Monday, April 22, 2013
Angels show lack of respect for Hamilton
By David Schoenfield
The big news Monday was the Los Angeles Angels moving Josh Hamilton down from fourth to fifth in the batting order in an apparent attempt to fix their slumping $125 million slugger.
The timing was odd, with the Angels coming off a weekend sweep of the Detroit Tigers and reeks of desperation for an expected playoff contender off to a disappointing start. If the move works, manager Mike Scioscia looks smart and can take credit for finding a solution to a problem. If the move doesn't work, then Hamilton remains a problem and the focal point for the Angels' struggles -- and not the manager, or the roster management, or even the decision to sign Hamilton in the first place.
It's a move I find distasteful because it feels like a panic decision, a move an experienced manager and good organization shouldn't make. It's a move just to make a move, with little to no merit in rationale. It's a move of a manager overreacting, reminding me of Joe Torre moving Alex Rodriguez down to eighth in the batting order back in the 2006 playoffs. So Hamilton is off to a slow start? It's 17 games. Should we be surprised that Hamilton would hit .176/.247/ with 23 strikeouts, five walks and two home runs in his first 77 plate appearances? Yes, it's a bad stretch, but consider some other 17-game stretches in Hamilton's career:
June 2-June 23, 2012: .188/.268/.344, one HR, seven BB, 25 SO
July 18-Aug. 6, 2012: .197/.224/.296, one HR, three BB, 19 SO
July 21-Aug. 7, 2011: .309/.329/.441, zero HR, three BB, 15 SO
April 5-April 24, 2010: .230/.338/.410, one HR, 10 BB, 15 SO
April 8-April 26, 2009: .230/.273/.377, two HR, three BB, 15 SO
June 4-June 24, 2008: .243/.284/.371, two HR, four BB, 20 SO
That's at least one 17-game stretch from each season during his Rangers career, including two from last season. Note that two of them came in April. While he didn't hit .176 in any of those periods, note that he had at least two 17-game stretches last season during which he hit less than .200 without power and with poor strikeout-to-walk ratios.
So while the Hamilton of 2012 hit a career-high 43 home runs, the Hamilton that existed after his scorching hot first two months had stretches of production like this. The Angels shouldn't really be surprised that he could suffer a period like this.
Of course, it's possible that Scioscia is angry with Hamilton's approach at the plate and trying to send a message by moving him down in the order. I mean, even utility infielders have egos, so maybe he thinks this is a way to motivate Hamilton. But isn't that ultimately insulting? That Hamilton isn't trying to do well? And if you're worried about motivation, why give him a $125 million contract in the first place? Again, it's all shifting blame.
Doesn't a veteran player, a former MVP, deserve a little respect? Wasn't it only a season ago that Albert Pujols suffered through a homerless April in which he hit .217 with only four RBIs and would eventually fall to .190 on May 8? Scioscia left Pujols in the three-hole every game, and Pujols eventually started hitting. So why treat Hamilton differently?
If it is about Hamilton's approach, then again: What did the Angels expect? Hamilton swung at 45.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last season, according to FanGraphs -- the worst percentage among qualifiers in the majors. ESPN Stats & Info had Hamilton with a 42.5 chase percentage; and here's a note about that figure -- it was slightly higher through May, when Hamilton (and not Miguel Cabrera) looked like a guy who could win a Triple Crown. In other words, this is who Hamilton was in 2012: a guy who swings at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone. Why expect something different in 2013, or why bet $125 million on a different approach?
If Scioscia has simply determined that this is Hamilton's new level of ability, well, I don't have to point out the absurdity of making conclusions on a 17-game sample size. By the way, entering Monday's game, FanGraphs has Hamilton's line-drive rate at 23 percent -- right at his career mark of 22 percent (amazingly, he's been at 21 or 22 percent each season of his career). He's hit one infield popup, so it's not like he's suddenly hit a lot of those. There is some bad luck built into his early numbers.
Scioscia wants to get Hamilton going. But when Hamilton does finally get going, it won't be because he was moved down in the order. It will be because he was due for a few hits.
Update: Hamilton went 4-for-4 (I swear I finished this before Hamilton picked up his second hit of the game) and is now hitting .222, but the Angels blew a 6-3 lead and lost 7-6. Joe Nathan struck out Mark Trumbo to end it with a runner on. Hamilton was on deck.