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Numbers Game: Hamilton signs with Angels

Scott Cullen

12/13/2012 3:57:36 PM

For the second straight offseason, the Los Angeles Angels have landed the premier free agent hitter on the market, a signing that also weakens an American League West divisional rival.

Numbers Game examines the Angels' signing of Josh Hamilton.

The Angels Get: OF Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton, 31, was one of the most intriguing free agents in recent memory because not only is he a supremely gifted player, with rare power, but he also has a history of hard drug abuse and the long-term effects that could have on his health add an uncertainty to Hamilton's valuation.

First, the good.

Hamilton belted a career-high 43 home runs and 128 RBI last season, hitting .285 with a .930 OPS.

Over the last three seasons, Hamilton has slugged 100 home runs (ranking 5th in baseball), driven in 322 runs (tied with new teammate Albert Pujols for 4th), hitting .313 (8th) with a .952 OPS (4th), so Hamilton is unquestionably among the elite offensive producers in the game.

His 16.8 fWAR over the last three seasons ranks 8th among hitters in baseball.

On the troubling side, though, Hamilton struck out a career-high 162 times (25.5%), as opposing pitchers avoided feeding him fastballs. According to www.fangraphs.com, Hamilton saw fastballs on a career-low 44.6% of his pitches, while seeing career-high percentages of curves and change-ups and the change-up was the pitch that gave Hamilton the most trouble in 2012.

Hamilton got off to such a phenomenal start in 2012 (21 HR, 57 RBI, .368 AVG, 1.185 OPS in 47 GP through the end of May) that once he started slumping, he got increasingly aggressive at the plate, trying to hack his way out of his problems, and he ended up swinging at a career-high 45.4% of pitches outside the strike zone and also had a career-high 20.0% of his pitches result in swinging strikes.

Given the total production that Hamilton has provided, his contact troubles aren't necessarily the end of the world, but could at least provide some reason to exercise caution when signing him to a long-term deal.

An incredibly gifted athlete, Hamilton has been a decent fielder throughout his career, but struggled in centre field last season, with -11 Defensive Runs Saved (per www.fangraphs.com).

Hamilton tends to be closer to average in the corner outfield spots, which is fine for the Angels since Mike Trout has exceptional range in centre field, likely leaving Hamilton to play the right field spot vacated by Torii Hunter, who signed with Detroit earlier in the offseason.

Then there is the health issue. Hamilton played 148 games in 2012, but it was only the second time in his six major league seasons that he missed fewer than 29 games in a season. As this contract will run through the time that Hamilton is 36-years-old, it is fair to expect that there will be at least one season, if not more, in which Hamilton misses significant time with injuries.

Signed for five years and $125-million, Hamilton joins Trout and Pujols to give the Angels three bona fide MVP candidates and the upside for a team with this trio is that they could lead the Angels to the World Series more than once over the next five seasons.

The Rangers, who have been awfully quiet this offseason, can fashion a passable outfield -- comprised of David Murphy, Craig Gentry and Nelson Cruz -- without Hamilton, but this signing leaves a significant hole in their lineup.

It's simply not easy to replace the kind of production that Hamilton provided and for all the risks surrounding Hamilton, his talent is such that any team would be better off with his bat added to the middle of the lineup.

In the National League West, Hamilton's move swings the balance of power back away from the Rangers and back in the Angels' direction.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.