Who Has More Pressure to Perform, Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton?
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After the Angels' latest mishap, a 19-inning defeat at the hands of the Oakland Athletics, the pressure to perform is beginning to mount for individual players as well as the collective unit in Anaheim.
In an coincidentally similar start to last season (8-15 in the month of April), the Angels currently find themselves with a 9-16 record, already eight games behind division-leading Texas.
Needless to say, if the team wants to break their three-year playoff drought, they need to turn it around—and do so quickly. Despite playing well last season from May to October (81-58 record), the team still missed the playoffs by four games.
With the losses mounting early in this young season, the pressure to perform is ratcheting up quickly in Los Angeles.
A less-than-stellar offense and a below-average pitching rotation has made Mike Scioscia's position as manager quite an uncomfortable one this season. However, most of the attention has undoubtedly fallen upon Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, largely in part to their combined earnings of $33.4 million this season.
When looking at the offensive statistics, they clearly indicate that Pujols is living up to expectations whereas Hamilton is most certainly not.
Although Pujols (.252/.344/.417) did not come out of the gate tremendously well, his start to the season has been much better this year than it was last year.
He has a team-best four homers and 17 RBI through 26 games. Pujols registered his second multi-homer game of the season in Monday's marathon 19-inning contest.
If Pujols can stay off the disabled list while managing the pain associated with his plantar fasciitis foot injury, he should have no problem approaching his perennial benchmarks of 30 HR and 100 RBI.
On the other side of the coin, Josh Hamilton's early season form leaves much to be desired. The left-handed slugger is batting a miserable .204 with an on-base percentage of .252 and a slugging percentage of .296. In addition, he has 32 strikeouts and only six walks. Against left-handed pitching, Hamilton is batting .172 this season.
What's worse, Hamilton's plate discipline is again among the poorest in the league. Per FanGraphs.com, Hamilton swung at pitches outside of the zone 45.4 percent of the time last year, which was the highest in all of baseball.
This season, Hamilton is third worst in baseball with his plate discipline, swinging 45.2 percent of the time at balls thrown outside of the strike zone. The league average this season is 29.1 percent.
Not only does Hamilton's lack of discipline lead him to swing at bad pitches, but it also raises the incentive for opposing pitchers to throw him balls outside of the zone.
So far this season, the overall percentage of pitches Hamilton sees inside the strike zone sits at 41.7, well below the league average of 46.5 percent.
In a nutshell: Hamilton is swinging at a lot of bad pitches because he is seeing a lot of bad pitches.
To put his slumping season in perspective, let's look at his first 25 games in 2012. At this time last season, Hamilton was batting .381 with an on-base percentage of .431 and a slugging percentage of .691. He was far-and-away the early season MVP of the American League with 9 big flies and 26 RBI.
So what happened?
Has the pressure of living up to a new contract gone to his head? Perhaps.
Has his rocky departure from Texas played a roll? Maybe.
The answer as to why Hamilton is struggling so mightily with the Halos could be a variety of things, but one thing is for certain—baseball is a "What have you done for me lately?" sport.
In the world of athletics where results matter more than anything, Hamilton is toeing a dangerous line by giving fans a reason to regret his signing.
If Hamilton can't find a way out of his slump soon, the boo-birds that chased him out of Arlington will begin to rain down from the rafters in Anaheim as well.
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