Josh Hamilton Should Not Be Hitting Third

“I’m about 50 percent, but I’m going to give you 100 percent of my 50 percent.”

Josh Hamilton, last week.

Josh Hamilton is hurt. He admitted as much, and watching him during the postseason, it’s been pretty obvious that his pulled groin is affecting him. However, last night should have been the final straw for Ron Washington, as Hamilton’s 8th inning at-bat against Arthur Rhodes revealed a guy who just isn’t healthy enough to take his normal hacks.

Take a look at the swing Hamilton put on that final slider from Rhodes.

The pitch was up and didn’t have a lot of bite, so it’s not like he had to lunge across the plate to reach it, but the swing is all arm movement anyway. His lower half barely shifts as the bat crosses through the zone, and there’s no attempt at any kind of weight transfer. He just loops the bat across the plate with his arms, and even when he makes contact with a mediocre belt-high slider, the best he can do is hit a pop-up to center field.

Here’s a better angle on the fastball directly preceding the out, in which Hamilton fouls off a pitch he should have absolutely crushed.

That is the swing of a guy doing the best he can with only the upper half of his body, and as Hamilton said, I’m sure he’s giving 100% of the 50% he actually has at the moment. Unfortunately, Major League hitters need the lower half of their body in order to drive the ball, and that’s the 50% Hamilton currently can’t use. That he’s managed to hit .267/.286/.378 during the playoffs with a pulled groin is actually kind of impressive, and shows some pretty remarkable natural hitting skill. However, for the Rangers, that swing should been the last straw, and Hamilton should find himself hitting in the lower part of the order for the rest of the series.

Without the ability to use his lower half to generate power, Hamilton’s best case outcome on most swings now is something like a bloop single. He still has enough bat speed to get around on pitches, but he’s just not going to be able to hit them with any authority – it’s not a coincidence that he hasn’t homered since September 23rd. And, unfortunately for the Rangers, a version of Josh Hamilton that lacks power isn’t a good enough player to hit in the middle of their batting order.

The good news for Ron Washington is that he has options, especially against LHP Jaime Garcia tonight. The team used Mike Napoli – he of the .320/.414/.631 season this year – in the #7 spot last night, and in his career, Napoli’s a .294/.400/.555 hitter against southpaws. If Washington wants to disrupt the line-up as little as possible, simply switching out Napoli and Hamilton could make a significant difference, giving the a healthy right-handed bat extra shots at the Cardinals left-handed starter.

However, if I’m the the Rangers, I’d take advantage of this opportunity (if you can call your star player getting hurt an opportunity) to make even more significant line-up changes. To avoid going back to Texas down 0-2, here’s the line-up I’d run out against Garcia tonight:

1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Michael Young, 1B
3. Adrian Beltre, 3B
4. Mike Napoli, C
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Josh Hamilton, LF
7. Elvis Andrus, SS
8. Craig Gentry, CF
P. Colby Lewis, P

This moves the five best hitters in Texas’ offense against an LHP to the 1-5 spots, and by putting a weak hitter like Andrus behind Hamilton, they might be able to get some respect walks from the Cardinals pitching staff – a broken down version of Hamilton is probably still a better hitter than Andrus, but he’s not good enough in his current state that an IBB isn’t a good outcome for the Rangers.

I’m sure Hamilton wouldn’t like getting dropped from the #3 spot in the batting order during the World Series, but unfortunately, he’s injured, and he’s shown that he can’t be expected to produce at his regular season levels. The Rangers have other options, and especially against a left-handed starter, they should use them.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

44 Responses to “Josh Hamilton Should Not Be Hitting Third”

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  1. Greg says:

    Unfortunately Ron Washington is the Rangers manager, so this has no chance of actually happening even though it really needs to.

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    • bender says:

      I don’t think there’s any manager in the majors who would drop Hamilton

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      • BigSteve says:

        I don’t think LaRussa would hesitate to. In these playoffs he has dropped Holliday from his cleanup spot for Berkman and Freese based on Holliday not being 100 percent. Also in 2006 when Scott Rolen (who was 16th in the majors in WAR that year) was dealing with a shoulder injury he actually benched him in favor of Scott Spezio. Just to name a couple of examples.

