Monday, January 28, 2013
Over/under: Josh Hamilton's home runs
By David Schoenfield
Last year, we ran a bunch of over/under predictions heading into the season that proved to be popular blog items, so let's do it again and start with one of the most intriguing players of 2013: Josh Hamilton.
I mean, Hamilton could be just about anything this season, couldn't he? He could be the MVP or he could hit .250 with 20 home runs and be a huge free-agent disappointment. To date, his career has shown absolutely no predictable pattern, in part because of injuries, in part because of fluctuations in his play.
In his first year with the Rangers in 2008, he hit .304 and led the AL in RBIs. The next year he played just 89 games and hit .268 with 10 home runs. In 2010, he hit .359 and won the MVP Award despite missing almost all of September. In 2011, he dropped 61 points in batting average and lost a few home runs. In 2012, he hit a career-high 43 home runs but hit just .259 in the second half and his strikeout rate increased dramatically.
So, what to expect in 2013? He moves from a great hitter's park in Texas to a not-so-great hitter's park in Anaheim. Over the past three seasons, he's probably been more durable than you realize and has averaged 134 games played and 33 home runs. He hit 58 home runs at home, 42 on the road, but in 2012 the split was 22/21. Meanwhile, Angel Stadium has cut into home runs fairly severely over the past three seasons. Angels left-handed batters averaged one home run every 39 at-bats on the road and one every 49 at-bats at home; opponents hit one every 34 at-bats away from Angel Stadium and one every 45 at-bats at Angel Stadium.
(Although Michael Veneziano of ESPN Stats and Information argues here that the change may not affect Hamilton at all.)
Hamilton's home runs often travel a long way, but it appears likely he'll lose at least a couple home runs due to the change in ballparks. Maybe more. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system predicts Hamilton to hit 26 home runs (in 584 plate appearances). Other projection systems are a little more generous: The Bill James system from Stats Inc., for example, has Hamilton hitting 35 home runs. That seems high to me since Hamilton has topped that just once in his career.
Also, for what it's worth, there have been 24 players in major league history who hit 40-plus home runs in their age-31 season, like Hamilton did in 2012. The previous 22 (Curtis Granderson also did it in 2012) averaged a drop of eight home runs in their age-32 season. Which puts Hamilton at 35 home runs.
I'm going to split the difference between the 26 and 35 figures and put Hamilton's over/under at 30.5 home runs? What do you think?