Which Josh Hamilton Does Los Angeles Get?

Victor Decolongon

Looking at the best, worst, and most likely scenarios for the Angels' newest hire.

He's gone. You were supposed to be prepared for this, since we knew it was coming. We knew he would make too much money, and we knew the contract would be ridiculous (though we assumed more so). We knew Josh Hamilton would not be a Texas Ranger in 2013.

We just didn't know he'd be an Angel. So now we have to look at not just what a lack of Hamilton means for the Rangers, we have to look at what facing him in the division means.

Which is actually a pretty tough question, since it can range anywhere from severe panic to extreme hilarity.

Josh Hamilton the Superstar

In 2010, Josh Hamilton's slash line was .359/.411/.633. He launched 43 balls in to orbit, played tremendous centerfield defense, and added a chunk of runs for his team on the basepaths.

He was literally everything. A monster at the plate playing good defense at a premium position with plus baserunning. Despite only playing 133 games, he was worth more than eight wins to the Rangers above a replacement level player, per the estimation of FanGraphs. An MVP-caliber star.

While that is the best Hamilton has been, though, it is probably a little too high to establish his ceiling with the Angels, for a few reasons.

The first thing you might look at is a typical luck measurement, like the .390 Batting Average on Balls In Play he had. While that is extreme and unlikely to happen ever again, though, those sort of flukes happen. If it does happen again, that won't be weird or shocking.

For one, a corner outfielder can only do so much. Just by playing out of centerfield, Hamilton will have a very hard time producing the same level of value he did in 2010. Of course, he is in his 30s at this point, so again his ceiling is probably a touch lower.

Most subtly, though, are the changes in ballparks. Now, WAR is park adjusted, but it does not consider handedness. Parks don't actually affect hitters equally, and Hamilton was even more helped by Ranger Ballpark in Arlington than something like weighted Runs Created+ suggests. If you check the FanGraphs page for park factors, you'll see pretty clearly that left-handed hitters get a significant boost in home runs over what right handers get; a Josh Hamilton does more for you in that park than, say, a Paul Konerko would, even if their adjusted lines end up being similar.

Angel Stadium is the other way around. While right handers hit home runs there about at an average rate, left handers have significant difficulty. In short, Hamilton is going from a park that benefits him way more than the average hitter, to one that hurts him quite a bit more than the average hitter. Again, we can and should adjust for the park when evaluating Hamilton, but lefties are more valuable to Texas specifically than they are Anaheim.

The ceiling of greatness is still there, but after age, less time in center, and moving to a less friendly park for his side of the plate, it is most likely a bit lower than it had been in Texas. If all goes well for the Angels, Hamilton can and should be an elite player, but approaching a repeat of his eight win season should be something of a surprise. Something more in the range of 6-7 is likely the best they should reasonably hope for.

Josh Hamilton the Trainwreck

Hamilton, as we know, lacks plate discipline. He took it to a new level in 2012, striking out in more than a quarter of his at bats (average is just under one-fifth), though he did make up for it some by walking at the second-best rate of this career (9.4%). Most frustratingly, he felt the need to swing at more than 57% of pitches he saw; only Delmon Young was more eager.

Guys with no awareness of the strikezone, and no patience at all, do not tend to age so well.

We also know a player's typical peak is from 25-30. Hamilton will be 32, a point that a typical player is going to begin aging. We also know that aging process is usually less friendly to people who suffer a lot of injuries, like guys who average 123 games played a year.

There is a huge cliff warning sign on Hamilton's future. There is a lot going against him. Of course, no one's fate is set in stone, but there is also a precedent set for Hamilton turning in putrid seasons. Just before winning the MVP, Hamilton appeared in 89 games, hit just .268/.315/.426, significantly below average at the plate (85 wRC+), and turned in value that can be found pretty easily in baseball (1.4 WAR).

It seems forgotten in the mist of the good years he had otherwise, but Hamilton had a season in Texas where he was not just short of great; he was awful. So Texas's chief division rival is now paying $25 million a year for someone who is old, frequently injured, undisciplined, and has already established the ability to be horrible for an entire season.

While Hamilton's ceiling is probably not as high as repeating his MVP value, his floor -- in 2013, not just 2018 -- is probably lower than 2009. He is far from a guarantee to fall off a cliff, but as far as big name free agents go, he is a pretty huge risk to do so. The signing could be ugly immediately, not necessarily down the line.

The Most Likely Scenario

It probably goes without saying, but the Angels in 2013 will probably get a Josh Hamilton who is somewhere in the middle. Say, a guy who has averaged just over four wins a season (and almost exactly that average for each of the past two) in his career; a good, All-Star level player who gets a bit overrated because of how incredible he is when he's on.

You should probably regress that down a bit for age and ballpark, though. Just a touch, but even without that touch, that won't be enough for the Angels. That's not a $25 million dollar player, that's not a guy with great promise at 37 years old, and that's not even better than what Torii Hunter was in 2012 for a team that finished in third place.

That's just the first year of the contract. It will absolutely hurt to see one of the best Rangers ever putting on Anaheim red. If LA gets their best case scenario, "hurt" won't even begin to describe it. Star Hamilton certainly makes them better. He may not be worth the whole contract, but he would make the middle of the Angel order terrifying.

Trainwreck Hamilton is not necessarily a great bet, but he is probably just as much a possibility as MVP Hamilton, though. That would be an immediate sink hole in the Anaheim budget, a waste of a middle of the order spot, and 3-4 automatic strike outs against Yu Darvish.

If they hit their most likely scenario, though, and you get past the emotion, it's still a division rival wasting money to not improve, and your team letting them do it. It takes a bit more than that for things to be a real problem, but it doesn't take much less for things to get funny.

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