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      • Preston says:

        Tony LaRussa has the resume to do whatever he wants to a player of any caliber (Maybe not Albert). Ron Washington would lose his job in a heart beat if he were at odds with the best player on his roster. Players make more money, draw more fans and flat out have a bigger impact on whether a team wins or loses. So a manager better stay on good terms with his players. I don’t know how Josh Hamilton would react to getting dropped in the line-up, but my hunch is he’s proud and competitive like most of us and would be upset (even if he didn’t lash out publicly) and Ron Washington probably has more insight into what that reaction would be then any of us.

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    I’d go with this:

    1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
    2. Michael Young, 1B
    3. Nelson Cruz, RF
    4. Mike Napoli, C
    5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
    6. Elvis Andrus, SS
    7. Josh Hamilton, LF
    8. Craig Gentry, CF
    P. Colby Lewis, P

    According to Tango theory, the third hitter gets the most opportunities to ground into a double play. Therefore, Cruz’s superior speed and higher K rate play better in the three hole, as does his current power surge. Beltre’s lower K rate plays better in the 5 hole, when non-homerun hits are at a premium when compared to the 3 and 4 spots. Finally, Andrus’ speed is a huge asset in the 6 hole, especially in front of Hamilton, because Andrus is more likely to put himself in scoring position via steal or extra base on a hit, taking most advantage of Hamilton’s high contact rate and diminished power by maximizing chance to produce runs on singles.

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  3. Don't Mess With The Gut says:

    Yeah it’s unfortunate all the great offensive talent the Rangers have is minimized by the boneheaded manager they have.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Batting order is so insignificant that using the term minimized is laughable.

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      • futurecfo says:


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      • Pogotheostrich says:

        In the WS I’ll take any advantage I can get no matter how small.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Sure, but I assume that Washington has a better understanding of how moving Hamilton out of the 3 spot will affect the team. We may dismiss the notion that ‘team moral’ or ‘Hamilton’s feelings/ego’ have minimal affect on performance, but we also know that batting order has minimal affect as well.

        So the question is: Do you make a change that has a known minimal positve impact with a risk of unknown, though likely small, downside? Probably stick with the status quo for me.

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      • chuckb says:

        But when you figure in the fact that 2 of the Rangers’ 3 worst hitters are hitting in the first 3 spots in the order, it matters. If you move BOTH Hamilton and Andrus down, and move Napoli, Cruz, and Beltre up, there’s a difference.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Quantify ‘it matters’ and ‘a difference.’

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      • cobradc23 says:

        Considering that the higher a player hits in the order, the more PA’s he is likely to have the difference could be an extra plate appearance for a better hitter (at this time).

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  4. chuckb says:

    Watching Hamilton on that PA last night I thought the exact same thing. He had hittable pitches and just looked bad. I didn’t realize he had a bad groin until they said something during the game and then it made more sense as to why he looks so bad at the plate.

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  5. sean says:

    there’s been a noticable theme these playoffs(not that it’s not there is previous years) of managers batting players in the same spot eeven though they are injured. the yankees did it with Arod, the rangers with hamilton, the tigers with avila, the phillies with pence.

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  6. Telo says:

    Your analysis of that swing is wrong. (Ignore the first GIF, the second gives the most information.) He is a touch early – you can tell as his front foot hits the ground he has to hold back his hands for a split second. Since his lower body is slightly early, it looks to you like it’s an arm-y swing, which it is.

    That’s not to say I disagree with your sentiment. Perhaps he shouldn’t be batting as high as he is, it’s just that this video doesn’t really prove anything except that his timing was off on that pitch.

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    • Telo says:

      The book would probably say this is the optimal order, assuming Hamilton is not quite 100%, but close:

      1. Kinsler – top 3 hitter, +speed
      2. Beltre – top 3 hitter, all around
      3. Young – 4th/5th best hitter
      4. Napoli – top 3 hitter, +iso
      5. Hamilton – 4th/5th best hitter, iso
      6. Cruz – 6th best hitter
      7. Andrus – 7th best hitter
      8. Murphy – 8th…
      9. P

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      • Bryan says:

        This may have been the optimal regular season order, but it still assumes Hamilton is better right now than Cruz. Switch those two and you’re in business (and remarkably close to Dave’s suggestion).

