Josh Hamilton is broken (again) and this time it isn’t so clear that there is an easy way to fix him. Scioscia’s already tried everything in his bag of tricks which pretty much just consists of “mental days off” and a whole lot of crossing his fingers. Sure, Don Baylor has and will continue to spend time with him to try and unlock something within Josh, but this is nothing that hasn’t been tried before in the last year and a half.
While Scioscia might be focusing on Josh’s confidence, the more apparent issue is just that Hamilton can’t hit off-speed pitches and the rest of the league is keenly aware of it. No player in baseball sees a fewer percentage of fastballs (39.9%) than Hamilton, and it isn’t even close. It is no wonder either because Josh hits fastballs well, with a .290 AVG and .420 SLG, but can barely touch breaking balls, with a .192 AVG and .303 SLG. Hamilton actually has success against changeups, with .327 AVG and .653 SLG, but he also whiffs on about half the changeups he swings at, just like he does on breaking balls.
What it boils down to is that the Angels need to find a way to force opposing pitchers to throw Hamilton more fastballs. That isn’t likely to happen unless he actually starts hitting breaking balls, or at least stops swinging at the ones out of the zone. This has been the problem for over two years now, so it doesn’t seem likely that will start happening anytime soon.
However, there is one way where the Angels can try and trick opponents into giving Josh more heaters: batting him third.
I know, that flies in the face of logic, why would you move the struggling slugger up in the order in the midst of his slump. There is actual logic to the move though. First, Scioscia isn’t doing Hamilton any favors by batting Erick Aybar behind Hamilton most games. Lineup protection is overrated, but anything helps especially when that thing involves having a guy with power hitting, like Albert Pujols, behind you instead of a slap-hitter. Ideally, this would translate to Hamilton getting better pitches to hit because teams don’t want to put him on base for Pujols. I don’t think that will make a huge difference since Albert Pujols isn’t “ALBERT PUJOLS” anymore, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Like I said, lineup protection is overrated.
What isn’t overrated though is who hits in front of a batter. That has shown to be a more influential form of lineup protection. Having Mike Trout in front of Hamilton will help Josh in a multitude of ways. The foremost of which is that it would give Josh more plate appearances with a runner on base. Like most hitters, Hamilton hits better with men on (.313/.385/.445). So why not put the an elite OBP player directly in front of him to create more PAs for Hamilton with runners on base?
The kind of runner on base also matters here. A player with Trout’s speed is always a threat to steal a base, which usually translates to pitchers throwing more fastballs to combat the potential stolen base attempt. That’s exactly what Hamilton needs! MOAR FASTBALLS!!! If pitchers still insist on burying Hambone in breaking balls, then Trout can run wild. It’s a win-win.
Both lineup protection factors will probably only add up to marginal gains for Hamilton, but you have to take what you can get. Maybe those small improvements will inflate his confidence which will then further improve his performance at the plate. That’s the hope anyway.
Or maybe you just think the whole idea is insane. Well, at least it is something different. What is insane, according to the old saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” is just continuing to plug Hamilton into the clean-up spot and waiting for him to magically remember how to hit like an MVP.