While the Angels have taken their usual tumble out of the gate, they do have a few things going for them as they attempt to find their footing. One such positive is that Josh Hamilton appears to have remembered how to hit. I say “appears to” because we are only seven games into the season, so this rejuvenation of his hitting ability could prove to be an aberration.
If you ask Josh, his bounceback is attributable to a mechanical adjustment he made:
The key so far, Hamilton said, has been getting back to bouncing around before starting his load.
“It’s just rhythm, not staying still,” Hamilton explained. “Hitting is rhythm and timing. If one is out of synch, you are going to struggle.”
Hamilton didn’t do it at all last year, or while struggling in the second half of 2012.
“I completely forgot about it,” Hamilton said. “Who knows why you forget about something you’ve done your whole career. It’s something small, but something small can go a long way sometimes.”
That makes some sense and provides a nice visible adjustment that we can all see and seeing is believing, right? In this case, however, it might just be coincidence.
What really burned Hamilton last season was that he was chasing an ungodly number of pitches outside of the strike zone. He swung at 39.7% of pitches out of the zone, to be exact. That was the second-worst mark of his career with the worst mark coming the year before. It doesn’t take a genius to see that his plate discipline was quickly eroding.
This year though, it looks like Hamilton has suddenly rediscovered his discipline. He’s only swinging at 30.3% of pitches out of the zone, which would be far and away the best mark of his career. He’s also boasting a vastly lower overall swing rate than he ever as, currently sitting at 43.4%. This is great news, even with the small sample size warning taken into consideration.
Ah, but there is a rub. It might be easier for Josh to lay off all those offspeed pitches that he couldn’t resist last season because he is seldom ever seeing a pitch that is actually in the strike zone. Thus far in 2014, he has seen a scant 32.7% of pitches in the zone. That’s the second lowest percentage out of all qualified batters and well down from the 41.1% he saw last season. I suspect part of that is facing the Astros four times in your first seven games, but one has to think that after his struggles last season pitchers aren’t going to throw Hamilton a strike until they have to.
With Josh back looking like his old self again, they might have to start throwing strikes again, or at least throwing pitches closer to the general vicinity of the strike zone. That might actually be bad news for Josh if he is still a true hacker at heart and not a reformed pitch-taker who has accepted plate discipline as his personal savior. It is easy to stay disciplined when most of the pitches you see are buried in the right-handed batter’s box. When those pitches are at least within the realm of hittability, Hamilton may not be able to resist temptation.
But wait a minute… weren’t we talking about a mechanical adjustment? What happened to that?
Honestly, I don’t know. I am not a hitting coach, but I don’t know how that change in his load affects his ability to recognize pitch type and location. It might very well be the change he needed to start driving the ball again, which was Hamilton’s other big drop off last season, so that is great. But it all starts with discipline. Driving the ball better won’t count for much if he falls back into his old habits of whiffing at a rate that makes Arte Moreno consider converting Angel Stadium to run off of wind energy.
I take heart in the fact that plate discipline and swing rates stabilize pretty quickly, not 30 plate appearances quickly, but quickly enough for us, by the end of April, to have an idea if this change in approach is real or just an anomaly. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.