Feeding Josh Hamilton

Yankee pitchers performing well in the AzFL
Baseball America's 2010 Draft Report Cards
Please don't let this happen again (Mark Humphrey/AP)

In the ALDS the Rays made the Rangers look like a beatable team. Sure, they had Cliff Lee ready to go twice in a series, but on offense the team didn’t look like much of a powerhouse. The main reason was that the Rays held down Josh Hamilton. The MLB WAR and wOBA leader went just 2 for 20 with two walks and no extra base hits in the series. This was cause for concern, because Hamilton was coming off a fairly serious rib injury. If the Yankees could similarly reduce Hamilton’s impact, they would have a much greater chance of winning the series.

It didn’t take more than one at-bat for Hamilton to show that his ALDS slump was nothing more than that. He took CC Sabathia deep to establish a 3-0 lead. For the series he is now 6 for 19 with four homers, a double, and five walks. That has helped his team claim a 3-2 edge in the series. While much of Hamilton’s turnaround is simply regression, there does seem to be another factor at play.

At ESPN 1040, Tommy Rancel, also of Rays blog The Process Report, explains the differences in how the Rays and the Yankees have approached Hamilton. During the regular season Hamilton fared best against fastballs and changeups. Throughout the ALDS the Rays attacked him with mostly curveballs. Of the 75 pitches he saw in those five games, 24 were curveballs — more than any other pitch. They threw him just 17 four-seamers and 13 two-seamers, while mixing in 15 changes. That seemed to work well, as not only did Hamilton not get on base, but he also struck out plenty.

The Yankees have apparently not learned from the Rays success. They have thrown Hamilton a four-seamer in 44 of 92 pitches. Almost all of these fastballs have come over the outer half of the plate, if they cross the plate at all. They have worked in plenty of curveballs and have had considerably success — Hamilton has swung and missed at 4 of 19 curves. But they haven’t worked in nearly enough other pitches. Instead they’re buttering Hamilton’s bread with fastballs.

This is Phil Hughes‘s most difficult task in Game 6. The season is in his hands. If he is to succeed he must hold Hamilton in check. That means breaking out the curveball often. There’s a chance that won’t work, but it’s better than continuing to go back with what we know doesn’t work. Josh Hamilton destroys fastballs. Stop throwing them to him so often.

Yankee pitchers performing well in the AzFL
Baseball America's 2010 Draft Report Cards
  • larryf

    Phil had no command of his curve in game 2. Hopefully he can throw 3 pitches for strikes tomorrow.

  • larryf

    Where is everybody? Anyway, Josh has only played one full season in the majors if you do not count this season with the rib injury. I was surprised by that.

  • TheZack

    So what you’re saying is we’re doomed?

  • Guest

    Great analysis, but I think it might apply to the entire Rangers lineup, not just Hamiltion. I think the Rangers went to school on Phil’s start against the Twins, when he dominated primarily on the back of the ol’ number 1. Anecdotally, it looked like the Rangers were sitting on his fastball and crushing it when it came in.

    Phil has an elite fastball and sometimes you have to just go with your strengths, even if the other side nows its coming. But based on what we saw in game 2, it might be time for Philthy to break out more curveballs, cutters, and…gasp…a few changeups. If plan A doesn’t work, you’ve got to give plan B a shot. Can’t be worse than plan A.

  • First Time Poster

    Just wanted to say a big Happy Birthday to our very own Robbie Cano! They grow up so fast!

    • CBean

      I thought it was the 22nd?

  • larryf

    28. One year younger than Josh Hamilton. Robbie is better.

  • e mills

    gee, it’s not like advance scouting has done anything to hurt the yankees…o wait, Teixeira can’t hit an offspeed pitch and that’s all that is thrown to him…why not do the same to Hamilton

  • Not Tank the Frank

    Simply because the Yankees are throwing him more fastballs doesn’t mean they aren’t having success with it. IIRC, Hamilton’s first two homers were off of offspeed meatballs; hanging sliders on the inner half of the plate that did nothing. The HR he hit off of Logan was a belt high inner half fastball that also sat right over the plate. His other HR was off of Sergio Mitre….and well that’s Sergio Mitre.

    I’ve watched Hamilton’s ABs and it seems to me that he’s having trouble catching up with a good fastball on the outer half. That makes sense to me that a player coming off of a rib injury who missed significant time wouldn’t quite have his timing back. It seems to me that the Yankees did Hamilton, and the Rangers, a huge favor by speeding up his bat with the offpseed pitches in those first two games. Of course, those were terrible pitches. The key, as always, will be to get ahead of him and make your pitch in the proper location.

    • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog

      Yes, this. By which it means there could be a counter argument to throwing offspeed stuff. Aren’t two 20 at bat samples a bit, uh, small, to draw a conclusion that Hughes should shy away from his best pitch?

    • vin

      What makes Hamilton tough is that he can take fastball on the outer half to LF, as he did with Logan the other night. I’m racking my brain, but I believe Boone was ahead in that count and wasted 2 or 3 sliders for balls. Then when he went to the FB away, he laced it into the alley. The dude’s a high quality hitter.

      “The key, as always, will be to get ahead of him and make your pitch in the proper location.”

      That’s exactly it. The Rays did a nice job of throwing quality breaking balls to him. As opposed to the cement-mixers and wasted pitches he’s seen vs. the Yanks.

  • vin

    He was a different player in the Rays series. Even when they threw him FB’s, he was just missing them. His swing has been back for this series. The Yanks have walked him in 5 out of 24 PA’s. I hope he doesn’t get anything to hit from here on out.

    Thank Mo Vlad is batting behind him. Fortunately Washington hasn’t realized that Cruz should be batting 4th. Hopefully he doesn’t figure that out until after the series is over.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      I really hope that sore hamstring really limits Cruz in the field and at the dish. (Not wishing for injury, just hoping that his pre-existing condition renders him useless)

      • Yank the Frank

        I am wishing for injury. Cruz kills us.

      • Esteban

        He looked very questionable in the field before the injury anyway.

      • vin

        I’m with you. Not rooting for an injury, but it would be nice to see the Rangers’ luck even out a bit.

  • vin

    FYI – Josh Hamilton will be a FA after the 2012 season. By that time he will be 31. I wonder if the Rangers try to buy out his final two years of arbitration, or just hang on to him for a couple more years then let someone else pay for him after his prime.

  • Tony Micelli

    You would think that during their long break waiting for each team to finish (Rays and Rangers), SOMEBODY on the Yankees would be doing this kind of research and taking notes – especially on star soon-to-be MVP’s.

    It seemed almost as if the Yankees took them for granted, would glance at a video tape before each game and take it by ear.

    And it looks like they’ve paid the price for doing so.

    I remember in 2007 (not to compare the two years like some articles being written) but I remember everyone talking about how much research and studying they did before each game using new state-of-the-art technology in film, etc. While the Yankees just used their same old approach that clearly wasn’t working.

    Note: Of course it’s not ONLY these points, there are definitely other factors – but I just remember something like that in 2007 and whether the Rangers are doing what the Indians did or not, the Yankees don’t seem to be doing the homework they should be anyway.

  • lordbyron

    I understand Hamilton uses one of the heaviest bats in MLB and it sure does look like a war club. Anyone know the length/weight of
    his bat?

  • King of the Troglodytes

    I have a feeling that although the Yankees pay their players very handsomely, they nickle and dime their scouting department.

    Their bad habit of looking clueless against pitchers they have never seen before makes me wonder numerous times if they even have anyone scouting the minor leagues.

  • JCK

    Not trying to be an ass, but I am confused by the numbers and language in this post.

    How is 24 of 75 “mostly” and how is 4 of 19 “considerable?”

    I get that 24 curves was more than any other pitch, but the authors says Hamilton hammered fastballs and changeups — and those were thrown to him 45 times, all told. Or 60% (i.e., “mostly”).

    And 4 of 19, putting sample size issues aside, is 21%. So he swung and missed 21% of the curveballs he saw from the Yankees… I wouldn’t call it “considerable,” but it might be successful. The bigger problem is that’s a very incomplete picture. What about those other 15 curveballs he saw? If, let’s says, 3 were strikes, 8 were balls and 4 were hits, then the curveball would not have had “considerable success” at all. The data is incomplete to draw that conclusion.

    • First Time Poster


      You can’t throw an MVP caliber player, regardless of pitch preference, the same pitch over and over; however, you can mix in a singular pitch to complement your fastball at an above average rate.

      Simply put, as you’ve stated, the curveball was the pitch that was thrown the most, not on a scale of all pitches, but pitches relative to type– I.E. Fastball, Curveball, etc.

      What the Rays did do, and what the author of the article is saying the Yanks should do, is take the single season sample and use it as an advantage to scout the guy who hammers everything outside of a medicine ball.

      Hamilton was second in the league, by a very large margin, in wFB/c, clearly pointing out that the fastball is not an out-pitch when it comes to the Rangers’ center-fielder.

      Unfortunately, he faired out well against pretty much every pitch type in 2010… so it really boils down to a “pick your poison” dilemma. The least severe poison being a healthy diet of Curveballs mixed within a fewer amount of fastballs and changeups.