Josh Hamilton: the Worst at the Worst

Let’s all go ahead and agree right now that the worst day of Josh Hamilton‘s life probably had nothing to do with baseball. I’m not going to go into any detail, and you shouldn’t need for me to go into any detail. Who knows where Hamilton would even be were it not for having baseball in his life? Baseball, for Josh Hamilton, is a blessing, that which helps to save him from what he could otherwise become.

But in terms of just on-field baseball performance, Josh Hamilton on Wednesday might have had the worst day of his career. Hamilton, of course, has been through more devastating games, such as the last two in last year’s World Series, but those were devastating on a team level. On Wednesday, individually, Hamilton sucked, and as such he’s one of the players responsible for the Rangers still having to win another game before they can think about the ALDS.

The rest of this post is going to draw heavily upon Win Expectancy and Win Probability Added, statistics with which you ought to be familiar. Basically, at any given game state, we can calculate a team’s odds of ultimately winning. This is Win Expectancy. The difference in Win Expectancy between one game state and the next game state is Win Probability Added, and it’s an individual-player metric. You can sum up individual-play WPA to get full-game WPA, or even full-season or full-career WPA. You know all this so let’s move on!

In Wednesday’s critical game between the Rangers and the Athletics, Hamilton finished 1-for-5 with a single. That’s not a very good game, by Hamilton’s standards, and let’s break it down by plate appearance. Here’s how Hamilton’s first plate appearance finished:

With one on and one out in the top of the first, Hamilton grounded out on a pitch out of the zone. WPA: -0.027

Hamilton’s second plate appearance:

With one on and one out in the top of the third, Hamilton singled to put runners on the corners in a one-run game. The pitch, for whatever it’s worth, was out of the zone, too. WPA: +0.059

Hamilton’s third plate appearance:

It was 5-1 Rangers in the top of the fourth when Hamilton struck out with one out and none on. The pitch was well out of the zone. WPA: -0.005

Hamilton’s fourth plate appearance:

Suddenly, it was 8-5 A’s in the top of the sixth when Hamilton struck out with two out and none on. The pitch was out of the zone. WPA: -0.008

Hamilton’s fifth and final plate appearance:

With the score still 8-5 A’s in the top of the eighth, Hamilton struck out with two out and one on. This time the pitch was in the zone! Barely. WPA: -0.016

Add that all together and Hamilton’s offensive game was neither strongly positive nor strongly negative. Going 1-for-5 with three strikeouts is pretty bad, of course, especially for a superstar, and the Rangers could’ve used more production, but Hamilton contributed to a big rally and his other plate appearances came in lower-leverage spots. His total offensive WPA, and the WPA that shows up in his game log, was +0.004.

But oh does that ever not tell the whole story. You see, Josh Hamilton on Wednesday wasn’t the Rangers’ designated hitter, and he did this thing in the bottom of the fourth. I’ll just…yeah, here you go.

Let’s see that again, sort of:

The A’s had rallied, and the score was knotted up at five. Yoenis Cespedes batted with two out and two on, and at that point the A’s Win Expectancy was 55.1 percent. Cespedes lifted a leisurely shallow fly ball, and then the Win Expectancy was about 50 percent. Or that’s what it would have been had the baseball been caught. Hamilton just whiffed on it for no good reason and two runners scored, lifting Oakland’s Win Expectancy to 79.2 percent. Meaning the Win Expectancy swing caused by Hamilton’s inexplicable error was 29.2 percent. This has to be factored in with Hamilton’s offense, and all of a sudden, oh man, wow, way to blow it, Josh Hamilton.

Some people might say that, because the A’s won by seven, Hamilton’s two-run error didn’t really matter in the end. Those people would make for bad friends and worse significant others, because those people are complete idiots. Had Hamilton caught a fly ball he should’ve caught with ease, the entire sequence afterwards changes and who knows how the game ends? All we could know for sure is that the A’s and the Rangers would’ve been tied 5-5 after four innings of play.

Put together, Hamilton’s Wednesday WPA comes out to — let’s round and call it -0.29. According to Josh Hamilton’s career game log, that’s tied for the second-worst game Hamilton’s ever had, as on June 6, 2012, Hamilton came out to -0.31. In that game he went 0-for-4 and struck out in the ninth with two outs, the bases loaded, and the Rangers trailing by one. Of course, I haven’t gone through all of Hamilton’s other games and accounted for errors, but it’s hard to imagine an error worse than the one Hamilton made Wednesday, and on June 6, 2012, Hamilton went errorless, as outfielders usually do.

So, technically, Wednesday’s was not Josh Hamilton’s worst-ever game. It’s close enough, though, that it was arguably his worst-ever game, and that’s before we even consider the stakes. With a win, the Rangers would’ve advanced straight to the playoffs. With the loss, the Rangers are instead advancing to the pseudo-playoffs. The overall game leverage was huge, and the leverage at the time of the error was huge, so Hamilton’s effort was particularly costly. It had a direct and significant effect on the Rangers’ overall odds of winning the World Series.

Josh Hamilton had just about his worst-ever game at just about the worst possible time. Most of that, granted, was because of one single miscue. But, holy hell, what a miscue.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.