Surprised that I showed up with a post today? I’m sure most of you thought I was still writing my 30-page thesis on R.A. Dickey. What can I say? It was more a labor of love than anything else. And that doesn’t mean I treat other players differently. In fact, if I had children, I would love all of them equally. Except Hunter, he’s just so bad-ass cause he knows how to drive stick and already has a brown belt in taekwondo, all at the age of three. That’s my number one seed son! Maybe I messed up by naming his sister Samardzija, because I dunno, ef her childhood I guess. But like I said, this post will not be tl;dr, only because my wrists are still sore from last week’s marathon. And I need my wrists for other things. It’s funny because I watch redtube.com all the time. Get it? So while you can be assured I love all baseball players, except Luke Scott, I won’t get out of hand like last time. Unless I ever happen to pick a player from the Padres to spotlight. Hint: I have 5000+ words ready to go on John Baker. I think Grey just threw up all over me. So, on to today’s subject, one Josh Hamilton.
Hambone can be easily described in one definitive statement — Josh Hamilton, you are so awesome, but you suck!
The first overall pick in the 1999 MLB Draft, he was considered the blue-chip prospect in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ system immediately upon being drafted. However, starting in 2001, injuries and drug addiction started to surface. Then came multiple trips to rehab with a number of relapses thereafter, drug test failures, a year long suspension from the MLB, and multiple restricted list placements by the Rays. A long road traveled, no doubt. I don’t want to analyze any of these personal failings and triumphs. I will only say that he has proven himself to be both imperfect and perfect, and at certain times, very flawed and at other certain times, highly skilled. At the end of the day, he is, well, human.
Left off the Rays’ 40-man roster in 2006, the Chicago Cubs selected him in the Rule V and then immediately traded Hamilton to the Reds for $100,000. The Reds planned on using him as their fourth outfielder, but he gained playing time and took hold of the starting role in center field after an injury to Ryan Freel.
“You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in brother. I’m happy for you.” – said to Hamilton, by the opposing catcher, Michael Barrett, in the first at-bat of his Major League debut.
A year later, the Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. And the rest, as they say, is history. 2008 marked the start of five straight seasons being named to the AL All-Star team. He won the AL batting title in 2010 along with being voted as the AL MVP. In five seasons and 647 games that he was a Ranger, Hamilton hit 305/363/549 with 142 Homeruns, 506 RBI’s, 419 Runs, and 40 SB’s. (28/101/84/8 for a yearly average.)
In the Texas Rangers last game of the 2012 season, the AL Wild Card play-in against the Baltimore Orioles, Josh Hamilton, in the bottom of the 8th, against Brian Matusz, struck out swinging. At that moment, after his final at-bat as a Ranger, Hamilton was booed to the dugout. It was mightily apparent that the greater Arlington-Dallas area had grown tired of the Hambone era. Which, when you look on the surface, seems quite odd. Afterall, he hit 43 homeruns last year, a career high. But with closer examination, it was also a season where he had a career high K% and career low BB%. That strikeout represented the pinnacle of what Hamilton had become.
While bad players do not hit 43 homeruns, striking-out a lot usually does not bode well for future success. From 2008-2012, Hamilton had the highest Z-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike-zone) of any player in the Major Leagues, at 82.3%. Anything that has been thrown in the zone, he’s hit, and he’s hit with an 82.0% contact rate. And based on the numbers Hamilton put up during that five year span, it’s safe to say that he put a hurtin’ on opposing pitchers who threw it there.
Case in point, let’s see the good.
This ball went 469 feet. Yes, I agree, that is a lot of feet.
