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Entries in Los Angeles Angels (46)

Friday
Dec142012

Josh Hamilton: Angelic Power, Devilish Approach

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

BatterSlugging Pct.
Josh Hamilton .839
Mike Trout .733
Ryan Braun .731
Chris Davis .723
Miguel Cabrera .720
Jay Bruce .712
Pedro Alvarez .709
Mark Trumbo .706
Robinson Cano .699
Adrian Beltre .697
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

BatterSwings vs. non-competitive pitches
Josh Hamilton 118
Alfonso Soriano 101
Adam Jones 84
Mike Moustakas 79
Starlin Castro 77
Danny Espinosa 75
Ryan Braun 74
Dayan Viciedo 66
Mark Trumbo 66
Miguel Cabrera 63

 

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.

Thursday
Dec132012

New Halo Josh Hamilton is a Prodigious Slugger

Josh Hamilton has an intriguing life story, but this next chapter will make things interesting in the world of Major League Baseball. He hit the free agent market for the first time in his career following the 2012 season, and he was allowed to choose his team and his price. He chose the Los Angeles Angels of Aneheim, who signed him today for 5 years at $125 million. Hamilton is a polarizing player; at his best, he is one of the best pure hitters in the game, but at his worst, off the field conduct could be detrimental to a team. The Angels will be getting a lot on their plate, but if he can bring his monster home run swing with him, they will instantly move a lot closer to contending. 

Since joining the Texas Rangers Major League club in 2008, Hamilton has been one of the best run producers in the game, failing to reach 25 HR and 94 RBI in only an injury plagued 2009 season. In 2010, he won the MVP after posting a 1.044 OPS, putting him at tops in the league. His ability to take over the inside half of the plate was evident all season, and can be seen in the graphic below. 

As you can see, Hamilton crushed the ball inside that year, but there is more to the story. His ability to hit pitches on the outside for power was significantly less, which pitchers began to notice. In 2010, pitchers focused on the outside corner, but after his big season, since 2011, pitchers have been moving the ball further away from him, yielding mixed results.

At first, Hamilton struggled, seeing his ability to hit for extra bases diminish, but in 2012, he adjusted his swing and shifted his power stroke to cover the entire strike zone.

If the Angels get the 2012 version of Hamilton, who has the ability to cover the whole plate with his power swing, he may be worth every penny of the deal he signed. Putting aside his background, Hamilton has the pure ability to be the best hitter in all of baseball, and if he goes to LA and keeps his mind solely focused on baseball, he could be one of the best free agent sluggers to sign with a new team in recent years.

Wednesday
Dec122012

Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez: Closer Than You Think

Zack Greinke's megadeal with the Dodgers made him the highest paid pitcher on an annual basis, at $24.5 million per season. The second-best arm on the market, Anibal Sanchez, seems likely to settle for something closer to $15 million per season. Is there really a $10 million per year gap in performance between these two 29-year-old righties, though? When it comes to the holy trifecta of pitcher skills -- whiffs, walks and preventing homers -- Greinke and Sanchez are much closer than you might think.

Whiffs

Over the past three seasons, Greinke has gotten hitters to miss 22.2% of the time that they have swung. That's well above the 20.2% average for major league starters. Sanchez, however, has actually induced more whiffs (23.3%) over the same time frame.

Greinke gets many of his whiffs on pitches thrown below the knees and out of the strike zone...

Greinke's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

...Whereas Sanchez does a better job of limiting in-zone contact...

Sanchez's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke has managed to rack up a higher strikeout percentage (23.3% of batters faced from 2010-12), but Sanchez (21.1%) isn't too far behind.

Walks

Sanchez has thrown more strikes (64.8%) than Greinke (62.9%), whose rate is actually somewhat below the 63.4% average for starters. Sanchez pounds the zone, throwing a much higher percentage of pitches over the plate (52.5%) than the MLB average for starters (48.7%):

Sanchez's pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke, by contrast, throws more arm-side pitches out of the strike zone. He has tossed 46.3% of his pitches in the zone from 2010-12:

Greinke's pitch location, 2010-12

When you take intentional walks out of the equation, Sanchez has issued just slightly more free passes (6.7% of batters faced) than Greinke (6.1%).

Homers

Both hurlers have progressively scorched more earth, with Sanchez (47% ground ball rate) and Greinke (48.1%) besting the 45.5% average ground ball rate for starters. Sanchez and Greinke both get grounders on pitches that go below hitters' knees or tail in on their hands:

Sanchez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12

 

Greinke's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12

 

With above-average worm-burning skills, Sanchez and Greinke have each allowed 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched.

Overall, here are the totals for Sanchez and Greinke over the past three seasons:

Sanchez: 587 IP, 3.70 ERA,  3.40 FIP

Greinke:  604 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.16 FIP

You can certainly make the argument that Greinke deserves more dough. The most serious item in his injury history is some cracked ribs suffered during a pick-up basketball game, while Sanchez has Tommy John and shoulder surgeries in his past. Greinke also has the lower Fielding Independent ERA, suggesting he may reverse Sanchez's edge in ERA in future seasons. But the gap between Greinke and Sanchez hardly seems worth $10 million per year. Considering how close his resume is to Greinke's, Sanchez could be a bargain if he ends up signing for something like five years and $75 million.

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