Stats & Info: Josh Hamilton

Hamilton back in the groove for now

April, 7, 2014

The results look good a week into the season for Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton getting pitched outside has been a fact of baseball life the last couple of seasons. No hitter gets pitched that way quite like Hamilton does.

But at least in the first week of the season, Hamilton is doing something about it.

The sample is really small, but as the image above shows, Hamilton is succeeding where he’s failed in the past. He’s 8 for 16 in at-bats that end with an outside pitch, including 1 for 2 with three walks in the Angels’ win over the Houston Astros last night. That came on the day he was named co-AL Player of the Week.

The last couple of seasons, Hamilton had a propensity to chase the outside pitch. He swung at nearly 40 percent of pitches off the outer third of the plate that were out of the strike zone in 2012 and 2013. He's done so less than one-fourth of the time through seven games in 2014.

Hamilton has also been more willing to hit the ball on the ground rather than lift it. His ground-ball rate the last two seasons was 38 percent. It's 61 percent so far in 2014.

The results have put Hamilton in good company. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the last Angels player prior to Hamilton with a .500 batting average after the team's first seven games of a season (minimum 20 at-bats) was Garret Anderson in 2003 (15-28, .536).

Hamilton no longer hitting hard

August, 30, 2013
Brandon Wade/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton has not played up to his $125 million contract this season.
Josh Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels after five seasons with the Texas Rangers. With Texas, Hamilton won an MVP award, reached the World Series twice, and reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs three times (including a career-high 43 homers last season).

His performance in 2013 has not been up to the standards he set in Texas. Without oversimplifying it, much of his struggles have derived from Hamilton not hitting the ball as hard as he has in previous seasons.

The ball is not jumping off Hamilton’s bat the same way this season. According to Sportvision/BAM, the average speed of the ball off Hamilton’s bat this season is 80.6 mph, down from 83 mph in 2010, when he won the AL MVP award.

Coinciding with that, Hamilton’s average home run is 12 feet shorter than last season (416 in 2012, 404 in 2013). The average distance of his balls hit in the air (fly balls and line drives) is down 16 feet from last season as well.

Inside Edge’s video scouts elaborate on this idea, as they tell us that 22 percent of the pitches Hamilton has hit this season are classified as “hard-hit,” down from an average of 33 percent over the past three seasons.

The Angels slugger’s struggles are magnified when facing lefties this season. Over his last three seasons in Texas, Hamilton averaged about 45 hits and 45 strikeouts off lefties per season. This season, Hamilton already has 47 strikeouts against lefties with only 24 hits.

Remarkably, Hamilton’s batting average is down at least 39 points in every quadrant of the strike zone this season compared to last season. The drop in averages is not for lack of contact, as Hamilton is swinging and missing at a lower rate than he did last season (31 percent this season, 36 percent in 2012).

Hamilton routinely crushed fastballs last season, hitting .310 and slugging .599 off them. This season, his batting average against fastballs is down 60 points and his slugging percentage has fallen by 117 points.

5 stats to know: Angels at Yankees

August, 12, 2013

Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY SportsHiroki Kuroda has a 1.13 ERA since the start of July, the lowest ERA in the majors.
The Los Angeles Angels will open a four-game series in the Bronx tonight as they take on the New York Yankees on "Monday Night Baseball" (7 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN). Here's a look at some of the stats our broadcast crew will be talking about during the game.

1. The Yankees have been on a terrible slide since the All-Star break, going 8-13, the fourth-worst record in baseball. New York is looking to win consecutive games for the first time since winning three straight a month ago (July 10-12).

Before taking two of three from the Detroit Tigers over the weekend, the team had not won a series since July 5-7.

2. The Yankees are having an offensive season for the ages -- and not in a good way. The franchise hasn’t produced this poorly since 1990.

Since Babe Ruth became a Yankee in 1920, the team has ranked last or second-to-last in slugging just once (1967). The Yankees are currently 29th in MLB in slugging, ahead of only the Miami Marlins.

3. A good sign for New York: Hiroki Kuroda makes his first start at home since July 12 (last four starts have come on the road). He owns the AL’s best home ERA at 1.74 and is 6-2 in 10 starts in the Bronx. He hasn’t allowed a run in his past 13⅔ innings at home.

Kuroda allowed three earned runs in his last start against the Chicago White Sox. He has made six starts this season immediately following an outing in which he gave up at least three earned runs, going 2-1 with a 1.22 ERA in those appearances.

4. Mike Trout has been on an unreal tear at the plate since facing the Yankees earlier this season. That series started June 14 and since then, he has batted .379, with a .502 OBP and .605 slugging percentage, good for a 1.107 OPS in those 49 games. He has reached base by hit or walk in 33 straight games, the longest active streak in MLB.

