Josh Hamilton, the Angels' new $125 million man, can look like Reggie Jackson and Reggie Abercrombie -- in the same at-bat. Hamilton boasts the 16th-best OPS+ among major league hitters since the beginning of the 2007 season, but he has reached such heights in spite of a plate approach that earns players lacking his prodigious power a one-way ticket to the Independent Leagues. When Hamilton swings at a strike, he's in a class all his own. But when he chases? Shield your eyes, Angels fans.
Here's a look at Hamilton's 2012 slugging percentage when swinging at a pitch thrown in the strike zone. In short, pitchers are doomed when he takes a cut at an in-zone offering:
Hamilton's slugging percentage when swinging at in-zone pitches, 2012
Hamilton had the best slugging percentage in the game when swinging at an in-zone pitch, and it wasn't even close. He bested runner-up and new teammate Mike Trout by over 100 points:
Highest slugging percentage when swinging at in-zone pitches, 2012
|MLB Avg. for qualified hitters||.544|
So, Hamilton is the game's preeminent slugger when he takes a cut at a hittable pitch. Unfortunately, he also chases more pitches outside of the strike zone (42.5%) than any other qualified hitter. Hamilton turns into a scrub when he goes after those junk pitches:
Hamilton's slugging percentage when swinging at out-of-zone pitches, 2012
Hamilton slugged .280 when swinging at a pitch thrown out of the zone, about 20 points below the MLB average for qualified hitters and lower than L.A.'s slap-and-dash shortstop Erick Aybar (.281). Why is Hamilton so ineffective against out-of-zone pitches? It's because the pitches he chases aren't just off the plate -- they're in the next zip code.
Last year, Hamilton swung at more "non-competitive" pitches than any other hitter in the game. Non-competitive pitches are those thrown at least 18 inches away from the center of the strike zone. These aren't pitches that just miss the corners. Rather, they're guaranteed to be called balls by big blue and are next to impossible to make hard contact against if you're crazy enough to swing at them. Hamilton chased 17 more non-competitive pitches than his closest hacking competitor, Alfonso Soriano:
Most swings against non-competitive pitches, 2012
|Batter||Swings vs. non-competitive pitches|
When Hamilton swung at a non-competitive pitch, he went 2-for-46 with 42 strikeouts.
With such an aggressive approach, Hamilton has struck out nearly two-and-a-half times as often as he has walked during his career. His offensive success in spite of his hacking is rare. According to Fangraphs, the only Expansion-Era hitters who managed to be at least 35% above the league average offensively through their age-31 seasons while striking out twice as often as they walked are Frank Howard, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Jose Canseco, Ryan Howard, and Hamilton. The common trait among these guys? Mammoth, awe-inspiring power. So long as Hamilton keeps killing strikes, he should produce. But if injuries cut into his pop and he keeps lunging at pitches thrown two feet off the plate, years four and five of this deal could get ugly.