Print and Go Back SweetSpot [Print without images]

Monday, November 26, 2012
Why Josh Hamilton is overrated

By David Schoenfield

Quick question: How many positions drove in 100 runs in 2012?

OK, that's a little bit of a trick question. I didn't ask how many players drove in 100 runs (the answer is 18), but how many positions. The answer there is 42. Here is the list of all lineup positions to drive in 100 runs in 2012:

Yankees No. 2: 106
Tigers No. 3: 141
Rangers No. 3: 133
Brewers No. 3: 119
Angels No. 3: 110
Padres No. 3: 108
Cardinals No. 3: 107
Blue Jays No. 3: 106
Dodgers No. 3: 103
White Sox No. 3: 101
Pirates No. 3: 100
Giants No. 3: 100
Phillies No. 4: 125
Cardinals No. 4: 122
Brewers No. 4: 119
Giants No. 4: 118
Cubs No. 4: 117
Red Sox No. 4: 117
Dodgers No. 4: 114
Twins No. 4: 111
Yankees No. 4: 109
Mets No. 4: 109
Tigers No. 4: 108
Royals No. 4: 105
Rangers No. 4: 105
Angels No. 4: 104
Diamondbacks No. 4: 103
Nationals No. 4: 100
Yankees No. 5: 116
White Sox No. 5: 114
Reds No. 5: 114
Twins No. 5: 109
Cardinals No. 5: 106
Mariners No. 5: 103
Braves No. 5: 103
Diamondbacks No. 5: 103
Nationals No. 5: 103
Giants No. 5: 102
Marlins No. 5: 101
Diamondbacks No. 6: 112
Brewers No. 7: 108
Yankees No. 7: 108

This gets us to Josh Hamilton. I took the "Rangers should let him go" side in today's Hot Button. I wanted to expand a bit on that. He drove in 128 runs in 2012; only Miguel Cabrera drove in more. Hamilton is a terrific hitter, but he's not a terrific hitter because he drives in a lot of runs. As you can see from the list above, a lot of teams can get 100 RBIs from various spots in the batting order. Even the run-starved Mariners received 103 RBIs from their fifth-place hitters. Hamilton did hit well with men on base -- he hit .308 and slugged .628, better than his overall numbers -- but he also drove in a lot of runs because (A) he doesn't walk a lot; and (B) Rangers No. 2 hitters (mostly Elvis Andrus) didn't drive in many runs (67, tied for 10th in the AL), leaving more opportunities for Hamilton.

This is why numbers crunchers prefer to look at the advanced metrics when evaluating a hitter. FanGraphs uses a stat called wOBA -- weighted on-base average. In 2012, Hamilton ranked 10th in the majors among qualified hitters at .387, similar to Adrian Beltre (.388), Aramis Ramirez (.384) and Josh Willingham (.380). Those players aren't making $25 million per season. Over 2011-12, Hamilton ranks 14th, at .379.

One problem with wOBA: It's not park-adjusted. Hamilton has played in Texas, one of the best hitting parks in the majors. Using the park-adjusted wRC+ stat, Hamilton ranked 15th in 2012 and 21st over 2011-12.

It seems to me that if Hamilton is truly one of the game's elite players (which he certainly was in 2010 when he won the AL MVP Award) and worthy of a monster contract even as he enters his age-32 season, then he has to rank as one of the top three or four hitters in the game. I don't believe he is; his on-base skills simply aren't good enough to put him in the same category as Cabrera or Prince Fielder or Joey Votto. His overly aggressive approach at the plate, which caused Nolan Ryan to raise a stink during the season, have been well-documented: No player swung at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone than Hamilton in 2012 -- not Delmon Young or Jeff Francoeur or Alexei Ramirez. Hamilton's bat speed and natural hitting abilities certainly allow him to compensate for this flaw better than those players, but the spike in his strikeout rate from 17.3 percent to 25.5 has to be a major concern.

Factor in his defense -- average at best, and probably more suited to playing left field these days -- and I don't believe Hamilton is one of the top 10 position players in the game, as widely believed by most fans and writers (he finished fifth in the AL MVP vote in 2012). Hamilton is reportedly seeking Prince Fielder money ($200-plus million), which Buster Olney doesn't believe will happen, as he wrote today in handicapping the Hamilton market.

Look, obviously Hamilton helps a team. It's just a matter of how much he helps -- is he a seven-win player or a four-win player? -- and for how long. To me, the risk isn't so much his past history of drug use, but his actual value and the likely decline for a player his age. Three years? OK, sure. Five years? I'd be wary. Longer than that? No way.