Undoubtedly, Josh Hamilton has put up some big time numbers throughout his six year career. Overall for his career, Hamilton has hit .304/.363/.549, averaging 35 home runs and an OPS+ of 135. These are impressive numbers to say the least, but among the most intriguing questions regarding Hamilton is his consistency (or lack thereof) for an entire season. Through the first 35 games of 2012, Hamilton batted .404 with 18 home runs (on pace to break Bonds’ all-time record). However, he tailed off significantly for the remainder of the season batting .246 with 25 home runs in the final 113 ballgames.
In addition to his slugging streakiness, Hamilton struck out a lot, swung and missed at too many pitches, and just simply was not as disciplined as he should be. Hamilton struck out 25.5% of the time in 2012 (19.7% career), compared to the league average of 18.2%. He swung and missed at a whopping 32% of pitches in 2012 (25% career), while the league average is 15%. He had the league's worst contact rate at 64.7%, a 10% dropoff from last season alone. Clearly, this indicates Hamilton’s temptation to swing at pitches out of the zone (he owned the league's highest chase rate), which has only increased over the past year and could foreshadow future struggles. This is very important because of Hamilton’s talent level. When he does make contact and puts the ball in play, he bats .335 for his career (.320 BABIP in 2012). All the strikeouts (96 in 2012) and lack of plate discipline significantly impact his batting average and on-base skills. Also, in 2010 when Hamilton captured the MVP award, he put up gaudy numbers. However, that season was drastically different and better than his other campaigns because of a .390 BABIP. This allowed him to put up numbers like a .359/.411/.633 triple slash with an OPS+ of 170. Other than that season, he has never had a BABIP above .333 and an OPS+ above 139.
Playing in Texas has significantly impacted Hamilton’s play as well. Looking at park factors for runs scored and home runs, Rangers’ Ballpark is significantly a better place to hit than Angels Stadium. For home runs and runs, Rangers’ ballpark has park factors of 76 and 81, respectively (>100 favors hitters, <100 favors pitchers). In Texas, these numbers are 117 and 118 respectively, making it among the most hitter friendly parks in all of baseball. As proof of his home ballpark in Texas aiding him, Hamilton has hit 94 home runs (1,425 AB) at home in his career, compared to just 67 (1,400 AB) on the road. Additionally, he has a 90 point slugging percentage decrease and 109 point OPS decline on the road compared to his numbers at Arlington. There is no question heading to Los Angeles will impact Hamilton’s hitting at home.
One more interesting item on Hamilton is his drastic splits when hitting against top pitchers in the league, and hitting against weaker pitching in the league. According to Vince Gennaro's research, in which he ranked hitters (using OPS) by their performances against the top pitchers, average pitchers, and lesser pitchers, Hamilton had the most drastic difference against strong pitching compared to weak pitching. For example, Hamilton’s OPS against top pitchers is .721 and his OPS against lower level pitching is 1.154. That is a difference of 433 points! This is a much larger gap compared to the league average difference of 182 OPS points. For the MLB as a whole, hitters had an OPS of .641 against top pitchers and an OPS of .823 against weak pitching. In other words, Hamilton hit weak pitching only 12% better than average, but feasted on weaker pitching , being 40% better than league average. Include the fact that most pitchers faced in the postseason belong in the upper half quartile (stronger pitching), Hamilton could face further struggles to his already dismal postseason stats (.227/.295/.424). All in all, when Hamilton hits against top pitchers in his new ballpark, it could mean trouble for Hamilton and the Angels.
Defensively, Hamilton is and has been rated as a below average center fielder. However, with Mike Trout firmly entrenched in center, Hamil ton will play left field, where he has been rated as a good defender. In 2012, he saved 2 runs (in LF), and has been 11 runs above average in his career according to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic. Additionally, Hamilton possesses a strong throwing arm which has led to five outfield assists. Despite having 7 errors in the outfield this past season, Hamilton is a good defender that should only improve defensively as he plays in left field full-time.
Josh Hamilton has the ability to carry a team on his back for a certain amount of time. However, staying consistent for an entire season has been a problem for him in the past. Hamilton should absolutely help the Angels and makes their lineup more dangerous this upcoming season. However, there are definitely many concerns within various aspects of his game and the Angels are taking a serious gamble for $125 million.
BY: NICK RABASCO