What to Make of Josh Hamilton

Brandon Wade

An overreaction to Hamilton's slow start. Or is it?

Josh Hamilton is a polarizing figure in today's game and for good reason. Dubbed "The Natural" as a Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays' prospect, Hamilton was destined to be the next superstar in the game. Although it took a little longer than expected and didn't happen the way we all thought that it would, Hamilton is now one of the biggest superstars in the major leagues culminating in a 5 Year/$125 million contract to play on one of baseball's biggest stages with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Narrative aside, I've often times found myself to be lower than most when it comes to my expectations for Hamilton. Now that we're a week into the season and overreactions are running rampant, I feel like this is as good of a time as any to elaborate.

It was only a year ago that the perennial "Mystery Team" snatched Albert Pujols seemingly from the Marlins and signed him to a mega deal worth a quarter of a billion dollars. Pujols scorched Spring Training pitching only to fall on his face during the month of April. Now, Hamilton is following with a disastrous debut of his own, going 1 for 20 with 10 strikeouts in his first 5 games as a Halo before a multi-hit effort last night. So this begs the question: Will Hamilton be able to turn it around as Pujols did in 2012 or is he (and his fantasy owners) in for a long season ahead?

There are so many elements factoring into predicting Hamilton's performance that we need to consider the entire situation in order to formulate an educated guess. I'd like to do so in the form of a pros and cons list and then use the list to come up with, what I think, are reasonable expectations for Hamilton this season.

Pros

Cons

BB%

K%/Contact %

Ridiculous Power

Ballpark

Lineup

Daylight

Mike Scioscia

Injuries

For the sake of time, I listed only a few pros and cons but there are many more that are more in depth and require more than a few hundred words to address. Having said that, let's take a look at what's listed.

Hamilton has a career slash line of .302/.362/.546 and 162 game-averages of 35 homeruns and 121 RBIs. I know what you're thinking, "How can you find fault with that?" Well, first of all, those numbers are buoyed by his MVP year in 2010 in which he hit .359/.411/.633. If we remove that season, his numbers drop to .289/.352/.526. Also, Hamilton has never played in 162 games and averages only 123 games per year. He's hit 30+ home runs each time he's played at least 130 games but that's only been three times in six seasons. He's had a multitude of injuries over the years including 5 DL stints for hamstring issues, a sports hernia, a broken arm, broken ribs and gastroenteritis. Hamilton is unreliable in terms of games played and can also be a killer in head-to-head leagues because of his streakiness.

Hamilton is able to put up good averages and OBPs because he hits a lot of line drives (21.5%) and takes an above average number of walks (9.4 BB%). However, his strikeout rate has increased each of the past three years and his average has dropped over the same timeframe. Many power hitters strikeout a lot and Hamilton's average isn't hampered too much by his whiffs, so he remains a good power/average combo as opposed to being a one trick pony a la Adam Dunn. What is troubling, however, is that Hamilton has been trending in the wrong direction in terms of SwStr% and Contact %. Last year, Hamilton swung at more pitches outside the strike zone, made less contact on pitches at which he swung, and saw a larger number of his strikes being of the swinging variety than in 2011.

As Derek Carty, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, points out in his article about valuing players in new homes, changes in ball parks and leagues are always something to consider when a player switches teams. Hamilton stayed in the AL West so he didn't change leagues, or even divisions, which means he will be playing in familiar ball parks. However, The Big A is a far cry from the hitter's haven that is the Ballpark in Arlington, especially for lefties. Parkfactors.com gave lists Angel Stadium as having a Park Factor of -81 (third worst) while the Ballpark in Arlington ranks third in the Bigs with a Park Factor of +125. Hamilton has light tower power and we assume that his production won't be affected as much as someone with fringy pop, but we may see more doubles and fewer home runs from him this year. Also, it's been well documented that Hamilton has trouble seeing the ball during the day. A quarter of the Angels games will have been played during the day meaning Hamilton is likely to struggle in a quarter of his team's games.

Hamilton's move to LA has the baseball world buzzing with talk of one of the best lineups in recent memory - one that boasts Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Some believe that the addition of Hamilton will boost the production of the rest of the lineup and that he will benefit from hitting behind Pujols and in front of Mark Trumbo. The issue of lineup protection has long been debated and research has shown that it is, for the most part, non-existent. There have been studies done dating back to the mid-80s and Bill James' Baseball Abstract that show that there is no statistical correlation between the difference in performance with or without a certain quality of hitters. It's also worth noting that Hamilton came from one of the best lineups in the league that was constructed much like his new lineup. Hamilton should get a boost playing for Mike Scioscia being that he is one of the more aggressive managers, while Ron Washington is on the more conservative end of that spectrum.

In all, I think Hamilton is a very good player and will ultimately break out of his funk. On the flip side, I don't think he will put up the numbers that we saw in Texas. His slow start doesn't worry me, but the other factors outlined above contribute to my skepticism. I wasn't a huge Hamilton fan coming into the season and my outlook hasn't changed. If you can find someone to buy on Hamilton's 2012 numbers, my advice is to take advantage of it. It's only been a week and overreactions are abounding, but I think Hamilton will struggle this year and I would deal him now if I could get ninety cents on the dollar.

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