So what happens when you keep hurting pitchers in the zone? They start pitching out of the zone. In 2008, Josh Hamilton’s O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) was at 34.7%, a high, but okay rate. To give context, Vladimir Guerrero swung at the most outside pitches that year, unsurprisingly, with a O-Swing% of 45.5. But after 2008, a trend starting forming. In 2009, he had an O-Swing% of 36.0. 2010, 37.3%, and then in 2011, 41.0%. These were small, but noticeable changes in Hamilton’s approach until 2011. That season could have been an outlier, but then 2012 happened. And in that season, came an even more drastic change in Hamilton’s approach. His O-Swing% stood at 45.1. He swung at nearly half the pitches thrown outside the strike-zone. To make matters worse, he was now only making contact 64.7% of the time. That was good for last in the league, behind the likes of Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn. So over the course of the last 5 seasons, his O-Swing% rose by a factor of 9.1, and his Contact% plummeted by a factor of 17.3.
Case in point, let’s see the bad.
I don’t catch much either when I go fishing.
This trend is hard to ignore, even for a tremendous natural talent like Hamilton. Most, if not all baseball players, need to make constant adjustments over the course of a week, a month, a year, and even their entire careers to be successful. Josh Hamilton has yet to do that, and he’s reaching the point where pitchers are now willingly taking advantage of his progressive expansion of the strike-zone. Is he able to make adjustments? Sure, I guess. He certainly has the talent to do so. But it worries me that he hasn’t yet, and he’s had quite some time. In fact, after a torrid two month opening last season, it’s been slowly downhill. Through the end of May in 2012, Hamilton had an 1.184 OPS and struck out in 19% of his plate appearances. From that point on to the end of the season, he posted an .809 OPS and stuck out in 29% of his plate appearances.
So far, in 2013, for the Angels, Hamilton has an OPS of .630 and has struck out in 26.7% of his plate appearances. While we are still too early in the season to gain a meaningful sample size to analyze any strong conclusions, based on my early season post on When Is A Streak Not A Streak Anymore?, it is stated that Contact% is one of the first stats to stabilize, only after 100 plate appearances. At 86 PA, we’re almost there and he as an O-Swing% of 44.3% and a Z-Swing% of 78.8. Basically, he’s still swinging at the same amount of outside pitches as last season, but now swinging at less pitches in the zone. This is not good.
Case in point, let’s see the ugly.
Let’s see a single representation of the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the awesome.
Nick Cage, that’s why. Next question.
All I want is for Josh Hamilton to succeed. And while I want to say that he’ll adjust, that he’ll stop swinging at everything AND the kitchen sink, the data says otherwise. While the skill set he currently has, which is hit bombs, and nothing much else, can have value, he will certainly no longer be the perennial top-20 player he used to be. He’ll basically be something south of Jay Bruce. While Hamilton was able to produce enough for you to be okay carrying the weight of him being injury-prone, now, he carries the risk of being an all or nothing fantasy producer, or even worse, a fantasy bust.
Once upon a time, Hamilton was practically impossible to pitch to. Then he became easy to pitch to. What’s next? I don’t know, but I can tell you what direction he’s going. For the rest of the season, I’m expecting a baseline of 60/20/75/250/5, but I’m going to go sorta out on a limb here and say he could hit 77/27/86/267/6 ROS, even with his current approach. The two biggest reasons I’m not predicting a total demise is that his BABIP is a little fluky right now and his ISO should rebound some. So he won’t be completely useless this year. But, as far as I’m concerned, his lousy approach appears here to stay, and will continue to deflate his value as we project future seasons. On top of that, he’ll always carry the risk of a really long DL stint or a number of small ones. It’s just now the entire package is so risky that I’m not even considering him a buy-low option in any format. If I own him in a keeper league, I’m just not really sure what to do with him. For the next two seasons, I think a baseline of 65/20/70/250/5 will be there, but that’s a far cry of what he used to be, and is very sensitive to potential playing time.
If you own him this year, I’d hold until he goes on some sort of hot streak, and then try to sell to any owner who thinks he’s fixed. In a keeper, I wouldn’t dump him for peanuts, but he no longer matches the value at which you most likely own him for. It’s up to you whether to try and sell a devalued asset at a sunk cost, or just hold on. Personally, I’d copy the redraft strategy and just wait for a hot streak and then attempt to unload him.
Josh Hamilton is streaky, undisciplined, brittle, and, in his current form, completely unreliable. He’s also one of the best hitters I have ever seen.