Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Was it Too Good to Be True?

So Josh Hamilton missed another game yesterday and had an MRI today (results unknown as I'm writing this). Hamilton, who played 156 games and was probably the story of the year in 2008, has already missed 15 of the Rangers' first 50 this year. What's more, when he has played, he's been decidedly nongood. He's striking out almost four times for every walk (last year it was about two to one). His batting average, OBP and SLG are down 64, 81 and 74 points, respectively, from 2008. He's still got outstanding power, slugging .542 in the 17 games he was able to get into in May, but that's not gonna cut it. Especially not on a team with Nelson Cruz, Marlon Byrd and Andruw Jones all doing much, much better than that. On the bright side, UZR thinks his defense in center field has suddenly gone from atrocious to outstanding.

I guess it could be seen as a good sign that Hamilton keeps going down with the same issue, a "recurring groin problem." I mean, it would be worse if he's gone down like three or four separate times with different problems, right? Or maybe the fact that he can't get over this groin thing is an even worse sign. I have no idea. I'm just looking for the silver lining here.

Because here's the thing: I love Josh Hamilton. I just want to see him hitting baseballs a long way for many more years. I know I'm not exactly alone in that sentiment, but I just don't think you can deny that the world is a slightly better place when Josh Hamilton is playing baseball (and playing well). He's 28 years old. I would like to see him smiling and having fun and making the game look easy for another ten years or so. Given all he's put himself through and all he's done to pull himself back, that doesn't seem like too much to ask.

But why do I get the feeling that Joe Sheehan is dead on when he says this: "Hamilton is overrated by dint of storyline, because his body doesn't appear to have what it takes to play regularly at a high level in the major leagues"? I mean, really, we're talking about 15 missed games and five bad weeks. So is that crazy?

But then there was 2007, when he didn't play a game from May 19 to June 4, or from July 8 to August 11, or from September 12 onward. He suffered from (presumably among other things) gastroenteritis and a sprained wrist. When he played, he was just as effective as he was in 2008 (131 OPS+ in '07, 136 in '08), but 100 games of Hamilton is obviously quite a bit less valuable than 150 games of Hamilton. And 100 games of Hamilton at a shadow of his established ability, which is what he's showing right now, just isn't very valuable at all.

So maybe I'm just preparing myself for what seems inevitable. That just seems like part of the story, like how Roy Hobbs (the movie version; I read the book, but have forgotten most of it) was fated to have his brief moment in the sun before injuries and age took the game away from him again. The plotline calls for a tragically brief flash of brilliance, not ten years of stardom.

Real life doesn't usually work that way, of course, and I get the hunch that he'll have healthy stretches, this year and for the next bunch, where he just looks unstoppable, but that he just won't be able to stay in the lineup on a regular basis. Like Shane Mack, I suppose, and Jim Edmonds, and Larry Walker, and Pete Reiser...but more interesting somehow.

Or am I reading too much into one nagging groin (and a whole bunch of other nagging things two years ago)?


  1. No, I think you're spot on.

    A couple things:
    1) Why did the Rangers push for Michael Young to move to third and not Hamilton to move to right? He's more of a right fielder.
    2) If he needs to be a DH, then the Rangers have some interesting decisions to make. Smoak is going to force Davis to DH by the beginning of next season. If they need to get Hamilton to DH to keep him in the lineup for 145 to 150 games, do they trade Davis or just put Hamilton at DH for games in which they play lefties?

    But yeah, a Milton Bradley career track doesn't seem too far out of the question.

  2. Another career track one could hope for belongs to another high draft pick from years past.

    This guy was the third pick over all in the amateur draft.

    He became a starter early, but couldn't stay healthy and got involved with, among other things, cocaine.

    His games played for his first 10 seasons:


    He then played at least 154 games for 5 of the next 6 seasons, then led the league in games during the strike season of '94.

    This healthy streak didn't start until his 31st year.

    Before all was said and done, Paul Molitor was a Hall Of Famer.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Bradley and Molitor were both good names to bring up. I had considered mentioning Molitor, but decided I'd rambled on long enough.

    The problem is, Molitor started at age 21. If you're going to parallel the list Barry put above for Hamilton, instead of Molitor's 125 140 111 64 160 152, you'd have 0 0 0 0 0 90. I am by no means qualified to speculate that Hamilton's compulsive destruction of his body for some seven or eight years created a problem he's going to have a hard time recovering from (or recovering sufficiently to play 150 games a year at the highest level, that is), but it just feels like a reasonable assumption to start thinking about making.

    And for a lot of that time that Molitor was so durable, he was a DH (though not as predominantly as I assumed he was before I looked it up). If Hamilton is fated to become a full-time DH, that's still a bit of a letdown. First, analytically, even a mediocre-to-poor center fielder is much more valuable thn a DH with the same offensive stats, and second, more subjectively, part of the allure of Hamilton is that DiMaggio/Griffeyesque way of patrolling centerfield, crashing into walls and such (even if the numbers show us that he's not actually very good at it).

    Point well taken, though. Some "injury-prone" guys are just unlucky, and maybe that's Hamilton. But some others, I think, just aren't equipped to play nine innings 150 times a year.