Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Josh Hamilton's return boosts strong lineup
By David Schoenfield
Maybe this statistic will surprise you, or maybe it won't:
Athletics: 5.19 runs per game
Blue Jays: 5.02 runs per game
Angels: 4.77 runs per game
Sidelined since April 8, Josh Hamilton will return to the Angels' lineup on Tuesday.
Oakland has had the American League's best offense so far with the Edwin Encarnacion/Jose Bautista-powered Blue Jays right behind. Both of those lineups have received plenty of attention. The Angels are third, and it seems as though all anyone wants to talk about is Mike Trout's strikeouts. But I'd argue they may have the best lineup in the AL, or at least the second-best behind the A's, if you factor in home park. Angel Stadium is a pitcher's park, and the Angels have actually outhit both the A's and Blue Jays on the road.
And they've done that with Josh Hamilton out since April 9 after tearing a ligament in his left thumb. Hamilton returns for Tuesday night's game in Houston, as does Trout, who missed the past two games with a stiff back. In his first eight games, Hamilton had looked like a much different hitter than the player who disappointed in 2013. He hit .444 with two home runs, but the most important stats may have been six walks and seven strikeouts. Last year, Hamilton had 158 strikeouts and 47 walks, and pitchers were able to get him out throwing pitches out of the strike zone -- often way out of the zone, leaving Hamilton flailing at pitches he could barely reach even if he did make contact. In 2013, he chased 38 percent of the pitches that were out of the strike zone; in the small sample size of 2014, he'd cut that down to 27 percent.
Was it a new Hamilton or just eight games of an improved approach? If the slightly less aggressive Hamilton was for real, I think we're going to see a hitter put up much better numbers than he did in 2013. That adds another dimension to an already deep Angels lineup. Since Hamilton went down, Angels left fielders hit just .226/.271/.333. Replace that with Hamilton and maybe the Angels will have the best offense in the league moving forward.
Keep in mind that Trout has also turned it back on lately. After seeing his average dip as low as .263, he has an 11-game hitting streak going in which he's hit .415 with three home runs. He still doesn't have a single hit on a pitch in the upper third of the strike zone or above (0-for-23), so he hasn't solved all his problems, but he's still in the top 10 in the AL in both on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
The one guy yet to get going is third baseman David Freese, hitting .208 with two home runs in 36 games. He missed about three weeks with a broken right middle finger but returned last week.
The biggest question for the 30-26 Angels, however, may be this: Can they beat the good teams? They're coming off a weekend series in which they got swept by Oakland. They were outscored 26-11 in the three games and are now 11-20 against teams .500 or better and 19-6 against teams below .500. That may mean something or it may not, but a recent 9-3 stretch did come against the Phillies, Rays, Astros and Royals.
Despite some ongoing issues about the pitching staff -- Garrett Richards got knocked out in the first inning of his last start, and the fifth spot is now in the hands of 27-year-old rookie Matt Shoemaker -- the Angels knew heading into the season they'd have to win by scoring runs. Getting Hamilton back will help in that regard, and I'd say the Angels remain the favorite for the first wild-card spot.