5. After joining the Angels on a lucrative five-year contract this offseason, Josh Hamilton has been a shell of his former self, but his drop-off actually began last year.

He has batted .232 with a .299 OBP in 210 games since June 1, 2012 (he has made over 890 plate appearances over this span).

Odds and Ends
• Alex Rodriguez has hit 70 career homers against the Angels, his most against any team. After hitting a home run yesterday, Rodriguez is looking to homer in back-to-back games for the first time since last September.

• Josh Hamilton has hit just .175 with runners in scoring position this season. Last year he hit .296.

• The Angels are 6-17 in their past 23 games in the Bronx (including playoffs) and 6-15 in the regular season all time at the new Yankee Stadium.

Angels trio's hot bats lead to dominance

July, 11, 2013
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJosh Hamilton homered twice in the same game for the first time as an Angel.
This is what Los Angeles Angels fans have been waiting for all season from their superstar trio.

The Angels’ 2-3-4 hitters -- Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton –- combined to go 6-for-10 with nine RBIs on Wednesday in a 13-2 win over the Chicago Cubs. They reached base safely in 10 of their 14 plate appearances. The nine combined RBIs ties for the most the trio has had as teammates.

It was perhaps the first time we’ve seen Pujols and Hamilton –- the Angels’ highly paid 3-4 power hitters –- dominate a game together.

Hamilton had two home runs and five RBIs, his first multihomer game with the Angels.

Pujols homered in consecutive games for the first time this season. Ninety team games into the season, it's the deepest into a season Pujols has gone before homering in consecutive games for the first time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Previously, his longest was 87 games, in 2007.

Not only was it the first time Pujols and Hamilton hit back-to-back home runs, but it was the first time the Angels as a team hit back-to-back homers all season. It was only the second game in which Pujols and Hamilton both homered in the same game as teammates.

Comparing Trout this season through 89 games played at the same point during his incredible rookie campaign last season, he has a lower batting average with fewer home runs and RBIs. But he does have more doubles, triples and walks, and fewer strikeouts this season.

Pujols and Hamilton, meanwhile, have struggled for the most part this season. However, they could be turning things around.

Pujols now has a hit in six straight games, matching a season high. He’s hitting .381 during those six games with seven RBIs and only one strikeout.

During that same time frame, Hamilton is hitting .280 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

Pujols and Hamilton both have an OPS better than 1.100 since July 4, both ranking in the top 20 in the majors during that span. Mike Trout is batting .409 over the past week with a 1.382 OPS, which ranks fourth in the majors.

What we do know is the Trout-Pujols-Hamilton trio is certainly hitting better as of late. What we don't know is whether the trio’s Wednesday performance and their hot bats over the past week will parlay into a second-half surge for the Angels.

Kernels: One heck of a holiday

July, 7, 2013
Last week it was Friday that brought us a day full of oddities. July 4 historically provides some bizarre notes about the national pastime, so we should have known that this week, it would be Thursday.

Among the highlights:

• The Mets and Diamondbacks played a 15-inning epic in their series finale. The Diamondbacks had go-ahead RBI in three separate innings from the 13th on, the first to do that since the 1986 Cardinals.

• The loss was the Mets' third defeat of 15 innings or longer this season. In the expansion era (1961), only 13 teams have lost at least three 15-or-more-inning games in a single season, and five of those also won at least one along the way. The 2007 Astros were the last, losing a 15-, a 16-, and a 17-inning contest that season. The 1968 Mets (1-3 in games of 15 or more innings) were among the other squads to do it.

• The Reds and Giants had the 33rd postponed game of the season. There were only 20 postponed games in 2012. It was the first rainout of a July 4 game since 1994.

• The Athletics won their game over the Cubs 1-0 with the only run scoring on a passed ball by Welington Castillo.

If that seems unusual, it is. You might have heard on the Sunday morning Baseball Tonight that It hadn't happened in 20 years... exactly 20 years. The last time the only run of a game scored on a passed ball was another July 4 game, between the Dodgers and Expos on July 4, 1993.

• The White Sox walked off against Baltimore on Thursday when Adam Dunn launched his 23rd homer in the bottom of the 9th. It was Dunn's first walk-off anything since he homered for Washington in the final week of the 2010 season.

However, it was the third consecutive year that the White Sox had won their July 4 game on a walk-off.

The last team to win three consecutive Independence Day games via walk-off is somewhat of a statistical technicality. It happened for the Cleveland Indians, who played a doubleheader with the Tigers on July 4, 1962, and won both in extra innings. They then beat the Red Sox in 14 innings in the first game of a '63 double-dip.

