Josh Hamilton signed a five-year, $125-million contract with the Los Angeles Angels on December 13, 2012, causing many fans of other AL West teams to head straight for the ledge, fearing all had been lost for their teams.
Hamilton’s number from a fantasy standpoint were incredible last year: a .285 batting average, 43 home runs, and 128 RBIs, in just 148 games. If we take a look at the nerd numbers (which we will do a lot here), we can see that Hamilton was worth a 4.4 WAR in 2012, meaning he is essentially replacing Torii Hunter’s 5.3 WAR of last year. While Hamilton was clearly the superior hitter, he’s so bad at defense that it drags his value down. While it’s believable that Hamilton could have a better year than Hunter’s 2012, one also can’t ignore that the Angels have replaced Ervin Santana, Dan Haren, and Zack Greinke with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton. Santana may have been terrible, and Haren had an off-year, but it’s hard to argue that the first three names aren’t better than the second three.
So Hamilton likely isn’t raising the Angels from 89 wins to 95 on his own, but it may not just be because the 2011 supporting cast isn’t as good as the 2012 supporting cast. There’s reason to believe his numbers are going to be worse in 2013 than in 2012. Hamilton spent half of his games in 2012 in Texas, which has a 111 park factor for home runs for left-handed batters. Now, Hamilton will be hitting in a ballpark with a 95 park factor for lefty dingers. (A park factor of 100 is neutral, anything over 100 favors the hitter, anything below favors the pitchers. A 111 park factor for home runs means that the park gives up 11% more home runs than average.) Odds are, Hamilton probably doesn’t crack 40 home runs again.
Most concerning may be that Hamilton’s contact rate collapsed in 2012. A league-average rate of contact is about 73%, and Hamilton’s career mark is 72.2%. That number, however, was dragged down significantly by a 2012 contact rate of just 64.6%, below some bad hitters, including the abysmal Miguel Olivo. Hamilton also led the majors in swinging strike rate, which counts only whiffs, not foul ball strikes, at a ridiculous 20%. Hamilton is a freak, so he should still be able to have success even if he continues to swing and miss, but it certainly is a red flag that his decline may come more swiftly than some think.
Then again, it’s possible that this was a one-year anomaly. The reason I fear otherwise is because he is going to be 32 years-old next year, and almost every player is at least entering decline at that age. The point, though, is that even if Hamilton’s skills bounce back, his raw numbers likely are going to suffer by moving to Anaheim. It’s always possible that a player with his talent flips out and has another MVP quality year, but the odds of that are highly unlikely, and joining the Angels only hurts him. He’s still worth drafting fairly early, but for how many more years? Expect something like .280 with 35 home runs and 100 RBIs, and not the gaudy numbers he put up a season ago.