Josh Hamilton had one of the greatest starts to a season in the history of baseball. His numbers were bound to tail off at some point.
Unfortunately, they’ve fallen off a cliff. When he hit four home runs in a win over the Orioles on May 8, he seemed well on his way to another MVP season. That remarkable stretch ignited talks of how the Texas Rangers desperately needed to sign their center fielder to a long-term contract. At that point, his latest relapse with alcohol and all the baggage that comes along with him felt like minor distractions.
But only two months removed from that stretch that saw his average at .404 on May 16, Hamilton briefly dipped below .300 during Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Oakland A’s. He struck out three times in the game before hitting a towering homer the opposite way and later driving in a run with a sacrifice fly to finish at .300.
Those were positive signs, but it’s not enough to suggest Hamilton’s ready to pull out of this prolonged slump. You knew his average would dip at some point because of his unwillingness to accept anything other than intentional walks. As he aged, Barry Bonds continued to hit for a solid average because he had unbelievable discipline at the plate. Hamilton seems to have neither the patience nor the desire to take that type of approach. On Tuesday, I asked Nolan Ryan on his weekly KESN-FM 103.3 radio show if he had an explanation for why Hamilton’s numbers at the plate have been plummeting.
“What I see is he’s not as selective as he was earlier in the year, and pitchers are expanding the zone that they are pitching to him,” Ryan said. “And I think he, at times, is frustrated because he’s not getting strikes to swing at. I think his frustration has shown at times. He wants to do well, and he’s a very aggressive hitter. He always has been, and that hasn’t changed. I think it’s a combination of those things.”
If Hamilton can go on another tear at some point in the second half, he’ll probably be able to preserve his immense value on the open market. But it seems fair to suggest that his asking price has probably come down a bit. That might be good news for the Rangers in terms of being able to re-sign him at some point, but they’d much prefer to see the guy who was the best player in baseball in April and May. I have a sense the Rangers have made peace with the fact that Hamilton likely will be playing for another team next season. And Ryan doesn’t see any upside to Hamilton’s recent struggles in terms of having more leverage.
“It’s a long season, and I think everyone looks at the total numbers and the impact someone like Josh has on a ballclub,” Ryan said.
Hamilton already had started his slide at the plate when he ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s June 11 issue. The Rangers weren’t exactly thrilled with the story because it included quotes from Hamilton’s wife Katie indicating how ludicrous it was for folks to suggest that Josh needed the organization:
“The other thing [reporters and fans] keep saying is, ‘Josh needs Texas; he needs the comfort of this team.’ Uh, we need Jesus. We need God. He goes with us wherever we are. Yes, we’re comfortable in Texas. But maybe God hasn’t called us to comfort. I mean, he didn’t call Jesus to comfort.”
Hey, if you want to compare your family’s plight to Jesus, then by all means. But you probably should have the sense to stop reminding the Rangers how little your family owes them. Josh has realized this, and that’s why he stopped making comments about how he owed it to “the union” to get the highest dollar amount in free agency. He’s now trying to recapture what he had earlier in the season.
Even with the home run and two RBI in Tuesday’s win, Hamilton is mired in a 4-for-31 slump. He was 1-for-10 with six strikeouts in the three-game series against the Mariners after the All-Star break. Hamilton admitted that not having a normal routine while getting ready for the All-Star Game affected his preparation.
The most disturbing sight has been his tendency of late to give up on at-bats after falling behind in the count. It just doesn’t appear like he has a plan in those situations.
Hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh mentioned to him Tuesday night that he was starting his swing too quickly and needed to wait on the ball. Hamilton told reporters that the tip helped him in the eighth inning against left-hander Jordan Norberto because he was looking for a fastball and then was able to drive a slider out of the park.
The Rangers have a good chance to win the AL West whether or not Hamilton heats up in the coming months. But it’s hard to fathom them winning in the postseason without him making a significant contribution.
Perhaps it would be a good idea for him to bypass the cover stories and screenplays in the second half. Hamilton’s at his best when he’s wearing blinders.