him out in said time frame. In the short run, the Phillies got pretty comparable value from Eickhoff for the remainder of 2015 as they would have from Hamels had they kept him for significantly less money plus five other players. Not too shabby.
Additionally, it may be another warning in the long list of them to playoff teams that adding one player at the deadline can only add so much value versus using someone in your own system, as the Phillies found out by acquiring Hunter Pence in 2011. Surely, in this case, Rangers fans will look at this move in a different light; as much as Hamels has been slightly below his career numbers for the Rangers, his presence has jump-started the Rangers in a way that simply bringing up Eickhoff may not have. Either way, Eickhoff has pitched pretty comparably to Hamels since his arrival in Philadelphia and Phillies fans have one more thing to look forward to for 2016.
(Note: This article was inspired by this tweet by Matt Winkelman)