        Either way, Napoli hitting seventh kind of feels like LeBron coming off the bench, doesn’t it?

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      • Telo says:

        Yea, Hamilton is an unknown, but I don’t buy Dave’s assessment. I was basically assuming he is at 90% ~ wRC+ 125ish.

        I think the biggest travesties of Cracky’s lineups are:

        - Nap batting so low, as you said
        - Andrus batting at/near the top
        - Young batting 4th, probably should be 6/7 before he bats cleanup

        Exactly where you bat players is less important than having the best guys up front. 1/2/4 should really be your best 3 hitters, and when you have a lineup like theirs, having wRC+ 86 Andrus anywhere near the top 5 is just incorrect.

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    • Telo says:

      Also (not to pile on)

      “Here’s a better angle on the fastball directly preceding the out, in which Hamilton fouls off a pitch he should have absolutely crushed.”

      This happens a couple times an inning.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      In order to see any effect we’d need to see healthy Josh side by side with injured Josh and then be able to confidently attribute any differences to injury. That’s likely not as easy as it sounds.

      Hamilton is a hitting mechanic’s wet dream especially among the “tip” crowd.

      I’m guessing even a healthy Josh has had plenty of swings like that … especially against a LHP on a slider.

      Strange that his groin is injured but he’s still able to chase down fly balls at the track.

      Even looking at various clips and pics of Hammy’s swing, there are plenty of times where he is “upright” at contact, instead of slightly back with a very rigid front leg, so even then I don;t know that we could chalk it up to an injured groin.

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  7. JohnOrpheus says:

    I don’t know that batting order really had that much impact on the final score last night. Let’s say Beltre, Cruz, and Napoli are 2, 3, and 4 and Young, Hamilton, and Andrews are 5, 6, and 7. You very likely would get a similar outcome with Napoli homering from the 4 spot and Young, Hamilton, and Andrews making the bottom of the lineup a cakewalk. Like others have said, batting order just does not ultimately matter that much.

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    • Zach says:

      If Napoli bat higher he would have had one more ab in that game. In a one run game, that certainly could have made a difference, imo.

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  8. ExtraBases says:

    I like the idea of dropping Hamilton down in the order right now. The swings shown above along with his declined production over the past few weeks shows he really is not healthy. Even though he is one of the best hitters in the game and dropping him down would look really unconventional, this is the world series and I think it should be done. I also like the idea of dropping andrus down but I would put him seventh and Hamilton sixth. I would also flip Napoli and Cruz. With the way Cruz swung the bat in the ALCS, I think he should be protected by Napoli. Napoli showed last night that he can produce without a big hitter behind him. I know Cruz did that all last series without a big hitter behind him as well but I would like to see Cruz hitting clean-up more than Napoli.

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  9. Phantom Stranger says:

    Hamilton definitely looks injured, having videoscouted most of his at-bats the last two years. He has been weakly flying out meatballs in the playoffs that would have been planted 450 feet two months ago. This is not Josh Hamilton, MVP, hitting in this World Series. It’s a player doing the best he can with limited physical tools at the moment.

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  10. David says:

    …and Washington elects to go with a virtually identical lineup for game two. The only change is Gentry in for Murphy in the 8th spot.


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  11. Matt says:

    As Kevin Goldstein wrote, the in-game stuff is less than 10% of a manager’s job. I think it is a joke to see so many people pretending they have the answers to solving what is wrong with the Rangers. First off, there’s obviously not much wrong with the Rangers given the fact that they are in the WS for the 2nd year in a row, and they still have a legit shot to win it this year. And while I agree that the Rangers’ current batting order would not be my first choice were this a computer simulation, we have to remember that this is not a computer simulation. APBA and Strat are great games and all . . . but managing a real life team offers wrinkles that, frankly, none of us can fully appreciate from these cheap seats known as our couches.

