Sabermetric Spotlight: Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
The Reason -
So you may have heard of this gentleman named Josh Hamilton once or twice before in your life. His life-story is one that mimics that of Millenium Force at Cedar Point to date. In a nutshell, that also is a microcosm of his 2012 year thus far. Through the first two months he hit 21 HRs (four in one game!) and saw his average stay well north of .360, needless to say, he was unstoppable. Counting his moon-shot tonight, he now has only 9 HRs in the past 3 calendar months combined, which is a drastic drop from the pace he set in the spring. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him set his career high for dingers before September rings in, he needs just three more. What the heck has happened to him this year, besides becoming infamous for letting go of his bat when he swings and misses?
Basic Numbers -
As Hamilton has cooled down during the early summer months, his slash line has sunk to a pedestrian (I use italics in place of that sarcasm font that needs to be invented) .288/.351/.575. Most major-leaguers would take that in a heart beat. Taking a look at the rest of his basic stats below, a few things jump out.
To me, the first is his projected games played number. Being present for 150 games would be his second best (2008 had 156 played), topping the 133 in 2010 which saw him bat .359 and win the AL MVP. Having him consistently in the lineup has been a struggle in the past, this alone is an impact on the lineup each night. The next eye-popper is his amount of time he has whiffed and recorded an out, just above once per game. I’ll dig into this more later. Oh, and those 95 RBI are tied for the league lead too.
I just mentioned his K’s, but how at what percent is he at? Looking at the chart below, a whooping 23.7%. That number is way up from his career average of 19%. Surprisingly, Josh is walking at a rate (9.1%) that exceeds the past two years, and his career average (8.2%). Unfortunately his career low BABIP of .308 is the correlation of his lowest batting average since 2009
Not much has changed from a line-drive perspective. He is hitting less ground-balls, which leads to an increase in fly-balls. It is these fly-balls that are leaving the yard at a rate of over 25% of each fly, an almost unsustainable number. His ISO factor of .278 supports the increase of his homerun tally, this will be a career year as far as that stat is concerned.
Pitch and Swing Data -
Less fastballs (46.1% in 2012 vs 50.7% in 2011) and more off-speed/breaking pitches (change-ups 2.7% more, curves up .8%) has been the calling of opposing pitchers this year. Again, these stats almost identically reflect what he faced in 2010, his career year to this point.
Holy crap! Hamilton is swinging at 46.5%! of pitches outside the strike zone! This is up from 41% in 2011 and 37.3% in 2010. I see a trend developing. The same can be said for pitches in the strike zone (84.5%, 81.7%, 80.7% 2012-2010). A direct inverse of this is the dropping of contact, Josh is only connecting with 77.7% outside the strike zone from 83.8% last year. Contact as a whole is down 9.1%. There is one reason for swinging at balls more often, he is only seeing strikes 38.2%, down from 42.8% in 2011. I’m baffled as to how he is walking more this year.
Forward Looking -
I already eluded to the fact that he is on pace to play 150 games this year, but that also translates to 579 at-bats. The Rangers currently hold the best record in the American League and will be looking to firmly secure the number one seed as the season winds down. Playing at the Ball Park in Arlington is only a benefit to his offensive numbers, I can sense some heroics down the stretch. Big picture wise, he isn’t in any MVP talk this year, but he is in a race with Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers for the RBI and HR title. It just so happens that the two leaders of runs batted oppose each other this weekend in Texas.
Fantasy Analysis -
Having Josh Hamilton on your team this year has been one of fist pumping and pounding. Ups and downs on repeat. You loved him to start the year and have been swearing at him to get his act together since June. If you were one of the smart ones to capatlize on his value and trade him on that legendary four homerun night, then props to you. He is a welcomed benefit to any team in a playoff race right now and is without-a-doubt a keeper next year, in all formats. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being the most traded player this year or next (Pujols would be my next guess).
Did You Know? -
On June 22, 2012, Hamilton agreed with Casey Affleck to create a movie based on Hamilton’s life story.
Conclusion and Projection -
It’s hard not to root for this guy. America is full of revitalizing comeback stories, and Josh’s is no different. This current year may be the most unique of any years past however. Hamilton’s increased K% and BB%, teamed with a lower BABIP and less pitches as strikes has led to a sub-optimal batting average. On the flipside, his flyball rate of homeruns is outstanding, hitting 40 shouldn’t be out of the question. Even with projections of a-plus health, it’s hard not to have that creeping doubt of an injury of some substance as the year dwindles. Bottom line, he is a must watch at-bat each time to the plate.
Reactions and opinions are always welcomed. Find me on twitter: @pf_hayes