Are You Still on The Josh Hamilton Bandwagon?

Jimmy HascupCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 01:  Outfielder Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers on September 1, 2009 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Superman. Curing cancer. Winning the lottery. Becoming the first African American President. Eternally ending poverty. Whether they’ve occurred or whether they’re realistic is irrelevant.

Now add Josh Hamilton to that collection. Less than a year ago he would’ve earned a mention in a list like that. Of course I’m being facetious, but the baseball world became enamored with him, almost to the extent that we would embrace the aforementioned people or events.

I’m a big fan of his, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that he was placed on a pedestal last season. Overcoming a severe drug and alcohol addiction and still being able to torment nearly every pitcher that stepped on the mound, Hamilton reminded scouts/fans/writers just why they coveted every skill of his when he was a high school senior.

Then he decided to take his game to another level during his record-breaking homerun derby in the Bronx. He taught an astronomy class that night, rocketing towering homeruns at will into the New York sky, for all of America to witness.

But this season Hamilton has again managed to disappoint his team and his fantasy owners. He’s managed just 10 HR, 49 RBI, and a .270 AVG in 87 games this season.

When you roll the calendar back to 2008 and see that Hamilton had 32 HR and 130 RBI, to go along with a .304 AVG, you have to wonder if his talent will ever be manifested over several seasons.

The latest bump and bruise nagging Hamilton is a lower back injury, which has forced him out of action since Sept. 2nd. Who knows when he’ll return to the lineup.

In ESPN leagues, Hamilton’s ADP was 20. If you play in a 12-team league, that means he went in the second round. But was it justified? After just one stellar season fantasy owners went bonkers over Hamilton and sought the reward over the legitimate high risk.

We ignored players like Nick Markakis, who is durable, consistent, and a viable contributor to multiple categories.

The question that’s become apparent as a result of Hamilton’s lackluster season is: at what spot in next year’s draft will you take feel comfortable taking him? If it’s me, I’m no longer targeting him as a No. 1 outfielder, but rather a No. 2. I can’t ignore the potential, but I can’t turn my head away from the injury risks.

We all know the story of Hamilton’s road to recovery. We’re familiar with what he was like in the minor leagues. In his three major league seasons he’s accumulated 61 HR, 226 RBI, and a .292 AVG. After what he’s gone through, we can all agree that it has been quite the comeback.

Let’s take a look at his rates from the past three seasons and I’ll show you why 2009 has been a strange year for Hamilton—for the short time he’s been in the lineup.

The numbers below are broken up by LD percentage, GB percentage, FB percentage, and HR/FB percentage.

2007 – 21.7 percent / 45.1 percent / 33.2 percent / 24.4 percent

2008 – 21.5 percent / 45.6 percent / 32.9 percent / 19.2 percent

2009 – 22.0 percent / 36.5 percent / 41.6 percent / 9.4 percent

The first two seasons of Hamilton’s career were almost identical. You look at this year’s rates and you see a spike in his FB percentage and a drop in his GB percentage. You’d assume that Hamilton would also see a corresponding result in his homerun total, but in reality his 9.4 percent HR/FB has quelled that number dramatically.

There’s an obvious point of concern here; he’s hitting a lot of fly balls, but they aren’t being converted into home runs like they had previously in his career. We have to hope it’s the pesky injuries that are ever-so-slightly tinkering with his swing.

His .324 BABIP would suggest that luck has even been on his side this year, so we can’t attribute his down rates to that.

In terms of plate coverage, Hamilton is making contact on the pitches he swings at 72 percent of the time. The previous two seasons he had a 77 percent and 74 percent mark, so it’s easy to notice a less contact approach for Hamilton this season.

Has his swing become loopier, further decreasing the propensity for contact? I definitely think his swing was flatter last year, so he was able to make contact more often than not.

What concerns me the most, besides the injuries, about Hamilton’s season is his decline in handling nearly every type of pitch. According to Fangraphs’ metric that shows how hitters deal with certain pitches, Hamilton has regressed in hitting the fastball this season.

Last year he had a wFB/C of 2.64 (run value per 100 pitches), while this year he has one of only 1.48. Hamilton also used to hit the cut fastball well, a 1.69 mark last season. But this year he’s declined to -6.85, which basically means he’s become well-below average in handling the cutter.

Believe me when I say it, or take a look here—Hamilton has taken a huge step backwards in his pitch recognition and hitting skills this year. Hopefully a healthier Hamilton results in a return to form next season.

I look forward to and expect Hamilton to right the ship for next season, but I don’t expect him to repeat his 2008 campaign.

What do you guys think? Where will you take Hamilton in your drafts next season? Do you think he will bounce back?


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