But winning three straight years on July 4 via walk-off?

Since 1900, no team had ever done it. Until this week.

• The Pirates and Phillies finished their cross-commonwealth series on Thursday with an interesting pitching matchup. Pittsburgh starter: Gerrit Cole. Philadelphia starter: Cole Hamels. "Cole" ended up with both the win and the loss as the Phillies won 6-4.

There was one such "name game" matchup last season: June 16 when Oakland's Tyson Ross faced the Padres' Ross Ohlendorf in interleague play. But before that you have to go back more than 20 years to find an exact match. On April 13, 1991, Mike Scott of the Astros faced Scott Garrelts of the Giants. It didn't go well; San Francisco won 16-2. Darryl Kile also pitched for Houston in that game; 10 years later he would face Kyle Lohse on July 17, 2001.

• Thanks to eight walks and a hit batter, the Royals scored 10 runs on only six base hits in Thursday's 10-7 win over Cleveland. They're just the second team in the past 10 years to reach double digits on as few as six hits. The Twins also received eight free passes from the Tigers in a 10-2 win on September 5, 2008.

In Royals franchise history, they'd never before had a game-- of any linescore-- where their number of runs exceeded their number of hits by at least four.

• Erick Aybar's walk-off single capped a three-run Angels comeback in the ninth inning on Thursday as they downed the Cardinals 6-5. The Angels had been 1-38 when trailing after eight innings this season, and then they pulled off two wins in three days.

On Saturday night, they trailed the Red Sox 7-3 before piecing together four singles, a hit batter, and a Boston error to score four two-out runs to tie the game. Josh Hamilton eventually won it with a walk-off homer in the 11th.
Fresh off a come-from-behind win on Saturday, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will look to continue their recent hot streak against the Boston Red Sox at 8 ET on ESPN/WatchESPN. Here are five stats that will surely be talked about during that broadcast.

1-The contest pits two pitchers against each other who like working in Angel Stadium. Jered Weaver’s 54-22 mark (.711 winning percentage) is the best of anyone who has at least 60 decisions there. John Lackey’s 51-32 record (.614 winning percentage) ranks third-best, and includes a 2-0 mark against the Angels.

2—Lackey has been very impressive in his return from injury.

Lackey has located his fastball differently than he had been when he struggled in 2011. He throws about one of every three to the lower-third of the strike zone or below, nearly double how often he threw fastballs there two seasons ago.
This has greatly limited opposing hitters’ ability to make solid contact against him. Opponents have a “hard-hit” average of .124 against Lackey in 2013, a rate that ranks fourth-best in the AL and one that is 79 points below his average from 2009 to 2011.

One matchup to watch with this pitch will be against Mike Trout, who is one of the best hitters in baseball against pitches at the bottom of the strike zone. Trout has hit .383 against fastballs to the lower-third or below and .342 against all pitches to that area over the last two seasons. The latter ranks best in baseball in that span.

Lackey has gone four straight starts with at least seven innings pitched, allowing two earned runs or fewer. That’s his longest streak since 2009.

3- Josh Hamilton is showing signs of life, batting .375 (15-for-40) during his current 11-game hit streak. He has a favorable matchup Sunday. He’s 12-for-27 with four home runs and nine RBI in his career vs. Lackey. The only batters with more home runs off Lackey are Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez (both with five).

Hamilton's timing against hard stuff has been better lately. He had only 20 hits all season against more than fastballs, cutters, and sinkers prior to this streak, but has 10 against the 102 pitches of that type that he's seen in the streak.

4- Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title at the moment. But if you reduce the qualifier his .403 batting average is in historic company.

In the All-Star era (since 1933), only 3 players had a higher batting average at the break among those with 150 plate appearances, and none since Ted Williams’ .405 in 1941 (the year he finished at .406).

5-- Few American League players have been this productive in the first half of a season at age 37 as David Ortiz has been this season. Ortiz currently ranks fifth in the highest OPS by an AL player that age or older prior to the All-Star Break, with a week to go. The three players that rank ahead of him and his 1.007 OPS are Ted Williams (1.121 in 1957), Edgar Martinez (1.114 in 2000) and Babe Ruth (1.028 in 1934 and 1.024 in 1933).

Doug Clawson also contributed to this post

Kernels: A week of perfect fives

May, 19, 2013
Our weekly review of interesting and notable stats you might have missed.

Give Me Five
Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals went 5-for-5, with 5 RBI, in Monday's 11-4 victory against the Los Angeles Angels. And he had that big game without going deep. Butler's RBI came on two doubles and a single.

Butler was the first player to have five hits and five driven in since Josh Hamilton's four-homer game last season. And in franchise history, only one other Royal had reached five-and-five in the same game: Kevin Seitzer (6-for-6, 2 HR, 7 RBI) against the Red Sox on August 2, 1987.

