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The sustainability of Josh Hamilton’s hot streak

There isn't a whole lot of reason for hope as the Angels embark on the second half of their season, unless you are one of those sadistic fans that is actively rooting for the Angels to land a top 10 pick in the draft so Dipoto can't flush it down the toilet signing another big name free agent flop.

Speaking of big name free agent flops, one of those very few reasons for non-self-loathing hope is Josh Hamilton. Well, maybe. As we all know, Hamilton was riding something of a hot streak heading into the break by way of a 12-game hitting streak during which he hit four homers and didn't strike out at comically inept levels all while posting a tidy .932 OPS. The fact that Hambone might not be a giant steaming waste of genetic material that cost the gross domestic product of Ghana became the tiniest sliver of silver lining in the dark, gloomy Sharknado storm cloud that is the Angel season.

What everyone wants to know is if his hot streak is for real. Or is it a case of, as my grandfather used to say, "the sun shines on every dog's ass every once in awhile." Of course, he also used to say, "the damned Chinese are ruining this country." So there is a chance that maybe my dead grandfather is not the go-to subject matter expert for this topic.

Enough screwing around, let's jump straight into all the scary advanced metrics and shiny, colorful, distracting charts. The first thing that everyone but Josh Hamilton seemed to be aware of during his early struggles was that he was swinging at pretty much everything. Here we see his swing chart on the year prior to his hitting streak:

via TexasLeaguers.com

There really isn't any pitch zone that Josh wasn't afraid to swing at, especially pitches way, way outside. Ah! Lo and behold, after nearly three months Josh seems to have finally figured it out:

via TexasLeaguers.com

Obviously, this is over a much smaller period of time and may not be a significant sample size, but it is readily apparent that Josh really cut down on his swing zone, despite the pitchers' best efforts to exploit his aggressiveness. He was still somewhat willing to chase balls off the plate or down in the zone, but not nearly at the same rate as he previously did. He also showed remarkable discipline on pitches inside and high. He didn't see many inside or high pitches though, so my big fear here is that Hamilton wised up to pitchers relentlessly trying to make him chase low and away pitches and just started looking for hittable pitches on the outer half figuring nobody would challenge him inside. Why that is concerning is that it could mean pitchers will soon adjust and vary their approach enough so that he can't just zone in on mistakes on the outer half.

Hamilton didn't just make adjustments on location though, he also woke up to the fact that pitchers were trying to bury him with changeups and sliders. Take a look at what Josh did by pitch type before the hot streak:

Pitch Type Count Ball Strike Swing Foul Whiffs BIP
Fourseam 278 37.41% 25.54% 48.20% 21.58% 11.15% 15.47%
Sinker 220 41.36% 21.36% 47.73% 20.45% 10.45% 16.82%
Change 176 35.23% 27.84% 59.66% 14.77% 22.73% 22.16%
Slider 171 26.90% 40.94% 63.16% 17.54% 30.99% 14.62%
Curve 199 34.17% 26.63% 59.80% 14.07% 21.61% 24.12%
Cutter 83 32.53% 18.07% 66.27% 27.71% 18.07% 20.48%
Split 33 21.21% 27.27% 72.73% 18.18% 21.21% 33.33%
Slow Curve 1 0.00% 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 100.00% 0.00%

via Brooks Baseball

And now check out the trim, toned after photo:

Pitch Type Count Ball Strike Swing Foul Whiffs BIP
Fourseam 70 37.14% 22.86% 47.14% 28.57% 8.57% 10.00%
Sinker 37 37.84% 24.32% 43.24% 16.22% 5.41% 21.62%
Change 25 48.00% 28.00% 48.00% 20.00% 24.00% 4.00%
Slider 45 46.67% 26.67% 42.22% 8.89% 15.56% 17.78%
Curve 56 35.71% 33.93% 53.57% 19.64% 23.21% 10.71%
Cutter 23 30.43% 21.74% 60.87% 17.39% 13.04% 30.43%
Split 34 26.47% 23.53% 70.59% 23.53% 20.59% 26.47%

via Brooks Baseball

Across the board he started taking more non-fastballs for balls, which is a novel idea for a guy who heretofore has been able to hit anything but fastballs. What concerns me though is that it didn't seem to help cut down his whiff rate much, except on sliders. On a whiff per swing basis, there really isn't much to be encouraged about either:

via Brooks Baseball

He's getting better on fastballs and only just started getting better on changeups in a handful of games this month, but his ability to make contact with breaking has progressively degraded over the course of the season. While it isn't encouraging, I wouldn't call it alarming though. Swinging and missing a lot is kind of what Hamilton does, even when he is playing well, so we can take some solace that while he is still whiffing in the same ration, he is whiffing at a lower frequency. What is more important is what happens when he does make contact. Here is his BIP profile before the streak:

