Value Pick: Josh Hamilton?

There were many caution signs thrown up by fantasy baseball prognosticators when it came to Josh Hamilton’s expected 2013 output. His penchant for swinging at virtually any reachable pitch being among the primary arguments that he just couldn’t keep up his pace. But when it came to draft day, many managers had a hard time looking past that beastly .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs and 128 RBI from 2012. As a result, he was coming off the board in second and third rounds and his price sat well into the $30’s in most formats.

And we all know the return on investment wasn’t good. His first year with the Angels wasn’t a total disaster, but he was merely a little above average, posting a .250/.307/.432 line with 21 home runs and 79 RBI in what was a pretty healthy season by Josh Hamilton standards. This output ranked him just north of the likes of Nate McLouth and Adam Dunn according to the computative artistry of one Zach Sanders. Thus, Josh Hamilton’s value, fantasy baseball speaking, is likely at an all-time low.

There are a few positive signs to point out going into 2014, however.

His second half, perhaps more significantly his September, started to much more resemble the old Josh Hamilton. Consider these splits:

First Half 0.224 0.283 0.413 0.302
2nd Half 0.287 0.341 0.460 0.344

The slugging percentage didn’t get up to Hamilton standards (career .530) but he was a more complete hitter, despite actually hitting fewer home runs. But it stands to reason that free-swinging Josh Hamilton even managed to adjust a little bit. His walks were up and his strikeouts were down in the second half, if only marginally.

His batted ball data shows improvement in the second half as well:

1st Half 20.40% 41.20% 38.40% 8.30% 14.60%
2nd Half 24.90% 35.60% 39.50% 4.30% 10.00%

Since we’re dealing in halves, this could of course be statistical noise, but I guess when I’m looking for value picks, I still like the information. That line drive rate up around 25% and a big drop in infield fly balls tells me he was squaring up a lot more balls than he was in the first half — and the dip in HR/FB suggests the second half power outage might have a decent explanation.

Even if you take the season on the whole, his O-Swing% rate dropped down closer to his career levels at “only” 41% (it was 45.4% in 2012), his contact on those pitches jumped up to career rates at 56.4% (only 52% in 2012). His contact rate jumped almost six percentage points to over 70% and his swinging strike rate fell from 20% to 16.2%.

I understand Josh Hamilton is a flawed hitter, but he was also a flawed hitter who was once considered among the elite power hitters in the game. And this kind of gets to the point — should his value start to get into the low teens in terms of dollars and/or into the 9th or 10th rounds in snake drafts, he starts to get pretty interesting. Steamer has him projected for .263/.327/.465 with 25 home runs and 91 RBI. That’s probably worth a selection in the ranges listed above right there. But would there be mass hysteria if we looked up at the end of the season and saw him hit .280 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI? Probably not since he’s delivered that, or at least been on that type of pace, in every year with the exception of 2013 and 2009.

This isn’t a dead-cat-bounce kind of situation where the bottom fell out. I think there’s a real opportunity here if his value falls as far as some early indications suggest. Chances are, as we draw closer to draft days his ADP will start to inch northward, but he’s going to be a player I’ll bold on my draft sheet as I see significant upside potential.

We hoped you liked reading Value Pick: Josh Hamilton? by Michael Barr!

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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So his 2nd half rebound was due to batted ball change and BABIP regression?