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Circling the Bases: Hamilton-itis

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

Josh Hamilton has been awful this season. Is there any reason to think the good times will return with the slugger? Also, can Starling Marte & Carlos Gomez keep up their hot starts to the season? Can Jeremy Hellickson rebound from his slow start? Ray Flowers gives his thoughts.

HAMILTON-ITIS

Josh Hamilton has been awful this year for the Angels hitting .212 with four homers, 11 RBIs an a .605 OPS. Actually, awful isn't even close to how putrid he has been. Now he reveals that he's been fighting a significant illness for about two weeks. Uh huh. I'm not saying he isn't sick, I'll buy that, but I'll also pass on what my source with the Rangers said about Hamilton to me this offseason (this is a legitimate source, not me spouting off trying to sound cool). My source told me that Hamilton needs more micro-managing than any player he has ever seen. The source estimated that a third of the time last season that Hamilton showed up to the park he claimed he was too sick/hurt/worn down to play. It was nearly a daily thing with someone in the Rangers organization trying to talk Hamilton into playing. I'm serious. The source was flabbergasted that the Angels invested so heavily in Hamilton this offseason (five years, $125 million).

Whether it's the flu, the sun (remember last year when he couldn't hit during the day cause he had light eyes), or something else, the fact is that he's been terrible this season. Awful. Worse though is the fact that if we backdate our review of his effort to August 13th, 2012, he doesn't look much better. In those 81 games, exactly half a season, he's gone deep 15 times. A 30 homer pace would play in fantasy leagues. He has 40 RBIs. Who would be happy with 80 RBIs? He's scored 47 times. Ninety-four runs would work. Now it get's ugly. In those 81 games he has a .241 batting average. Gulp. In those 81 games his OBP is .304 (hello 25th man on a big league roster). In those 81 games he has a .450 SLG, only .089 points below his career average.

So what does one do with Hamilton?

It's hard to trade him when you'll likely get no more than 75 cents on the dollar.

It's hard to play him given how horrific he has been this year.

I just noted his half season failures. Can you trust him to rebound?

Let's take a look at both sides of the argument.

REASONS TO BELIEVE IN A REBOUND

Hamilton's 4.8 percent walk rate would be a career worst. The mark has been at least 7.2 the past three years.

Hamilton's 26.7 K-rate would be a career worst. For his career it's 20.0 percent.

His 0.18 BB/K rate is less than half his career 0.41 mark.

His .264 BABIP would be a career-low. The mark has never been below .315.

His line drive rate is 18.2 percent. It's never been below 21 percent. In fact, the previous six years there hasn't been a more consistent line drive producer than Hamilton in all of baseball. Check out the mind-numbing consistency: 21.7, 21.5, 21.8, 22.0, 21.0 and 21.3 percent.

His 1.09 GB/FB ratio is right on his career mark of 1.12.

His 9.3 percent HR/F ratio would be his first mark under 16.4 percent in three years. His career rate is literally double what he's producing right now (18.9 percent).

He's 31 years old, and even with all the off the field concerns/issues, it doesn't seem plausible that he just flat out lost “it” the last 10 months. It's certainly possible given his hard living ways, but I don't think it's plausible.

REASONS TO BE WARY OF A REBOUND

All the off the field issues, and the concerns that something could still pop up at any time.

The fact that he's looked like a fifth outfielder for half a season dating back to last year. The fact that he looks like a Triple-A outfielder right now.

Digging deeper, Hamilton is all jacked up right now. Check out the following numbers which speak to his approach and how pitchers are attacking him.

He's seeing fewer fastballs than ever before at 42.6 percent (his career mark is 50.2 percent). Why? Pitchers simply don't have to throw him the heater when he's so off balance at the dish, and they aren't afraid of falling behind in the count – though that doesn't mean they aren't throwing him strikes (more on that in a moment). As a result of his struggles, pitchers are keeping him off balance by tossing him off-speed pitch after off-speed pitch. His 16.5 percent curve ball rate is a career-high (career 12.0 percent). His 20.0 change up rate is a career-high (career 14.8 percent). Moreover, he's seeing more pitches thrown inside the strike zone than at any point over the past four years (his 43.0 percent “strike” rate is elevated after back-to-back years of under 40 percent). Finally, pitchers are simply attacking him with renewed vigor. At no point in his career has he seen more first pitch strikes. His current rate of 69.1 percent first pitch strikes dwarfs his 60.7 career rate.

When he does swing, boy is it ugly.

His 42.4 percent swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone is elevated compared to his 38.3 percent career mark. When he does swing at these “balls” his contact rate is 54.2 percent, below his 57.1 percent career mark.

Overall his 58.8 percent swing rate at all pitches is elevated compared to his 56.3 percent career mark.

What would I do with Hamilton for the rest of 2013? I'd bench him and hold if I owned him, unless someone was willing to pony up a fair price. If I was in the market to add an outfielder, I would try to get him for a discount. I'm not sold that he is done as a significant performer, but there is enough uncertainty with him that his outlook for the remainder of the 2013 season should be viewed as one that is severely muted based upon preseason expectations.

BY THE NUMBERS

0: The chance that Starling Marte hits .320 this season (his current batting average). That might not be saying much, so let me say this – he won't hit .300 this year. That .398 BABIP is coming down, perhaps substantially. It also strains credulity to think a guy who has nine walks, leading to a a 0.24 BB/K rate, is going to hit .300. It just doesn't happen folks. Sorry. Its also unlikely that he will hit 20 bombs. You just don't do that when your GB/FB ratio is 2.42. Sorry.

0: The chance that Carlos Gomez will hit .367 this season. OK, I'd also give him zero percent chance to hit .320. How about zero percent to hit .300 as well. What am I talking about? Gomez has appeared in six previous seasons. He's NEVER hit .261 in a season. Not one time. Never. He's currently sporting a .432 BABIP. No one ever produces a number that high. Moreover, the last four years he's only finished above .296 once. Hardly a shock given his career .311 mark. He's highly unlikely to maintain his current 20.6 percent line drive rate. Feel pretty confident about that statement given that he's failed to produce a mark of even 17 percent the past three years. Guys don't hit .300+ with a 0.22 BB/K rate. Even if they do, there's no way you can predict it.

1.57: The increase in the K/9 rate for Jeremy Hellickson this season (his current mark is 7.88 this year and it was 6.31 last season, just one hundredth below his career mark of 6.32). Hellickson has also matched his 3.00 BB/9 rate from last season leading to a 2.63 K/BB ratio, well above his career 2.04 mark. He's also sporting a 1.09 GB/FB ratio, slightly better than his career mark of 0.93, and his 1.27 WHIP is only two hundredths above his mark from last season. So how is he sitting there with a 5.25 ERA? The gopher ball is playing a huge role. His 1.69 HR/9 rate is well beyond the 1.27 mark he posted last season. In fact, his current xFIP of 3.95 would actually be a three year low, despite the fact that his actual ERA is up two full runs. A rebound seems to be indicated.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.