Pitch Type Count Foul/Swing Whiff/Swing GB/BIP LD/BIP FB/BIP PU/BIP GB/FB HR/(FB+LD)
Fourseam 274 45.11% 23.31% 23.81% 23.81% 38.10% 14.29% 62.50% 11.54%
Sinker 224 42.45% 21.70% 63.16% 7.89% 26.32% 2.63% 240.00% 15.38%
Change 176 24.76% 38.10% 43.59% 23.08% 30.77% 2.56% 141.67% 14.29%
Slider 169 27.36% 50.00% 41.67% 20.83% 37.50% 0.00% 111.11% 7.14%
Curve 199 23.53% 36.13% 52.08% 18.75% 27.08% 2.08% 192.31% 0.00%
Cutter 85 42.11% 26.32% 38.89% 44.44% 11.11% 5.56% 350.00% 10.00%
Split 33 25.00% 29.17% 54.55% 27.27% 18.18% 0.00% 300.00% 20.00%
Slow Curve 1 0.00% 100.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

via Brooks Baseball

And now during the streak:

Pitch Type Count Foul/Swing Whiff/Swing GB/BIP LD/BIP FB/BIP PU/BIP GB/FB HR/(FB+LD)
Fourseam 70 60.61% 18.18% 28.57% 42.86% 28.57% 0.00% 100.00% 0.00%
Sinker 37 37.50% 12.50% 37.50% 50.00% 12.50% 0.00% 300.00% 20.00%
Change 25 41.67% 50.00% 0.00% 0.00% 100.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Slider 45 21.05% 36.84% 50.00% 0.00% 37.50% 12.50% 133.33% 33.33%
Curve 56 36.67% 43.33% 16.67% 50.00% 33.33% 0.00% 50.00% 0.00%
Cutter 23 28.57% 21.43% 42.86% 14.29% 42.86% 0.00% 100.00% 25.00%
Split 34 33.33% 29.17% 44.44% 22.22% 33.33% 0.00% 133.33% 20.00%

via Brooks Baseball

The main takeaway here is that Josh is getting the ball in the air more. More liners, more flyballs and fewer groundballs. I've already bombarded you with enough graphs and charts, so I will try and save some space by not showing you his pre-streak spray chart just to point out the ridiculous blob of groundounts in the second baseman's fielding area. The point is that Josh is making the kind of contact he wants to make. If you break it down on a pitch type level, there are still some concerns, but with the small sample size, it may just be noise.

If there is one area where I am less concerned about the sample size it is the spray angle of his balls in play and that is because the positive trend started earlier in June even before he got rolling. Across all pitch types, Hamilton is pulling the ball more. I know there is the old agade that you know he is locked in when he starts going the other way, but I don't think that really applies to Josh. He is a pull hitter who spent the early part of the season going oppo too much, especially on the hard stuff which suggests that he was late on the pitches, probably because he was so lost at the plate that he wasn't reacting well. Now though he is getting around on those pitches but also isn't pulling everything at a preposterous level.

via Brooks Baseball

Even with all of this evidence, it is hard to come to any real concrete solution. Hamilton has improved his plate discipline, which is something he should be able to sustain, or at least a normal person should be able to and we all know that Hamilton's brain functions differently than everyone else's. That increased discipline could be negated though by pitchers getting a little smarter with Josh now that he isn't getting himself out. What's going to happen when pitchers aren't just dumping sliders and changeups into the right-handed batter's box the instant they get ahead of Hamilton? It has been pretty clearly demonstrated that he still isn't doing much with non-fastballs.

If I had to make a prediction going forward with Hamilton it is that he will be better than he has been most of the season. That isn't even the research on that we've done here telling me that so much as mere common sense that a player that was so good so recently can't possibly be so bad for such a prolonged period of time. What we've reviewed here has made me more confident that he will be better and that his ceiling for better might be a bit higher, but seeing him continue to produce at a .932 OPS level is not something I'm holding out hope for. I'm not saying it isn't possible, but rather that there isn't much evidence to support that claim other than Hamilton's past seasons and track record of being a freak of nature who succeeds despite scary plate discipline peripherals.

Garrett Wilson

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the Supreme Overlord of Monkeywithahalo.com and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.

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