    Sports is a results based industry. The results say Ron Washington is doing a heckuva job.

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    • Telo says:

      Oh, well if Kevin Goldstein said it then shit, it’s gotta be right.

      Even if it’s 10% of the job, it’s the part of the job that effects the game the most… much more than bringing cupcakes into the clubhouse, and telling hitters to “wait for the ball to get deep”. Managers are a joke. The best ones are those who stay out of the way of the game on offense, use bullpens effectively, and who have the respect of players.

      But you know all that. You read Kevin Goldstein.

      Plus, no one is trying to “solve” anything. It’s called optimizing. If you think Cracky McWashington pens perfect lineups every night, well, you’re probably a Texas fan. Or a friend of Ron’s from the crack house.

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      • Matt says:

        I’m sorry, Telo, but your assertion that managers are a joke reveals only your lack of understanding. Managing a team of people is not about knowing the best formula for RC/G or what not. If it were that simple then all managers in baseball would have Mathematics degrees from an Ivy League school.

        I’m no Rangers fan for what it’s worth . . . just trying to present a viewpoint that says the arm chairs here, me included, really don’t know all the variables that go into managing a team, and it is ignorant of us to assume we could do half as good as Ron Washington or any other manager because we have a calculator.

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  12. Ian says:

    I am in the ‘Washington may know the intangibles’ camp. None of us know better than Washington how Hamilton would react or how Cruz or Napoli would perform if they were to take Hamilton’s spot in the lineup during the World Series, etc. If Hamilton got upset by it, would Cruz or Napoli be effected psychologically, knowing who they were ‘replacing’?This is the World Series, after all, and nerves are on edge as it is. For all we know, there might be some beef already between Napoli and Hamilton, etc.

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  13. AA says:

    The only problem is that the all-RHB 3-4-5 proposed here will get buzz sawed by Dotel. He’s a ROOGY, but insanely effective against RHB. You are basically handing an inning to the Cards at that point.

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  14. Chris says:

    If Hamilton gets upset, that’s his problem. A true professional would swallow his pride and do what’s best for the team.

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  15. james says:

    I would ask Josh if I were Ron, hey “let’s get crazy here, you are frustrated and hurt….let’s put Nap up in the three and bring you down to the 7….what’s Tony gonna think about that! Line it out and let’s get this thing closed soon! Food for thought, from a very longtime Ranger Fan.

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  16. Bill says:

    Good thing he didn’t take your advice last night. With nobody hitting, the order played out to perfection!

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  17. Antonio Bananas says:

    If I’m Wash, I’m going to try to go lefty-righty as much as possible. LaRussa is OCD level insane when it comes to the handed-matchups. Don’t let him use Dotel to blaze through an inning. Mix it up, make LaRussa use all his weapons.

    As for Hamilton, I agree that you can’t just move him down. Statistically, probably, but this isn’t a computer simulation. If Hamilton’s feelings get hurt, Wash could be out of a job.

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    • stratobill says:

      I think all this amateur psychology about the impact that being moved down in the batting order might have on Hamilton is much ado about nothing.

      This is a man whose life was a complete shambles a few years ago. After what he’s been through, do you really believe that his feelings are going to be hurt by a lineup change? That’s crazy, in my opinion. Just because a few athletes doesn’t mean they all are. Hamilton’s psyche is not going to be crushed by being dropped in the batting order, especially with his injury problem!

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  18. stratobill says:

    My left post left out the words, “are prima-donnas”, as in, “Just because a few athletes are prima-donnas doesn’ mean that they all are”.

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  19. Cliffoed says:

    I couldn’t agree more that Hamilton looks injured and is swinging like he’s pulled a muscle somewhere–his groin in this case. But while I agree with you that as long as he’s swinging the bat like a Punch and Judy hitter and belongs further down in the lineup, I’d also say that Ron Washington doesn’t have the apricots (or the good sense) to pull the trigger on a lineup demotion fearing that Hamilton would sulk and pout if he did…

    Sana Monica, Ca

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