Faith is a funny thing. For some it defines who they are as a person. It serves as the guiding principle of their entire life. For others, it is a crutch, a convenient excuse, a self-defense mechanism. In a lot of cases, it is both of those things for one person and there is no better example of that than Josh Hamilton.
We all know that Josh Hamilton is a man of great faith. We know this because he takes every opportunity to remind us of that. You can't really blame him though as he was a deeply troubled individual who, through religious faith, fought his demons and literally saved his own life. He would not be the man and player he is today without his faith. No matter how you feel about religion and Hamilton's constant invocation of it, you have to admit that it has served him well.
However, even the best tool can outlive its usefulness. That seems to have become the case with Hamilton who continues to point to faith as he navigates his current struggles. This time though the struggles are on the field instead of off it and the faith he is utilizing is not of the non-secular variety.
Weeks ago, Hamilton was asked about his struggles and the only response that he could offer was his infamous "Oh. Oh, OK." He didn't say it in so many words, but that quote was his way of telling us that he knows that he is struggling but all we have to do is wait and he will turn it around and we will wonder why we ever questioned his ability. To put it another way, we just had to have faith in him. We had to have faith that he has been a great player for many years and that he will be great again sooner or later.
What we didn't realize was that he wasn't just talking to us, he was talking to himself as well. Even Josh doesn't know what is wrong with him right now, or perhaps he is just blind to it as a result of his faith in himself. After his disastrous game last night in which he grounded into three double plays before striking out twice, the only response he could muster when once again pressed on his issues at the plate was, "It's been weird, man."
There is no introspection there. There is no insight to what adjustments, if any, he is making to pull himself out of this struggle. There is no suggestion that he even thinks he needs to do something different. He appears to believe that he is still the same massive talent that he has always been and that before long the talent will shine through. Perhaps Hamilton really is spending hours reviewing video of his at-bats and tinkering with his swing during batting practice and he just doesn't want to let on for some reason, but without him granting us that insight, the only thing we fans see is a guy who is relying solely on faith in his own abilities to magically cure him of his epic struggles.
Ironically, it is the faith that has allowed Hamilton's to become magnified. Hamilton is not the only person who has shown that unflinching faith in his talent. Mike Scioscia is just as guilty as Josh. Scioscia has been trying a lot of different things to get Josh going this year, but they have all be couched in the premise that he is still capable of great things and just needs to be put into a position to succeed. For Scioscia, that means featuring Hamilton in a way that shows Josh that Scioscia has not lost faith in him despite his struggles.
Given how badly Hamilton is slumping, the last thing he should be doing is batting second, arguably the most important position in the batting order since the two-hole hitter is charged both with getting on base for the heart of the order but also is frequently in a position to drive in runs himself. That misplaced faith was on full display last night as Hamilton came to the plate five times and each time there was a runner on base. Five times he submarined a potential rally and/or a win for the Halos. Those three double plays were the result of Scioscia showing too much faith in Hamilton by believing he could tap into his talent and be a better situational hitter than he has been all season. That faith went painfully unrewarded.
The real damning show of faith by Scioscia though was that he not once but twice allowed Hamilton to bat against a southpaw with the game on the line. While Josh has shown flashes of his old self at times this season, he has yet to do so against left-handed pitching which he has been comically bad against. Seriously, Hamilton has a .364 OPS against lefties this year and has struck out in 37.5% of those plate appearances. Scioscia, hopefully, is keenly aware of that yet he still permitted Hamilton to face Oliver Perez with the tying run in scoring position, only to have him feebly go down swinging on three pitches. Why? Scioscia wanted to show faith in Josh either out of blind ignorance to reality or, more likely, as a motivating tactic to his struggling slugger. It didn't work out at all yet a few innings later there was Josh at the plate again with the winning run in scoring position and once again a lefty on the mound. Instead of learning from his misstep earlier in the game and pinch-hitting for Hamilton, Scioscia opted again to place his faith in Hamilton. Again, he got burnt as Hamilton went down swinging on a changeup, a changeup that everyone in the stadium and watching the game at home knew was coming with the exception of Josh.
While it is always dangerous to overreact to one horrible performance in one game (after all, he did have a great game the previous night), one has to believe that Scioscia and maybe even Josh are suffering a crisis of faith when it comes to believing in what Hamilton is currently capable of. How much longer can Scioscia keep putting his faith in Hamilton when it keeps going unrewarded? What will it take for him to see the light and drop Hamilton well down the order, into a platoon or on to the bench altogether? Unlike the Lord that Hamilton has such deep belief in, Scioscia eventually has to admit that Josh is fallible. Similarly, Hamilton must call his own faith in himself into question and do some real soul-searching to discover what changes he must take to resurrect his season and quite possibly his career.