On Tuesday, Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies also went 5-for-5 in a 9-4 win against the Chicago Cubs.

That was the first five-hit game by a Colorado batter in three years, and two of those hits left the yard. That made CarGo just the third player in franchise history to have five hits, including two homers, in a single game. Andres Galarraga had a six-hit, two-homer game in 1995, and Vinny Castilla did it in a 12-inning contest in July 1997.

And the week wasn't over. Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers went 5-for-5 in Saturday's 7-2 victory against the Tigers. He's the first leadoff hitter to go a perfect 5-for-5 (or better) since Derek Jeter on July 9, 2011. That's the game where Jeter homered for his 3,000th hit.

Prior to this week there had been just one other five-hit game this season, by Carlos Santana of the Cleveland Indians on April 7.

Slugfest of the Week: Rays 12, Orioles 10
The Rays scored seven runs off starter Jason Hammel, added three more off Sean Burnett (who needed 28 pitches to get one out), and were up 12-4 before Jeremy Hellickson got in trouble in the 8th. A Nate McLouth triple started the inning, and the Orioles strung together five straight two-out hits en route to a six-run frame.

The teams combined for 30 hits (only nine games this season have gotten there; the high is 33 by the Diamondbacks and Cardinals on April 3), and each team had six extra-base hits.

Both starters gave up 10 hits and at least seven runs. That hadn't happened in any game since July 20, 2009, when the Minnesota Twins' Nick Blackburn and Gio Gonzalez "dueled" in a 14-13 Oakland Athletics win.

On the other hand, Hellickson walked just one hitter and Hammel two, and that combination (10-plus hits, seven-plus runs, max of two walks) hadn't been achieved by a pair of starters in more than a decade. John Patterson of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Mets' Al Leiter each posted that line on August 4, 2002.

The Orioles also had two triples (Yamaico Navarro had the other), the first time they've done that in almost three years (July 7, 2010, at Detroit). That had been the longest drought without a multi-triple game by any team.

Winning Ugly
Hellickson got the win in that game on Friday despite being charged with eight runs. But he wasn't the only one this week.

Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants worked into the seventh inning against the Rockies on Thursday, allowing six runs and three homers. He got the win only because Jhoulys Chacin gave up eight runs.

On Friday, Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals pitched 5 1/3 innings with six runs allowed, but won because Wily Peralta of the Brewers allowed seven.

There have been five instances this season of a pitcher allowing six or more runs and getting a win, all in the last 10 days. And the last time three pitchers did it in two days was on April 13, 2009, when Edinson Volquez, Gavin Floyd, and Koji Uehara all barely made it through the required five innings.

The last two-day span where all three pitchers went beyond the five-inning minimum was May 25-26, 1992. Those lucky winners were Butch Henry of the Astros, Charles Nagy of the Indians, and the Orioles' (and ESPN's) Rick Sutcliffe.
Four stats you’ll likely hear quite a bit more about on tonight’s "Sunday Night Baseball" matchup between the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Chicago White Sox on ESPN.

1-- This game features a pair of starters who successfully transitioned from the bullpen in recent years. Chris Sale and C.J. Wilson are two of the three pitchers since 2005 who won 15 games in a season following only relief appearances (the other was Ryan Dempster).

Sale and Wilson both rank among the top five among AL lefties in strikeouts since the start of last season. Sale is third with 234. Wilson is fifth with 217.

Sale enters 11-3 with a 2.26 ERA in 17 career starts at home and 8-0 with a 3.13 ERA against AL West foes. He wins on the strength of a slider that has netted 129 strikeouts, third-most in the majors in the past two seasons.

2-- The easiest way to sum up the Angels’ woes: Entering Saturday, Josh Hamilton had driven in Albert Pujols just once all season. Hamilton is 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position this season and 3-for-35 versus lefties.

As much as Hamilton has struggled, he’s actually produced more than Albert Pujols did in the Angels’ first 36 games last year. He was hitting .197 with 1 home runs, but broke out in Game No. 37 and hit .312 with 29 homers the rest of the way.

The Angels have the lowest BA in the MLB from the 3 and 4 spots in the order combined (.214).

You can take a look at Hamilton's struggles here and in the interactive heat map above.

3-- Mike Trout got off to a bit of a slow start both on offense and defense. But Trout is hitting .356 (16-for-45) with four home runs and seven multi-hit games in his past 11 games.

On the defensive side, Trout has been charged with costing his team two runs in left field and one run in center (-3 defensive runs saved). Trout ranked second among major league center fielders last season with 23 defensive runs saved.

