Josh Hamilton has been on fire to start the year, currently leading the American League (by a good margin) with a .513 weighted On Base Average. For those unfamiliar, that's an all-encompassing performance of offense, and .513 is huge.
Brad at Lone Star Ball has a little red flag to wave, though, and it has to do with Hamilton's tendency to swing early and often. We covered the Rangers' aggressive approach a while ago, but we now have even more season to go off of, and Brad focuses on Hamilton specifically.
When you look at Josh's career 1.191 OPS when he puts the first pitch in play, that ultra aggressive approach doesn't seem like a bad idea. However that great OPS is a little misleading; it's only when he puts the ball in play. Whenever Hamilton swings and misses or fouls the first pitch off he's suddenly in the hole 0-1 and his career OPS after that situation is a very pedestrian .720 with a .289 OBP.
As Brad writes, Hamilton fails to put the ball in play two thirds of the time when he swings at that first pitch. In nearly a fifth of his PAs, Josh Hamilton reduces himself to an iffy hitter because of poor discipline.
There is some hope, as Brad also covers, since Hamilton is actually hitting much better when down in the count this season. That's a small sample, however. That success is less likely to continue -- from what knowledge we have -- than it is to regress towards his career rates of "very pedestrian."
What's not a small sample is a player's swing rate, something that can already be expected to continue as is after only 50 plate appearances on the season (Hamilton is at 77). Hamilton's swinging away even more than ever, meaning he's even more than ever putting himself in a bad situation.
Obviously, overall, Hamilton is a very good hitter. Changing a player's approach can range from difficult to hard, so we are probably stuck with him the way he is. It's just frustrating to see exactly what's keeping his natural talent from turning him in to maybe the best hitter baseball has to offer.
Not that this is quite a panic situation. Brad does a great job of tempering our expectations of Hamilton, but there's always the chance he is doing better after falling behind than in previous seasons. Even if he hasn't, he still usually works out pretty well.