- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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What a strange world baseball has become. The Los Angeles Dodgers are paying Matt Kemp to play for their division rival San Diego Padres. And now the Los Angeles Angels will apparently pay Josh Hamilton to play for their division rival Texas Rangers. The Angels have reportedly agreed to send Hamilton to the Rangers and will pick up all but $15 million of the remaining $83 million on Hamilton's final three years of his contract.
It's certainly a best-case scenario for Hamilton, a return to the franchise where he won the 2010 American League MVP Award and bashed 43 home runs in 2012, his final season there. For the Angels, owner Arte Moreno clearly wanted nothing more of Hamilton on his team, no matter the money he'd have to eat. For the Rangers, at $5 million per season, it's a worthwhile gamble to see if the 33-year-old outfielder (34 in May) can produce, especially considering their left fielders are hitting .173 with one home run entering Friday's action.
Hamilton will have to win back Rangers fans, who turned on him at the end of 2012 as the Rangers collapsed and lost the division to the A's, with Hamilton dropping a fly ball in the crucial season-ending loss to Oakland. Later, after signing with the Angels, he called Dallas a football town -- which, for some reason, drew a lot of criticism considering the accuracy of the statement.
The biggest issue, however: What kind of player are the Rangers getting?
Based on his two seasons with the Angels, they're certainly not getting the player who hit .359 the year he won the MVP. They're probably not getting the player who hit .285/.354/.577 in 2012. With the Angels he hit .255/.316/.426. The warning signs were there when they signed him that he was a risk, aside from his off-the-field issues. His strikeout rate had been around 17 percent in 2010 and 2011 but jumped up to 25.5 percent in 2012. He was still mashing home runs -- he hit 14 in August and September of 2012 despite striking out 67 times those two months. In 2011, he had struck out just 93 times all season.
The high strikeout rates continued with the Angels. He fanned 158 times in 636 plate appearances in 2013 (24.8 percent) and 108 times in 381 plate appearances in 2014 (28.4 percent). But this time, the batting averages and power numbers didn't follow. Some of that was due to his new pitcher-friendly home park -- all 10 of his home runs in 2014 came on the road and 12 of his 21 in 2013 -- but pitchers simply exploited his weaknesses and willingness to chase pitches out of the zone, especially with two strikes.
But his decline hasn't been as simple as Hamilton merely chasing more pitches out of the zone. That, in theory, is something that could be corrected. Check out his overall swing rates and his percentage of swings on pitches out of the strike zone:
Overall swing rates
2010 -- 54.5 percent
2011 -- 56.4 percent
2012 -- 58.4 percent
2013 -- 55.2 percent
2014 -- 53.8 percent
2010 -- 36.4 percent
2011 -- 38.6 percent
2012 -- 43.6 percent
2013 -- 39.7 percent
2014 -- 40.1 percent
So, chasing a few more pitches has been an issue, although his overall swing rate was actually lower in 2014. He, undoubtedly, has been told numerous times to stop swinging so much; it hasn't helped.
What jumps out to me, however, is his growing ineffective with two strikes. In 2010, he hit .270/.344/.500 with two strikes. In 2012, he hit .163/.225/.310. In 2014, he hit .144/.212/.210. Has he been pitched differently? Let's check out the pitch location maps with two strikes from 2010 and 2014:
There's some slight differences there, but pitchers have always attacked him away with two strikes -- hoping, of course, to get him to chase that pitch just off the zone. The simple matter is Hamilton no longer does damage with that pitch. I don't see that as a problem that can be fixed; it's a player who is a little older, a player with a little less bat speed, a player without the control of the strike zone to make up for these deficiencies.
So what are the Rangers getting? Sure, maybe his numbers will see a little boost playing in Arlington, where the ball flies out to right field. He was worth 1.5 WAR each of the past two seasons; that caliber of player gets more than $5 million on the free market. So in a dollars-to-value sense, the Rangers' investment should pay off (all this is assuming he recovers fully from shoulder surgery). One 2-WAR season will earn the $15 million they're paying him.
Just don't expect 40 home runs or MVP votes again. At this point, Hamilton projects as a marginally useful outfielder. But not so useful that the Angels didn't mind giving him away to a rival.
Among the areas where Josh Hamilton has declined in recent seasons include hitting with two strikes.