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How to strike out Josh Hamilton

How do you strike out last year's AL MVP, Josh Hamilton?  Well, over the last three seasons, 38.0% of all his strikeouts have been on fastballs, but only 59.7% of those were swinging.  However, of the 38.6% of his strikeouts recorded on curveballs or sliders, 91.7% were swinging.  And in his 458 total plate appearances decided on a slider or curveball, 26.4 percent have been strikeouts.

Josh Hamilton vs. Sliders/Curveballs 2008-10

(Click to enlarge)

So Hamilton manages fine against the junk overall, and he's been pretty successful when pitchers come in with it.  You can see that pitchers try to keep the curveballs and sliders away from him, and they do manage to keep his power down when they stay out of his wheelhouse.  However, Josh has been able to produce a .322 overall wOBA on all curves and sliders since 2008.

If pitchers are skilled enough to hit the outside edge of the zone with a slider or curve, they fair pretty well against Hamilton.

Josh Hamilton vs. Sliders/Curves within 4" of outside corner

(Click to enlarge)

In that 4 inch region, pitchers throwing a slider or curve have held Josh to a .313 slugging percentage with a 31.6% k-rate, and 1.7% home run rate. Josh gets a little more swing happy as well, as his swing rate jumps 6.0%. Against lefties in particular, he's only made contact on 47.3% of sliders/curves hitting that zone, resulting in a 40.0% k-rate and .155 SLG%.  So if you keep it sloppy, and keep it away, you have a better chance of keeping Josh Hamilton off the bases.


Good Process

One of the points of the book Moneyball was that the Athletics tried to develop and sign players that went about the game with the proper process.  For example, they wanted hitters who took balls outside the strike zone and swung at good pitches inside the strike zone.  When they signed Hideki Matsui over the winter, they picked up a player with exactly that approach at the plate.

You can see this best by comparing when Hideki swings and takes.  When the count falls short of two strikes, Matsui zeros in on a very specific part of the strike zone:

Hideki Matsui, swings with less than two strikes, 2008-2010 regular season.Hideki Matsui, taken pitches with less than two strikes, 2008-2010 regular season.Pitchers work Hideki away, but he shows good plate discipline not only outside of the strike zone, but inside as well.  He let pitches he doesn't like go by, as he has room for error in these situations.

With two strikes, his approach changes, as it should:

Hideki Matsui, swings with two strikes, 2008-2010 regular season.Hideki Matsui, taken pitches with two strikes, 2008-2010.Note the big difference isn't that Matusi starts swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, he stops taking pitches inside the strike zone.  With two strikes, it doesn't matter if it's his pitch or not.  By swinging and making contact, Hideki has the chance of a hit.  So while Matusi only hits .205 with two strikes, his ability to judge balls and strikes gives him a .302 OBP.  The league as a whole averages just .249 in that situation, and Matsui's .302 mark puts him in the 89th percentile.  He should fit right in with Oakland.


David Ortiz's Hidden Decline

Over the last three seasons, David Ortiz settled into a lower but still productive offensive level compared to his peak.  He suffered a bad month at the start of the 2010, but recovered to post a good year.  His averages, in fact were comparable to his 2008 numbers after dropping more in 2009.

Do not be fooled too much, however, as one area showed steady decline over the last two seasons.  In 2008, David seldom swung and missed at pitches in the strike zone:

David Ortiz swing and misses, 2008.He had a little trouble with pitches away, but most of the misses came on hard to handle pitches down or up and outside.  In 2009, more misses started to creep in:

David Ortiz swing and misses, 2009.Ortiz during this season did a better job of not missing pitches low, but increased the number of pitches he missed in the zone.  In 2010, the hot spots grew even more:

David Ortiz swing and misses, 2010.There's now a very good chance that a pitcher can get David on the outer half of the plate.  If he takes, it's a strike.  If he doesn't he misses often.

Ortiz posted his two highest single season K totals the last two years.  He bounded in 2010 due to a very low BABIP in 2009 (.262 to .313).  If the swing and misses continue to grow, however, pitchers will be more willing to challenge him in the strike zone.  That may lead to more Ks, and David will need to maintain a strong BABIP to cover his decline.