Cole fire: Cubs’ Hamels plans to get better at 35, stick around until he’s 45
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SURPRISE, Ariz. — The graybeards of the Cubs’ starting rotation have a bone to pick with whippersnapper pundits and propeller-headed analysts who try to say they’re over the hill.
Retire after his contract is up this year?
‘‘Hell, no,’’ left-hander Cole Hamels said.
But that’s not how the algorithm crowd seems to think about Hamels or fellow lefty Jon Lester.
‘‘I know,’’ Hamels said. “Lester and I are like, ‘Serious?’ “
Baseball Prospectus suggests the Cubs’ aging rotation is one reason for its 79-victory, last-place prediction for the team in its annual PECOTA projections.
But try this on for serious: Hamels, who turned 35 in December — 11 days before Lester did — said he plans to be around long enough to pitch to Manny Machado in the final year of that 10-year contract Machado just signed with the Padres.
‘‘I really love what [Astros right-hander Justin] Verlander had to say about a month ago — that his goal is to play until he’s 45,’’ Hamels said after making his spring debut Wednesday against the Rangers. ‘‘That’s always been my goal. I played with Jamie Moyer, so he was the epitome of a guy that played and took it serious that when you’re 35, 40, 45, you’re not done; you’re not down and out.’’
Moyer pitched until he was 49, winning 180 games after he turned 35 (third all-time) and 105 after he turned 40 (second).
‘‘And that’s my intention,’’ Hamels said. ‘‘I’m playing toward 45. I don’t want to ever stop short. I don’t think anybody wants to stop short of the finish line.’’
That’s why Hamels overhauled his offseason workout program. He hired a full-time posture specialist, who put him through a 45-minute program before each daily strength workout, then a post-workout program.
‘‘You get stronger, but you’re not utilizing everything that you have,’’ Hamels said of traditional strength training. ‘‘[The new program] is about the kinetic chain and making sure that I actually utilize everything to throw the baseball correctly.’’
He even mixed Pilates into some of the stretching.
‘‘I feel like I still have a lot to offer,’’ Hamels said. ‘‘I still feel like I haven’t hit my full potential.’’
That’s pretty bold for a four-time All-Star with a World Series MVP award to his credit.
But even manager Joe Maddon said he senses an especially motivated pitcher in Hamels this spring, perhaps to prove critics wrong after an injury-hampered 2017 and a performance decline in 2018 until he was traded to the Cubs in July.
‘‘It’s knowing that I still feel good and I have a lot left to really show,’’ said Hamels, who was 5-9 with a 4.72 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 20 starts before the trade and 4-3 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 12 starts after.
‘‘And with what is at stake for this team and in this division, you have to stay on guard and you have to be fired up to be able to [perform] because this not going to be an easy matter this season.’’
That’s how serious he is about pitching at a high level for as long as he can. And Maddon, for one, isn’t going to bet on age — or the algorithms — winning that battle.
‘‘When it comes down to writing equations, fantasy baseball’s one thing,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘Reality is something else.’’