Sell or Hold: Noah Syndergaard and Cole Hamels
Pitching injuries have taken over the fantasy season. The first domino to fall was Madison Bumgarner, a situation that has been highlighted many times in the past few weeks. The trend of elite pitchers succumbing to injury continued this week as Noah Syndergaard and Cole Hamels each suffered long-term injuries. How dynasty owners should handle their absence is dependent on the competitive timeline of their team and the career trajectory of each pitcher.
Syndergaard looked plenty dominant through the 27 innings he managed prior to his arm injury. Even if his season is done, there is seemingly plenty of mileage left on his arm as he enters his age-25 season. On the other hand, there is a troubling trend of injuries for Syndergaard. Last season, he battled a balky elbow, though he was able to pitch through it. Now, of course, he’s out for a significant amount of time with a lat injury, a part of the body dangerously close to the shoulder (though I’m no doctor). The Mets also have a recent history of injured, young pitchers which includes Matt Harvey and Steven Matz. Syndergaard’s history plus the Mets’ track record could be enough to convince some owners to sell. For those who are that concerned, this is the beginning, and not the end, of Syndergaard’s DL stints.
That alone likely shouldn’t be enough to deal Syndergaard, but for fantasy owners with long-term concern for Syndergaard’s health and a team that was a championship favorite with Syndergaard, there is a more convincing case to deal Syndergaard. Generally, the right move for Syndergaard owners is to avoid overthinking and recognize that one of the premier pitching talents is on their roster. If the perfect storm of events comes together, concern for his long-term health, a team that is a serious championship contender, and an offer that can’t be refused, dealing Syndergaard has to be a consideration.
Unlike Syndergaard, Hamels is on the downturn of his career. That started last season when his walk rate jumped by 2.5% from his career rate. Things were no better through 32 innings this season, which makes it feel as if Hamels is nearing the end as a useful fantasy piece. On the other hand, unlike Syndergaard, his injury isn’t related to his arm in any fashion. Given the fact that nearly all his metrics have fallen drastically, there is also reason to believe he was pitching through discomfort for the entire season and provides a reason for optimism if he can regain his health over the next two months. Given that he still put up solid surface stats and his track record I’d tend to give Hamels the benefit of the doubt and assume he will be a pitcher worth starting when he returns.
Thus, the “win now” argument applied to justify dealing Syndergaard doesn’t apply as neatly to Hamels. He wouldn’t bring back nearly the return of Syndergaard and his owners would be selling at his lowest point in value. This is In addition to the aforementioned argument that Hamels will come back as a solid starter for fantasy teams during the most vital part of the season.
On the other hand, there can be little disagreement that the window to sell Hamels is much shorter than it is for Syndergaard. The best bet for teams ready to win now is to hold onto Hamels and hope for a return to health and form, because the pieces that would come back in a return for Hamels are unlikely to be major contributors for a championship team. For those who aren’t competing, trading Hamels makes more sense. The question then becomes timing. Those Hamels’ owners who believe that he can still be a solid fantasy pitcher should wait for his return, hope he makes a few solid starts in which he racks up some strikeouts, and then try to flip him. Those Hamels’ owners that think there’s no coming back from this for him should sell now and hope there are a few believers still out there.