Josh Hamilton’s Hitting Breakout

It looks increasingly likely that the Rangers will win the American League West division. If that happens, a big reason for their success will be Josh Hamilton and his monstrous season at the plate. How has Hamilton gone from his disappointing 2009 season to this dream season of anyone who ever once discussed what Josh Hamilton might look like if he reached that rarified air of a prospect’s ceiling?

In one word: power. Hamilton’s walk rate is unchanged from last season and his strikeout rate, though improved, is equal to what it was in 2008 and on balance with his overall career rate. However, his isolated slugging which went from .226 in 2008 to .158 last season has not only regressed to but has exceeded his prior numbers. Hamilton’s .279 iso ranks fifth in all of baseball. Helping to reinforce the notion that Hamilton is hitting the ball harder, Josh’s BABIP has ballooned to an eye-opening .399.

Is this increase in power resulting from better hitting, stronger hitting, good luck or some combination? What I call better hitting is more precisely defined by his line drive rate, a measure of how often he squares up on the ball. While line drive rate is prone to fluctuation and issues with scoring bias, since Hamilton has stayed with the same team I feel it a fair comparison. And what that comparison shows is very little difference. Given that, I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting Hamilton to hold on to that AL-leading batting average all season.

As a proxy for stronger hitting, I turned to HitTrackerOnline to get numbers on Hamilton’s home runs. In 2008, Hamilton sprayed home runs to all fields. Last season he hit all ten to either left or right field. None were within 15 degrees of the straight to center field line. Hamilton is back to dispersing his home runs this year, and more concretely his distance numbers are much higher. 2009 Josh Hamilton had an average true distance on his home runs of 412 feet. That’s pretty impressive, but pales against this year’s average of 423 feet. It indeed appears that Hamilton is stronger or in some other way making better contact this season.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

17 Responses to “Josh Hamilton’s Hitting Breakout”

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  1. tdotsports1 says:

    An absolute TEAR… Ridiculous almost. You would think regression of course is likely, however.

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  2. Adam D says:

    he’s certainly much healthier this season. wrist and back problems last year probably sapped at least some of his power.

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    • Mr. Sanchez says:

      that would be my thoughts.

      As abused as his body has been over the years, I’d think health would be a huge part of his productivity or lack of it.

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  3. Dann M says:

    Something worth noting is that, for the first time, Hamilton has noticeably positive pitch type values on multiple off speed pitches. In 2007, when he showed up for Cincinnati, he was positive, but nothing jumps out. In 2008, when he really broke out in Texas, he destroyed fastballs, but his slightly positive numbers against curves and cutters were negated by his poor handling of sliders and change-ups. In 2009, the fastball value plummeted while he was negative for all off speed pitches.

    In 2010, his wFB is back above 20 while only splitters are giving him any problems whatsoever (wSF -0.3). For the first time, the sum of non-fastballs exceeds the number of fastballs pitchers are throwing him, most noticeably career high levels of CT, CB, CH, and SF alongside career lows of FB and SL. And his wCH/C is an impressive 4.14. Every 100 change-ups he sees, the Rangers cash in enough runs to buy Ted Lilly a win.

    Who knows what’s causing it, but he’s doing more with the same swing and contact rates he’s previously shown, despite those O-swing (same as 09) and O-contact (career-best) rates coinciding with 5.6% fewer FB seen than in 2009, 6% than in 08, and 11.6% in 07. That’s what interests me: he still swings at 35% O-zone, 56% overall, swings and misses at 13%, yet is now putting up insane numbers.

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  4. Phantom Stranger says:

    He has been an absolute monster the past two months, and in the best zone I have seen a hitter in since Chipper Jones early in the 2008 season. He will really work an at-bat, fouling off pitches or talking balls until he sees a pitch he can handle. I do notice some things creeping into his approach that might drive down the power as the season goes on. I think the high batting average and possible title are in his head at the moment.

    He is waiting on the ball as long as possible in the zone, similar to Ryan Howard, which is probably adding a few doubles and singles the other way but taking away a few homers he could pull. Lefties with good stuff can still get him to chase their pitch. If anything, he has been a bit unlucky so far on hard-hit balls from observation. He has hit a lot of hard liners right at outfielders.

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  5. JM says:


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  6. blalock says:

    something to note about hambone’s Babip is his speed. He had two infield singles just last night, beating out the first baseman to the bag. He’s probably the fastest guy from home to first on the rangers, didnt hit into a DP until earlier this month. His speed certainly helps keep his Babip higher, and his increased ability to hit the ball hard to all fields… While on the infield the defense can play him to pull somewhat, there is really no set way to play Hamilton in the OF, he slices he ball down the LF line alot, hammers it into the LF alley, and rips line shots so hard to RCF that the ball can take a hop on the infield and still go for a 3B. Torii hunter in this last series vs the angels was shifting back and forth shading him to pull at first but was burned by a oppo gapper and started shading him to hit opposite field.

    But most of all, the guy is actually a professional hitter this year, I really think he actually figured out how to truly hit like most major leaguers some time in May. Dont forget he’s not had nearly as many professional at bats both in MiLB and the MLB as most hitters entering their prime. He may be fooled in one AB, but he’s been exceptionally better at adjusting his approach in game during this ridiculous stretch.

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  7. gorillagogo says:

    I’ve got a simpler explanation — last season Hamilton was on my fantasy team but this year he’s not.

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  8. DavidCEisen says:

    Can’t wait for the Disney biopic in 2020.

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  9. Billy says:

    The guy is so FREAKING fast!

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  10. Kyle says:

    He’s the MVP of the American League so far… and Cabrera probably won’t hang that long in the batting title race since so many Tigers are injured. Ichiro’s virtually meaningless numbers are basically done seeing that the guy is hitting .307. When a power hitter hits for this kind of average, everyone should take notice. It’s like when Albert Belle hit .357 or had 50 doubles and 50 homeruns.

    As for his speed, scouts have said he should get more stolen bases since he’s a fast guy so maybe he’s utilizing that more this season.

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    • blalock says:

      yea, he pretty much only steals in late game situations… He’s maybe been thrown out once, but usually, its not even a close play. I am kind of against having him steal just on any occasion simply because of the injury factor. But yea, he definitely should/could have more stolen bases, he’s a good baserunner otherwise though.

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