Trout was the premier home-run robber in the majors last season, pilfering four would-be longballs. He’s yet to steal one from over the fence in 2013.

4-- The White Sox offense has sputtered this season. It ranks in the AL basement across the board in the slashline stats-- batting average (.227), on-base percentage (.278), and slugging percentage (.370).

The White Sox have three batting-title qualifiers currently hitting below .200. They rank last in the AL in runs per game and strike out at a higher rate than any other team.

Anniversary of Josh Hamilton's 4 HR game

May, 8, 2013

ESPN Stats & InformationMore payroll hasn't translated to more wins for the Angels.
One year ago today, May 8, Josh Hamilton went 5-for-5 with four home runs and eight RBI against the Baltimore Orioles.

That seems like a long time ago, especially considering Hamilton's early-season struggles with the Los Angeles Angels.

So, the one-year anniversary seems like an opportune time to revisit Hamilton specifically and the struggles of the Angels as a whole.

This time a year ago, Hamilton seemed to be well on his way to his second American League MVP award. However, last June Hamilton went into a tailspin that not only hasn’t stopped, but it’s getting progressively worse.

Baseball Tonight analyst Aaron Boone brought up a good point last week: Hamilton is becoming increasingly more aggressive and it’s having a detrimental effect on his production.

The rate at which he’s chasing pitches out of the strike zone has increased in each of the last four seasons: 35 percent in 2010; 37.5 percent in 2011; and north of 42 percent in both 2012 and 2013.

It would be one thing if Hamilton was effective at hitting pitches out of the zone, but that’s no longer the case (see second chart).

In addition, there’s a huge chasm in Hamilton’s approach and his success with it. No player swings at the first pitch more often than Hamilton (51.4 percent), yet his performance in 0-0 counts (.280) is well below the league average (.357).

The result thus far in 2013? Hamilton has been among the least productive position players this season. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is -1.0, tied for the third worst this season among position players.

As for the Angels, they have shown a willingness to spend money on high-profile free agents; however, the increase in payroll has not led to a better product on the field.

With the exception of pitcher Jered Weaver, the Angels’ spending hasn’t been to lock up homegrown players but to acquire high-profile free agents.

In the last two offseasons, the Angels have committed $480 million to free agents, $152 million more than the next closest team, the Detroit Tigers ($328 million). More than $440 million of that went to Hamilton, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And all three players have been showing signs of decline.

In 2010, Hamilton, Pujols and Wilson combined for a 20.8 WAR. Last season it was 9.4, and so far in 2013 their combined WAR is -0.8.
There's a premier pitching matchup on Sunday Night Baseball this evening with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim visiting the Texas Rangers, and 20-game winner Jered Weaver facing almost-perfect second-year man Yu Darvish.

Let's take a look at some of the top things to watch in this contest.

Weaver’s no slouch
Jered Weaver is 13-0 in his last 19 starts in March or April. That’s tied for the third-longest streak of consecutive pre-May starts without a loss in major-league history.

Weaver is 59-26 in his career before the All-Star break. That’s the best mark of any active pitcher.

In fact, among those who began their career in the All-Star era, only Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax have a higher winning percentage (min. 100 starts) in the first half of the season than Weaver’s current .694.

One thing to keep an eye on is that Weaver’s recent run of success has come despite a decline in velocity and strikeouts. He averaged 89.8 miles-per-hour on his fastball and averaged 9.4 strikeouts per 9 innings in 2010, numbers that dropped to 87.7 and 6.8 in 2012.

In his first start of 2013, Weaver threw 94 pitches, but never even hit 89 miles per hour with any of them.

What can Darvish accomplish on Sunday
It would be hard for Darvish to be better than he was in his first start of the season.

But a 10-strikeout performance would make him the first pitcher with back-to-back 10-strikeout games to open the season since Kerry Wood in 2002 and the first in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 2000.

It would also give him at least 24 strikeouts, surpassing team president Nolan Ryan’s 23 in 1989 as the most by a Rangers pitcher in his first two starts of the season.

The last four pitchers prior to Darvish to lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning (Dave Stieb, Brian Holman, Mike Mussina and Armando Galarraga) combined to pitch 21 1/3 innings in their next start, yielding 12 earned runs.

Mussina had the best next start of that group, allowing one run in six innings against the Boston Red Sox, the same team he nearly perfected.

Pujols watch
On the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter, Albert Pujols had the best Saturday of any DH, with his 45th career multi-homer game. He passed both Willie Stargell and Stan Musial into 28th place on the all-time home run list.

Pujols may not pass anyone on the all-time home run list on Sunday, but he can surpass a legendary home-run hitter in one regard.

