Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/19/14

The easy thing is talking about what Josh Hamilton has done. For his career, he’s hit .304, with 161 dingers. Last year, his WAR was 4.4, and before that it was 4.1, and before that he won the American League MVP. Hamilton just signed a substantial contract with the Angels, and the season most relevant to the Angels during negotiations would’ve been Hamilton’s 2012. Hamilton started impossibly strong and cooled off, finishing with excellent numbers overall. If the Angels didn’t think Josh Hamilton is excellent, they wouldn’t have guaranteed him an eighth of a billion dollars. The harder thing is talking about what Josh Hamilton will do, precisely because we don’t and can’t know. We can only try to guess, based on what we assume to be relevant information, and when talking about Hamilton’s future — which everybody’s tried to do — it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at those 2012 trends. For some time, Hamilton was practically impossible to pitch to. Then he became easy to pitch to, at least relative to the earlier version of himself. Random statistical fluctuation, or something the Angels ought to be thinking about? It can be sloppy to divide a season at an arbitrary date, but it’s also extremely simple and you can still get a point across, if there’s a point to be made. Through the end of last May, Josh Hamilton had a 1.184 OPS. He struck out in 19% of his plate appearances. Over the remainder of the season, Hamilton posted an .809 OPS, and he struck out in 29% of his plate appearances. Hamilton started off as the greatest player in the world, and he finished getting booed by his own hometown fans as the Rangers somehow missed the playoffs. One wonders what might have changed. There’s not always something that changes when numbers behave in this way, but it’s not a bad idea to check. I wondered how pitchers might have adjusted their approaches to Hamilton after Hamilton demonstrated that he could just hit dingers whenever he wanted to. See, a neat thing about pitching is you’re not locked into a concrete game plan. You can make changes, in anticipation or even on the fly. Given what Hamilton was doing toward the start last year, it would make sense if pitchers and catchers gave their plans a second thought. To examine, we turn first to the plate-discipline data: Zone% Z-Swing% O-Swing% Z-Contact% O-Contact% Through May 36% 83% 43% 81% 54% June on 38% 82% 42% 76% 47% We don’t see anything in the first three columns of data. Pitchers threw roughly as many pitches in the strike zone, and Hamilton was swinging at the same locations, more or less. The last two columns are more interesting — Hamilton made less-frequent contact. At strikes and at balls. When it comes to investigating pitcher tendencies, what’s simpler than looking at raw fastball rate? Was Hamilton seeing fewer fastballs over the course of the year? Presented below is a graph, showing Hamilton’s rolling average fastball rate, based on 20-game samples: That’s not necessarily very helpful, as we can identify relative maximums and relative minimums. But there does seem to be the hint of an overall drop as you move along the x-axis (Time). Hamilton’s fastball rate was already low; it only got lower. Let’s break this data down by handedness. vs. RHP Fastball% Swing% Whiff% In Play% Through May 55% 57% 29% 39% June on 51% 58% 34% 27% Against righties, Hamilton saw a reduced fastball rate, and an increased whiff rate. Fewer of his swings resulted in batted balls put in play (or hit for dingers). vs. LHP Fastball% Swing% Whiff% In Play% Through May 49% 65% 36% 33% June on 43% 58% 44% 30% Similar against lefties — fewer fastballs, more whiffs. The samples are smaller, of course, but still in the hundreds of pitches. Overall, combining righties and lefties, Hamilton’s rate of fastballs seen dropped from 53% to just under 49%. That’s small, and it might just be a consequence of Hamilton getting into more deep and/or pitcher-friendly counts, but it could be meaningful. It would help to have the Rangers’ overall rates of fastballs seen, for the sake of comparison. There’s something else we can look at pretty easily, and it’s first pitches. Hamilton is a free swinger, and he’s not afraid to go after the first pitch of an at-bat. Against righties, Hamilton’s first-pitch fastball rate dropped from 60% to 52% after May. Against lefties, it dropped from 60% to 47% after May. These differences feel more substantial, and suggest that pitchers were trying to counter Hamilton’s aggressiveness. Interestingly, against lefties, Hamilton’s first-pitch swing rate dropped from 68% to 49% after May. The samples are limited, but Hamilton calmed himself down. The data indicates that Josh Hamilton saw fewer fastballs last season after his torrid stretch of productivity. That should hardly come as a surprise, yet Hamilton’s initial fastball rate was already very low. Overall, Hamilton saw 50% fastballs. Out of 1,685 player seasons since 2002, Hamilton in 2012 had the sixth-lowest fastball rate. The lowest we’ve measured is 47%, for 2009 Ryan Howard. Hamilton was near an extreme. Hamilton saw fewer fastballs, and fewer first-pitch fastballs, and his numbers got worse and his strikeouts went up. It will be interesting to see if this continues, to see if Hamilton sees even fewer fastballs still going forward. In that event, it will be interesting to see how Hamilton responds, to see if he can deal with it and continue to produce at a high level like the Angels expect. Last season, Hamilton didn’t stop swinging, and he missed more and more. If pitchers are aware of that, then it’s Hamilton who’s going to have to make the adjustments. The Angels, clearly, figure he’ll be fine. And, maybe, he will be.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

MLBPA reacts to Kris Bryant's minor league assignment

Gregg Marshall's show canceled, Bama speculation grows

Report: Shaka Smart in discussions with Texas

Report: Rick Barnes expected to land at Tennessee

Demaryius Thomas planning to skip Broncos' workouts

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rockets GM: We think we can win NBA title despite injuries

Browns GM Ray Farmer suspended over text messages

Aaron Hernandez's fiancee disposed of box after murder

Byron Scott: Opposing players say they want to play for Lakers

Falcons reportedly will lose pick over pumping in crowd noise

Report: Sam Bradford wouldn't sign extension with Browns

Five NFL coaches already on the hot seat

WATCH: Stars' Patrik Nemeth catches puck inside visor

10 winners and losers from the past week in the NFL

University of California soccer player found dead

Joe Namath parties with twin 100 year-old women

WATCH: Mike Napoli hits home run as bat shatters

WATCH: Marc Gasol misses shot, rips jersey in disgust

PHOTO: Minor league team to wear Jabba the Hutt jerseys

Lions LB DeAndre Levy takes ride on top of a moving plane

Colts owner addresses Indiana religious freedom bill

John Calipari addresses controversial ND comments

Arizona coach Sean Miller rips critics: 'Go cheer for ASU'

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Five coaches already on the hot seat

10 winners and losers from the past week in the NFL

Namath parties with 100 yr-old women

Report: Shaka Smart talking to Texas

Rick Barnes to land at Tennessee?

Browns GM suspended for texts

Hernandez's fiancee disposed of box

Mayweather-Pacquiao: It's sparring tall-tale season

The MLBPA has a problem

Final Four preview: Can every team win?

Full WrestleMania 31 recap and results

Why Texas had to fire Rick Barnes

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.