Last Saturday, Ron Washington created a pretty substantial stir through the ranks of both conventional and new media when he bluntly stated that Josh Hamilton was struggling to the extent that he was because he wasn't showing any patience or making any adjustments at the plate, and took his #realtalk -- are Twitter hash tags considered to be an acceptable journalistic convention yet? -- one step further when he remarked that he had seen Hamilton make the necessary adjustments before, "but it seems like it bores him."
And, earlier this week, Nolan Ryan took the organization's continued challenging of Hamilton over to ESPN 103.3 FM: "I think we're all seeing the same thing. You're right that some of his at bats aren't very impressive from the standpoint that he doesn't work deep into the count, he's swinging at a lot of bad pitches, he just doesn't seem to be locked in at all. So what you're hoping is that his approach will change and he'll start giving quality at bats because there's a lot of those at-bats that he just gives away. One of the things I've always commented on is I can't ever say that I ever saw Henry (Hank) Aaron give an at-bat away."
Hamilton then himself responded to the comments of his team president, essentially stating that he understood completely where Nolan was coming from while also uttering these vaguely unsettling comments: "When I'm swinging at pitches out of the zone it's no big deal. When I'm swinging at them and missing them it's a big deal. Focus on bringing pitchers back to having to throw me strikes or at least something close enough that I can do something with it. They all know they can throw me questionable pitches, and more than likely I'll swing at them. But when I'm going good, they can do that and I get hits. When I'm not going good, I get myself out. I understand that."
Now, obviously, I'm no great fan of quote-overloaded front-page posts; in fact, I'm not sure I've ever led any such post with such a large quantity of quotes. But I feel that there is some instructive value in looking at this whole string of back-and-forth comments holistically and getting a sense of how each player in this little melodrama feels about where Hamilton is right now. If you're inclined to simplify matters a bit, you have Washington, who sounds fed up enough that he has taken to calling Hamilton's effort into question, Ryan, who's calling Hamilton's focus into question, and Hamilton, who's not really saying much that would assuage the concerns of the manager or the president.
Anyway, the one thing I'm most interested in here is performing a pseudo-update of last month's post on Hamilton's rapidly deteriorating plate discipline, and taking a look at how he's faring now relative to how he was faring then -- "then" being up through the games of June 7th. In other words, I want to see how well Ryan's/Washington's perceptions match up with reality. Let's sneak a quick look at those arbitary endpoints, and then bring those numbers up to the present; keep in mind that Hamilton's struggles first began right around May 17th, and that May 17th through June 8th encompasses the period between the beginning of his slump and the publication date of that article:
4/6-5/16: .404/.458/.838, 57.0% swing, 34.2% zone, 42.6% chase, 33.1% miss
5/17-6/8: .227/.286/.440, 57.8% swing, 31.0% zone, 46.1% chase, 35.0% miss
6/9-7/26: .200/.289/.408, 58.0% swing, 35.1% zone, 41.9% chase, 39.3% miss
So, in other words, given these three pools of data, Hamilton's swing rate has remained consistently high throughout, and it's remained high as pitchers have actually resumed putting more pitches in the strike zone, which itself explains the lower chase rate at pitches outside of the strike zone; the most glaring problem here is that more and more of his swings have missed the ball entirely. Interesting, but not tremendously revelatory ... although things become more if you delineate by month and take notice of the fact that, in the month of July, Hamilton has swung at more than six out of every 10 pitches, which is, as you might expect, the highest mark in baseball this month:
April: .395/.438/.744, 57.0% swing, 34.7% zone, 41.8% chase, 30.7% miss
May: .344/.405/.781, 57.7% swing, 32.1% zone, 45.3% chase, 33.3% miss
June: .228/.318/.436, 55.8% swing, 34.5% zone, 40.4% chase, 41.3% miss
July: .154/.230/.308, 60.9% swing, 34.5% zone, 45.6% chase, 38.4% miss
There are two other pieces of information here that are, I think, somewhat illuminating, in that they shed a little more light on the fundamental flaws in his game right now, and illustrate how seeing a similar number of pitches in the zone doesn't necessarily mean that you're being pitched the same way. Below, from left to right, are the pitch frequency heat maps for Josh Hamilton from the months of May, June, and July; in other words, these are the locations of all pitches that Hamilton saw during these three months (click any particular heat map to expand; also, special thanks to ESPN Stats & Info for the access to their data/heat maps):
Take particular notice of how the July heat map expands to encompass areas like up-and-in and down-and-in and way-way-outside -- yes, the average number of pitches that have actually crossed through the zone has been on the uptick, but pitchers across the league have expanded their sights beyond that low-and-away sector and are now challenging him with stuff thrown to virtually every conceivable location, and he just can't seem to do anything with any of it right now.
And, second, here is how Hamilton has fared against pitches outside of the strike zone over each of the four months of this season; notice, again, the degree to which he is being bamboozled and the inadequacy of his approach, as his response to his deepening slump has been to swing MORE OFTEN at out-of-zone pitches in the month of July (which have primarily been low and away), and, unsurprisingly, miss more of them than ever before:
April: .300/.447/.467, 41.8% swing (same as chase), 44.6% miss,
May: .349/.482/.558, 45.3% swing, 42.0% miss
June: .159/.351/.205, 40.4% swing, 54.1% miss
July: .094/.250/.188, 45.6% swing, 55.1% miss
So, here we are. We have a player blessed with Hall of Fame-caliber talent who is, by his own admission, "out of sorts mentally," a player whose performance data and vocalized mindset suggest that he is actively resistant to outside advice and wants to break out of his slump in his own way on his terms and nobody else's, and a manager and team president -- and, no doubt, other key front-office personnel -- who are just sick of it. I'm not sure what to say. I'm sure he wants to improve, but I don't know that he's taking the most efficient or expedient path to getting back where he wants to be, and while he could conceivably pull things together with his current approach (undisciplined as it might be), it certainly doesn't seem conducive to longer-term success.
I've asserted multiple times in the recent past that Hamilton has every reason in the world to want to get better -- his impending (maybe) "save-the-world" contract, the prospect of a championship ring, etc. -- and that there's no valid reason to believe that he's just being lazy or sloppy or in a I-just-don't-give-a-damn sort of mood about his work. When the manager goes so far as to call you out for not putting in the necessary effort to improve, though, that's a tremendous eye-opener, and now ... now, I just don't know anymore. Is it a matter of him simply being psychologically incapable of pulling himself together when faced with adversity of this magnitude? Does he actually not care? I get that pitch-recognition funks are a reality of baseball, but when and where does this end?
I don't know. Nobody really knows what's going through his head right now. And that's what has troubled me up through this point in time, and, even if he eventually gets it together, what will continue to trouble me going forward.