Why Josh Hamilton May Be a Downgrade For The Angels

You probably think I’m crazy don’t you?

Or worse, you think I’m going to make some sort of tasteless assumption that Josh Hamilton going to LA will lead him back to his past addictions.

So how on Earth can Josh Hamilton – the 2010 AL MVP; the first free agent coming off a 40-HR, 120-RBI season since Alex Rodriguez; the man with talent seemingly on loan from God – be a downgrade for the Angels?

Because I’m evaluating this from a purely logical standpoint.

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The LA Angels obviously do not have a worse roster today than they did Thursday morning. As I have not been up all night drinking paint thinner, I would never make that argument.

My argument is that real baseball games aren’t won with fantasy stats. And while the Angels spent all this money on Josh Hamilton, they could have kept Torii Hunter for a fraction of the price and a similar return.

Was Torii Hunter Actually a Better Fit?

Torii Hunter was really good in 2012.

Despite missing time, and having to deal with mental duress due to his son’s arrest this past season, Hunter had a 2012 OPS+ of 132. Josh Hamilton’s was 139. When you take into account other intangibles, such as defense and how they hit in high leverage situations, Hunter contributed a significantly higher Win Probability Added (3.40) than Hamilton (2.50).

All this, despite Hamilton have a better team around him, a more favorable spot in the lineup, and playing in eight more games than Hunter.

Hunter also filled a bigger need in LA from an offensive standpoint. He was their no. 2 hitter behind AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout. Hamilton will be placed in either the 3rd or 4th spot (playing musical chairs with Albert Pujols), leaving a hole behind Trout that looks to be best filled by Alberto Callaspo, who does not have the ideal skill set for a no. 2 hitter like Hunter had.

Hamilton’s Numbers Suggest Impending Decline

Hamilton has all the talent in the world. He posts really sexy superficial stats like Batting Average, Home Runs and RBI. Yet he also is showing signs of declining, which as an injury-prone 31-year old is very logical.

The big red flag is his contact rate. He struck out in a quarter (25.5%) of his plate appearances last year and posted a contact rate of only 65%. To put that in to context, Adam Dunn has NEVER posted a contact rate that low.

Hamilton is not a very patient hitter either. He drew only 60 walks over 636 plate appearances. Those numbers get worse when you consider 13 of those were intentional walks. So yes, over 20% of Hamilton’s walks are a result of opponent fear, not his patience.

Hamilton’s explosive 43 home run season too seems to be a bit of an outlier. His Home Run to Fly Ball Ratio (HR/FB) was 25.6%. That raised his career average to 19.4%. If he’s healthy enough for another 630PA season (which is highly doubtful), the Angels are more likely looking at a 35 home run season.

I don’t really want to take the fun out of this signing. In fact, I am a Josh Hamilton fan, and hope he, Trout, and Pujols put on an amazing display next season.

Hamilton is a truly rare talent who can do things that are impossible for 99% of major leaguers. But those great moments are not what make a consistent, all-around, 162-game contribution. They just make it memorable.

The Big Picture

I want the Josh Hamilton Experience in LA to be a good one. But it would be irresponsible to evaluate this signing with my heart.

The stone cold logical reality is that all indications point to Hamilton providing similar value as the much cheaper Torii Hunter.

Hamilton’s skill set appears to be trending downward, whereas the older Hunter has been a mark of consistency. Hunter also filled a more useful role with the team, playing stronger defense while filling the no. 2 hole.

Hamilton will make headlines and sell jerseys, no question. And he’ll have some moments that leave mouths agape. But will he fit in the lineup as well as Hunter? And what will Hamilton’s impact be on the complicated chemistry that makes a baseball team a winner or a loser over the long, hot summer?

I hope this works out, but when you look at the larger picture and the deeper numbers involved, the Angels do not look to be a better team with Hamilton over Hunter.



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