Pujols enters Sunday with 506 career doubles. That’s tied with Babe Ruth for 51st on the Elias Sports Bureau's all-time doubles list. Ed Delahanty and Rickey Henderson rank tied for 49th with 510.

Matchups to Watch
Mike Trout vs Darvish: Trout is 6-for-17 with two home runs in his career against Darvish. In fact, the last pitch he saw from Darvish last season was one he hit for a home run.

Trout dominated the Rangers last season, with a .338 batting average, 1.140 OPS and 17 RBI in 19 games. He’s the only player ever to have six home runs and seven steals against the Rangers in the same season.

Trout gets better with each time he faces a pitcher in a game. In 2012, he hit .291 in his first turn against a starting pitcher, then .378 and .393 in his second and third turns against them.

Josh Hamilton vs Darvish: No starting pitcher got a higher percentage of swings and misses than Darvish last season (29 percent). No hitter had a higher percentage of misses on his swings last season than Hamilton (36 percent).

Hamilton is 1-for-20 in his first five games with the Angels (remember he went 2-for-17 in his last five games with the Rangers, including the loss in the Wild Card Playoff), with 10 strikeouts in 20 at-bats. Of the 19 outs, 14 have come on pitches on the outer-half of the plate, or off the outside corner.

Mark Simon also contributed to this post

Mets, Mariners Dunn star on Opening Day

March, 31, 2013

Mike PhilbrickAdam Dunn has been prolific on the first day of the season.
Five Opening Day tidbits you might not have known

Mets are best
The New York Mets enter Monday 33-18 all-time on Opening Day. Their .647 winning percentage on Opening Day is the best in major-league history.

The Mets have won six of their last seven Opening Day games. Jonathon Niese, who was born on the day the Mets won their last World Series (October 27, 1986) will make his first career Opening Day start against the San Diego Padres.

The Seattle Mariners-Oakland Athletics matchup on Monday night pits a pair of teams with significantly different Opening Day history of late.

The Mariner have won six straight Opening Day games, usually marked by a good start from Felix Hernandez. He has a 1.63 ERA in five previous openers.

The Athletics have lost eight straight Opening Day games. Brett Anderson will be the Athletics eighth different Opening Day starter in as many seasons.

Home sweet home
The New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox rivalry will renew Monday in the Bronx, a place that has been most friendly to the Yankees on Opening Day.

The Yankees have won the last 11 Opening Day Games they’ve played at home. Their last such loss was in 1982 to the Chicago White Sox.

The Red Sox have won six of the last eight Opening Day games against the Yankees.

Well Dunn
Adam Dunn enters Monday’s matchup with the Royals tied with Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. for the all-time record with eight career Opening Day home runs.

Dunn may have had problems with his batting average in recent years, but he’s thrived in his last eight Opening Day games, going 11-for-29.

He’s 1-for-10 with five strikeouts and no home runs against Monday’s starter, James Shields.

Interleague history
The Cincinnati Reds used to play baseball’s first game every season, but that tradition has gone by the boards.

They might start a new tradition on Monday when they host the first interleague opening game, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

This game will mark the first for new Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton with the team and the first against the team with whom he played his first major-league game.

Also of note: Jered Weaver will make his fifth career Opening Day start, tying the Angels record set by Mike Witt.

Top stats to know: Atlanta Braves

March, 7, 2013

Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWhat will Braves closer Craig Kimbrel do for an encore to his historic 2012 season?
B.J. Upton may have cost the Atlanta Braves more money to acquire than his younger brother Justin, but it was the deal for Justin that was arguably the transaction of the offseason in the National League East.

Justin Upton struggled with injury and inconsistency for much of last season, but in September he started to show his 2011 version. Through August, Upton was hitting .273, then hit .304 the rest of the way with six home runs and lowered his strikeout rate from 20.8 to 13.4 percent.

While the additions of the Upton brothers made headlines, let’s not forget that the (likely) best player in Atlanta’s outfield was already in place, Jason Heyward. After a brutal sophomore season in 2011, Heyward’s combination of above-average bat and outstanding right field defense has made him one of the most dynamic outfielders in the game.

Heyward’s 2011 season was ruined by a shoulder injury and swing mechanics that reportedly did not allow him to turn on inside pitches. Last season, Heyward dramatically improved in that specific area slugging .436 on pitches on the inner half (up from .327 in 2011) with 11 home runs, eight more than he hit in 2011.

The Upton brothers and Heyward do strike out a lot -- a combined 23 percent of the time in 2012. That’s 5 percent higher than the league average. And last season, B.J. Upton swung and missed 379 times (third most behind Josh Hamilton and Danny Espinosa), 107 more than the player he will replace in center field, Michael Bourn.

