Is this the next AL MVP?
The Los Angeles Angels, backed by the cash-filled determination of owner Arte Moreno, surprised a lot of people when they signed top-tier free agent Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract.
In fact, in an article by MLB.com.'s Alden Gonzalez, Hamilton was shocked that he signed with the Angels. In his introduction to the Halos he said, "Of course I was surprised."
And, without question, if the reaction to Hamilton’s signing has produced this much shock-and-awe—so far—then just imagine the reactions in November of 2013 when Hamilton wins the AL MVP Award.
What did he say?
That's right. M-V-P.
Sure, it's early for MLB predictions that take place next November—some of us are just realizing 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" with Ralphie on TBS is coming soon—but if you look at the benefits for Hamilton, while hitting in the Angels' lineup, the idea of producing MVP-type numbers makes sense.
Especially when considering Albert Pujols will protect him.
With Pujols looking to keep his late-season form from 2012, continuing to produce as expected, teams will do their best to make sure the bases are empty—or close to it—when he comes to the plate.
Part of that scenario will be giving any hitter in front of Pujols a more aggressive pitch sequence. And that includes Hamilton.
That's the respect Pujols has earned over his 10-plus years of dominance. For Hamilton, it's the disrespect from a well-televised collapse in 2012—although he still hit 43 home runs with 128 RBI, right?
I'm not talking about the creation of "fastball mania" for Hamilton as a result of hitter's protection. After all, it would be silly to assume any team would pipe fastballs at a talented hitter like Hamilton (or any MLB player for that matter).
Instead, the result of Pujols waiting in the on-deck circle will be Hamilton getting fewer slow-breaking pitches off of the plate—one of his weaknesses—and getting more slow-breaking pitches...somewhat nearer to the plate.
Yes, he may see a few more fastballs from time to time, assuming Mike Trout or Eric Aybar—maybe Peter Bourjos—aren't on base. But don't count on it being a trend (the theory a hitter gets more fastballs because of the talent hitting behind them was quietly disputed in this wonderful 2008 study by Eric Seidman, and reported by Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll).
Regardless, what Hamilton can do to a fastball is not a best-kept secret. Teams know not to challenge him too often with heat.
Armed with that knowledge, he can be more selective (improving from last season's 162 strikeouts) because of better pitches to hit; that specific pitch selection, once he gets the early season timing down, will be the one fans are accustomed to seeing him plaster all over the field—and out of it.
Who knows? Hamilton may be the next to challenge the Triple Crown, bringing the AL MVP Award to Anaheim and winning the war (or WAR) Mike Trout could not.
(all stats for this article were provided by baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted)