Nick Kappel's Fantasy Focus: What's Wrong with Josh Hamilton?

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Nick Kappel's Fantasy Focus: What's Wrong with Josh Hamilton?
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The Texas Rangers are 30-19, leading the Angels in the AL West by 5.5 games after play on Saturday. The Rangers’ quick start can be attributed to their potent offense, which ranks fifth in the Majors, scoring 5.44 runs per game.

Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and Nelson Cruz have led the way for Texas, combining to hit .303 through the first two months of the season.

Josh Hamilton, however, hasn’t been quite as productive, posting a miserable .234 batting clip while battling through a groin injury.

From a fantasy perspective, how should we interpret Hamilton’s slow start? The numbers tell an interesting story…

Hamilton’s first half totals in 2008 put him on a ridiculous 37 HR/165 RBI pace. His power production waned in the second half, as expected, to the tune of 11 HR and 35 RBI.

While those totals were a far cry from his pre-All Star break pace, his second half stats would have projected to 28 HR and 90 RBI over the course of 162 games.

Comparatively, his 2009 totals to date project to 29 bombs and 114 RBI over the course of an entire season. The only major difference between his down-to-earth 2008 second half and his first 34 games in 2009 is his batting average.

The second half of 2008 saw the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 hit .296, 62 points higher than his current .234 batting clip.

The decrease in average can be attributed to his low .264 BABIP, which is down from the .318 and .339 marks he posted in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Hamilton’s poor BABIP in 2009 is supported by his low line-drive percentage (15.6), compared to his career mark of 20.9 percent. His HR/FB ratio is down as well, currently standing at 12.5 percent, compared to 19.5 percent for his career.

These totals are likely to rise once he overcomes his groin injury.

What’s most concerning, though, is that his BB percentage currently sits at 6.8 percent, down from 10 and 9.3 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Likewise, his strikeout percentage is on the rise, currently standing at 25 percent, up from 21.8 and 20.2 percent in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Even more puzzling is Hamilton’s current .195/.250/.390 line in his hitter-friendly home park, as opposed to his .310/.356/.571 line on the road.

So what should we make from all of this?

A scout I talked to recently took a different approach to explaining Hamilton’s slow start.

He pointed out that Hamilton didn’t play a single game in the Minors between 2003 and 2005. In 2006, he played in just 15 games. Hamilton finally made his Major League debut in 2007, playing in 90 games for the Reds. It wasn’t until 2008 when Hamilton endured an entire season, playing in 156 games for the Rangers.

Based on these facts, Hamilton has about the same pro experience as Boston prospect Lars Anderson, who is currently in his third season in the Red Sox organization.

This scout argued that Hamilton has yet to physically mature, and his limited playing time in ‘06 and ‘07 allowed him the rest he needed to come on strong in 2008. While he suggested fantasy managers should approach Hamilton with caution, he noted, “The best of Josh Hamilton will come in a year or two.”

This theory, while an interesting one, is not something I necessarily agree with. It does, however, come from a respected baseball scout, and should be taken into consideration.

Approaching Hamilton with caution, as the scout I talked to suggested, is probably the best advice. It would be foolish to expect another 130 RBI campaign this season, especially when you consider the groin injury he is battling through.

On Sunday, Hamilton announced he will soon meet with a specialist in an effort to figure out why his groin is still bothering him. Judging by the lingering effects this injury has had on Hamilton, I would expect it to continue to be a problem.

With that in mind, I’ve held back on my original projections for Hamilton. Proceed with caution.

 

R HR RBI SB AVG
PACE 95 29 114 14 .234
PROJ 75 23 90 8 .275

 

PACE represents Hamilton’s 162-game pace based on his current stats. PROJ represents what I project Hamilton’s stat line to be at the end of the season. These numbers are based on games played before Sunday, May 31.

Original Article: Baseball Reflections

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