Mound Men
The Braves have two of the better young pitchers in the game in starter Kris Medlen and closer Craig Kimbrel.

Medlen made his first start of 2012 on July 31, allowing one earned run in five innings. A case can be made that Medlen was the best starting pitcher from that point forward. His ERA from July 31 till the end of the season was the lowest among qualified starters at 0.97. (Clayton Kershaw was a distant second at 1.72.)

No pitcher has more saves since the start of 2011 than Kimbrel’s 88, and in 2012 he put together a season for the ages. Among all pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings in a season, Kimbrel’s 2012 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) -- which primarily takes into account strikeouts, walks and HR allowed – was 0.78, the best in modern baseball history.

Kimbrel and Eric Gagne (0.86 in 2003) are the only pitchers since 1900 to post a FIP under one.

Hamilton rated elite, despite decline

December, 13, 2012
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJosh Hamilton has much to look forward to in the next five seasons.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been good for surprise movement in the free-agent market over the last two seasons. This year, they splurged on Josh Hamilton, agreeing to terms with him on a lengthy, pricey contract today.

Let's take a closer look at this move from a number of different perspectives.

The contract
A five-year, $125 million contract would be the third-largest multi-year free agent contract in terms of average annual value, trailing the two free-agent deals signed by Alex Rodriguez (for an average of $25.2 million and $27.5 million respectively) with the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.

It is the second-largest free-agent contract for an Angels player in terms of total value, trailing only the 10-year, $240 million deal signed by Albert Pujols last season.

Hamilton’s value
Over the last three seasons, Hamilton has totaled 15.3 Wins Above Replacement, the fourth-most for an outfielder, trailing Ryan Braun (20.0), Jose Bautista (17.5) and Andrew McCutchen (15.9).

Hamilton ranks fourth among all players in that span with a .952 OPS and 322 RBI (tied for fourth). He is one of six players with 100 home runs in the last three seasons.

Hamilton’s value in that span has been more and more related to his offense than to his all-around game. His advanced defensive metrics have plunged a bit.

In 2010 and 2011, he was credited with a combined 13 Defensive Runs Saved (a stat that measures an outfielder’s ability to turn batted balls into outs and the deterrent value of his throwing arm).

But in 2012, that dropped to -9 Defensive Runs Saved, almost all of which was accumulated in the final two months of the season.

Hamilton did not finish strong offensively either, or at least not with the sort of dominant production that he’d previously had.

After hitting .368 with 21 home runs, and a 1.184 OPS in April and May, Hamilton hit .245 with 22 home runs and an .809 OPS from June to October.

As a result of both his offensive and defensive decline, Hamilton’s 2012 WAR was 3.4. That ranked tied for 52nd in the majors and ranked just outside the top-20 among outfielders with Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones.

He actually rated two wins worse than the player he'll be replacing in right field, Torii Hunter, who signed with the Detroit Tigers this offseason.

Why the Angels needed Hamilton
The 2012 Angels had Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Torii Hunter in their everyday lineup, but they didn't have much of a left-handed presence in their lineup last season as most other teams, ranking last in the AL in total at-bats and homeruns by left-handed batters.

Will Hamilton prosper in Anaheim? He is moving from Rangers Ballpark that had a Park Factor of 117 for home runs last year according to (seventh-most hitter-friendly in the majors), which means that 17 percent more HRs were hit there than at the average stadium, to Angel Stadium that had a park factor for homers of 76 last year (fifth-most pitcher-friendly in MLB), which means that 24 percent fewer homers were hit there than at the average stadium.

Looking ahead to Opening Day
Coincidentally, Hamilton will return to face his two previous teams in the Angels first two series of the season.

The Angels open the 2013 season with three games in Cincinnati (Josh Hamilton’s team in 2007) against the Reds, then head to a three-game set to face the Rangers in Texas.

How Josh Hamilton helps, and hurts, a team

November, 27, 2012
As with most things related to Josh Hamilton, there are two sides. And as one of the most fascinating free agents in history, both of those sides will undoubtedly be scrutinized.
Josh Hamilton
What cannot be debated is that since Hamilton’s arrival, the Texas Rangers have been a much better team than before his arrival.

Not all of that can or should be attributed to Hamilton himself; however, it’s not a coincidence that the Rangers’ offensive production ticked up noticeably in the five years he’s been with the club (2008-12) compared to the five years before the Rangers’ trade with the Cincinnati Reds that brought Hamilton to Texas.

How can we quantify the impact made by Hamilton?

From 2003-07, the Rangers team OPS was .781, they averaged 5.2 runs per game and about 1.3 home runs per game. From 2008-12 – the “Hamilton era” – the Rangers team OPS was .783, they averaged 5.1 runs per game and about 1.2 home runs per game. In other words, the Rangers offense simply remained steady after the arrival of Hamilton.

