How Josh Hamilton Can Still Turn His Nightmare Season Around
When the Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a lucrative, five-year deal last winter, it was assumed that he would bring his powerful bat to Mike Scioscia's everyday lineup, compete in the All-Star Game and help the team reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Thus far, Hamilton and the Angels are teetering on the edge of 0-for-3 in their first year of marriage together.
Hamilton's bat, after posting a 147 OPS-plus from 2010-2012 in Texas, has become anemic in 2013. When the sport begins play on Friday evening, the 32-year-old slugger will enter the final 40 percent of the season with a .224/.283/.413 slash line. Through 89 games played, a .696 OPS and 94 OPS-plus can't be attributed to ballpark change or small sample size.
Outside of deserving American League All-Star outfielders like teammate Mike Trout or Toronto's Jose Bautista, Hamilton wasn't even on the radar for the 2013 Midsummer Classic. According to FanGraphs WAR, 28 American League outfielders have been more valuable than Los Angeles' $25 million right fielder, including the likes of Seth Smith, Andy Dirks and Nate McLouth.
At 44-49, including a minus-four run differential, the Angels are 10 games back in the AL West loss column and looking up at six teams in the race for two wild-card spots in the postseason. Although the team is capable of making a run, the pre-All-Star Game weekend sweep at the hands of the lowly Seattle Mariners halted momentum in L.A.
While Hamilton can't be an All-Star, won't come close to his vintage Texas stats and is far away from MVP consideration, his last 17 games leading up to the break can be an encouraging sign moving forward. If Hamilton is going to revive his season and the hopes for an Angels run towards October, the notoriously streaky hitter will need to carry over his latest hot streak into the season's second half.
Since June 25, covering a span of 17 games, Hamilton has posted a .297/.370/.563 line, crushing four home runs and plating 14 RBI. The .932 OPS over the run is nearly identical (.930) to his season line from 2012.
Of course, that 2012 campaign was good enough to land Hamilton in the top five of the AL MVP vote and convinced Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto that the former MVP had $125 million of value left in his career.
The biggest difference between Hamilton's season before and after June 25 can be found by staring at his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) numbers. On average, BABIP tends to hover around .290-.300, but Hamilton has always had a knack, mostly due to crushing line drives, for posting BABIP numbers in the .320s or better. In 2010, Hamilton's AL MVP season, his mark was at .390.
From Opening Day through June 25, Hamilton posted a .242 BABIP. He was either hitting into an unbelievable stretch of bad luck or couldn't muster close to the kind of direct contact baseball fans were so used to seeing off his powerful bat.
Starting with a three-hit night against Detroit, the Hamilton of old has returned. The impressive, Texas-esque slash line of late has been buoyed by a .357 BABIP.
Deciphering if this Hamilton hot streak is a blip on the radar for a declining player on the wrong side of 30 or a bounce-back by one of baseball's best all-around talents will take more time and context. But the way Hamilton is producing should make Los Angeles fans feel better moving forward.
When the Angels signed Hamilton away from Texas, the hope was to steal a great player—before a true decline hit—away from a division rival.
Over the last few weeks, the former AL MVP has looked like the Texas Ranger great of years past.
If he continues posting BABIP in the upper .300s, hits will undoubtedly follow. As they do, the nightmare will end in Los Angeles, possibly on the road back to contention.
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