Tickle Me, Josh
I have a really dirty feeling **insert bashful/flirty/playful smile here** Not just dirty, but REALLY dirty. On a scale of filth, this feeling falls somewhere between knowing all the words to “Somebody I Used to Know” and Dustin Diamond. It feels so dirty--so sensationally dirty. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think, wait--yea, I think I love it. ;)
Josh Hamilton is an Angel.
Oooooh, that tickles. The guilty-pleasure feeling I get every time I say that never gets old. Nearly a week removed from tingle-fest that was the announcement of his signing, the effects are still being felt. Fellow writer Christian Breedlove wrote about the Angels new, shiny, expensive toy here and discusses Hamilton’s checkered past, current successes, and the ripple effect his signing will have.
As Professor Breedlove alludes to in his article, having such a huge portion of the payroll for the next half decade clogged up by the risk that is Hamilton is dangerous. We all know them, we all made fun of them while he was in Texas, and we all will embrace them while he is hitting well in Anaheim.
And that’s exactly what he will do in Anaheim. Given the fact that his awful contact rate last year was fluky, he will hit, and he will hit a ton.
A lot has been made about the fact that Hamilton was a more of a product of the forgiving extreme hitter’s parks he’s played for in the past in Cincinnati and Texas than he was a dominant individual hitter. These arguments are not factually incorrect, as Great American Ballpark ranks as the 8th most hitter friendly environment, while the Ballpark in Arlington ranks as the 4th most. The Pacific Ocean and its marine layer scoffs in the face of those two bandboxes and helps Angels Stadium ranks as the 27th most forgiving environment. The question is obvious, how will Hamilton adjust to such a spacious park?
To start, we can look at Hamilton’s torrid .292/.354/.504 career road slash line to quell our fears and keep that tingling sensation lively. Comparing those against his .315/.373/.594 numbers in his home park can be a bit disconcerting, especially in the slugging department—where most of his value as a hitter lies. Even more alarming is his discrepancy in ISO (batting average subtracted from slugging percentage) at home (.279) and on the road (.211) throughout his career. For reference, Josh Hamilton has typically been Miguel Cabrera (ISO of .279 last year) at home and Alex Rios (ISO of .210) on the road.
Although career data takes into account a larger sample size, it is not always more projectable to a player’s current ability level (take Vernon Wells’ .273 career batting average as evidence). Even through his Trumbo-esque prolonged slump last year, Hamilton was able to still pile up a .280/.349/.574 line away from Texas with his road ISO actually being higher (.294) than at home (.289). Perhaps, as his whiff rate indicates, his days of hitting .359 are over, but his days of having elite power production are still in full force—regardless of where he plays half of his games.
ESPN’s wonderful Home Run Tracker further proves this point. Of his 43 homeruns last year, Hamilton ranked first in the majors with 15 “No Doubt” homeruns. You can find the definition for “No Doubt” homeruns, and the other classifications of homeruns here. Interestingly enough, probable teammate Mark Trumbo tied for third in the majors with 12. Being worried that a change of environment out of Texas will zap his home run power at all is muted by the fact that he hit only one less than half of his homeruns on the road. Basically, if you have a fence in your front yard, Hamilton probably hit the ball over it.
On defense, as Breedlove points out, Hamilton was no Jim Edmonds in the outfield. His -12.6 UZR last year is a rather foreboding figure; and over 150 games in the outfield he was projected to cost the Rangers nearly 16 runs. Yet, most of this defensive debauchery was logged while inexplicably playing 687 innings in centerfield; something he won’t have to do in Anaheim (all hail the Baby Jesus Mike Trout). Luckily, the Angels’ one area of excess talent is in the outfield, and he likely won’t be asked to play 150 games there, and especially not in centerfield. If the Angels roll Trumbo out to right field outfield along with Mike Trout, Hamilton’s primary position will likely be left field, where he has been a positive. In nearly 2000 innings in left field in Texas, he has saved four runs per year. He’s not going to be Torii Hunter in the outfield as we all are accustomed to seeing, but he’s not going to be Carlos Lee either. If the Angels go with an outfield that includes Bourjos in center and Trout in left, Hamilton’s defense doesn’t have the historically strong evidence as he does in left field. However, he has at least not hurt his team on defense, which is an upgrade over Mark Trumbo by default.
Not having to be a part time player at a premiere defensive position will probably help Hamilton as well. In the years where he has logged the majority of defensive innings outside of centerfield, he has been even better, saving about 12 runs per year at the position. Add all of this with the fact that he will have two greyhounds to his left in the outfield who can more than make up for his lack of footspeed and you still have a fairly elite defensive outfield. With a pitching staff as seemingly depleted as the Angels rotation is, a strong defense will probably be a very valuable resource to utilize. Hamilton’s defense might not hold up throughout the life of the contract into his age 35 and 36 seasons, but for 2013 at least, he should hold up fine in either corner.
With all the risk that surrounds Josh Hamilton, his adjustment to Angels’ Stadium should not be the adjustment that we should worry about. The greatest risk the Angels fans might have to deal with the signing Josh Hamilton, is one unnamed, devilishly handsome blogger fangirling over him. I love you, Josh Hamilton, and I’ll enjoy feeling dirty for the next five years.