Not exactly.

When one compares the Rangers production to the major-league average over the two five-year spans, it becomes clear just how much better the Rangers’ offense was with Hamilton.

The Rangers’ run scoring went from about 9 percent above the league average to more 14 percent above league average. Similarly impressive advances were made in the team batting average and OPS (see chart).

Clearly, the departure of Hamilton would have a distinct impact on the Rangers’ offense.

After all, when you look at strictly offensive performance from 2012, Hamilton’s +4.4 offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) -- which removes the defensive component from WAR – was the second-best mark on the Rangers behind Adrian Beltre.

In a vacuum, that production could have been the difference between the Rangers making and missing the postseason. His offensive production would be missed.

But, there’s always another side with Hamilton, and in this case it’s his defense. Despite producing 4.4 oWAR in 2012, Hamilton’s net WAR production was a relatively modest 3.4.

Why? Because Hamilton was a net negative on defense, costing his team more than a win with his glove.

To compound the issue, most of Hamilton’s worst defensive work was done while he was producing his worst offensive stretch of the season.

From Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season, Hamilton produced a Minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved mark, compared to being nearly league-average from the beginning of the year through July (-1 DRS).

Only four players -- Pedro Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Nelson -- were worse over the final two months.

Which is why Hamilton’s departure, while it would undoubtedly impact the offense, may not hurt the Rangers all that much overall. Craig Gentry, a cheap and ready-made outfield replacement, produced +2.8 WAR in 2012 on the back of some outstanding defensive work.

And while it might seem impossible that a player who hit one home runs in 269 plate appearances could be a replacement for Hamilton, who hit 43 home runs, the numbers suggest it would far less of a net loss for the Rangers than one would initially think.

That’s why there are always two sides to everything Josh Hamilton. In this case, we’re not talking about on the field versus off the field, but rather in the batter’s box versus in the outfield.

Same strategy keeps working for Matusz

October, 6, 2012
A year ago, Baltimore Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was best known for being the fourth pitcher to post an ERA of 10.00 or higher in a season with at least 40 innings pitched since 1900.

Yesterday, he was the key to the Orioles getting the biggest out of their AL Wild Card Game win.

Matusz protected a two-run lead in the eighth inning by striking out Josh Hamilton with a man on base. Hamilton entered that matchup hitless in nine at-bats against Matusz, his worst regular-season 0-for against any pitcher.

Matusz’s turnaround has mirrored that of his team, which is headed to the ALDS for the first time since 1997.

Keys to success
Matusz has been a different, far more successful pitcher, since making the conversion to middle relief.

In his last 18 regular-season appearances, he allowed two runs and five hits in 13 1/3 innings, with 19 strikeouts and three walks. Opponents hit .114 with a .352 OPS against him.

Matusz has been effective all season against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .175 opponents’ batting average though he’s used a different approach against them as a reliever than as a starter.

Matusz retired Hamilton on a pitch on the outer-third of the plate. Of the 25 outs that Matusz has gotten as a reliever against left-handed hitters, 21 have come on pitches to that outer-third area, or just off the outside corner.

When Matusz was a starter earlier this season, about 59 percent of his outs came on pitches to that area.

This approach was nothing new in terms of Matusz getting Hamilton to whiff. Of the 10 times Matusz has gotten him out, seven have been with an outer-third pitch. Six of those outs, including Friday’s, were strikeouts.

Hamilton’s struggles
Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton went a combined 2-for-17 in the last four games that ended the season, all Rangers losses.

He was 1-for-9 with five strikeouts against lefties. Four of those whiffs came on outer-third (or off the corner) pitches.

Saunders was good too
Joe Saunders came up huge for the Orioles, allowing only one run in 5 2/3 innings to beat Yu Darvish.

Saunders allowed more than one run in 16 of his last 18 regular-season starts in 2012. He entered 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in Rangers Ballpark (2nd worst ERA for an active pitcher), but held the Rangers down.

Six balls were put in play against Saunders with runners on base and all six were on the ground, which helped lead to three double plays. Saunders induced only two double plays combined in his first six career starts in Texas.

The Rangers scored only one run. They were held to one run or fewer only 19 times in the regular season, second-fewest in the majors (the Yankees were just 18 times).

Nothing new for this bullpen
The Orioles bullpen has gotten big outs late in games all season. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that they had the third-best regular-season record since 1900 when leading after seven innings, 74-0.

The Orioles fell a little bit short of being best on this list. The 2011 Tigers hold the top mark at 77-0.

The Orioles will now try to match what those Tigers did last season- beat the Yankees in the ALDS.