Just when we thought Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove season couldn’t get any more unpredictable, the Los Angeles Angels had to go out and land the biggest prize of the off-season in Josh Hamilton, a player they hadn’t even been linked to until the deal was announced.
By signing the former Rangers outfielder to a five year/$125 million contract, the Angels have now assembled a lineup that could easily have three of the four best hitters in the American League.
It’s important to remember that the addition of Hamilton also coincides with the subtraction of Torii Hunter, who was quite good last year, meaning that this isn’t the same as simple as just adding Hamilton’s numbers to the Angels already productive lineup. But it is impressive.
The biggest question for the Angels may be where to put Hamilton in their lineup. The third spot in the lineup carries a bit of prestige with it, as it is usually reserved for the best hitter on a team. It’s the everyday equivalent to being named a team’s opening day starter.
Even with Hamilton in tow, you’d think that honor would go to Albert Pujols, even though Mike Trout was the team’s best hitter last season. Trout is such a dynamic leadoff hitter that he makes more sense at the top of the order, and the veteran Pujols has hit third most of his career.
So the simple solution would seem to be to bat Pujols third and have Hamilton protecting him in the lineup.
But the only flaw that Hamilton has as an offensive player is that he is an excessively aggressive hitter who chases breaking balls out of the strike zone. Hamilton, as good as he is, virtually disappeared down the stretch for the Rangers because pitchers fed him a steady diet of breaking balls out of the strike zone and Hamilton couldn’t lay off of them. No pitcher wants to throw Hamilton a fastball unless they have to.
With Albert Pujols on deck, they might have to.
The only thing worse than having to throw Josh Hamilton a fastball may be pitching to Albert Pujols with a runner on base. Hamilton doesn’t walk a ton (39 walks in 2011, 60 in 2012) , but pitchers who have to throw more breaking balls than they are accustomed to in order to attack Hamilton will inevitably walk more batters, especially when Hamilton adjusts and lays off of them.
Batting in front of Pujols will give Hamilton more fastballs to hit. Pujols, on the other hand, doesn’t need that type of protection, as he’s one of the few hitters in baseball on whom there really is no strategy to attack.
In general, the makeup of a lineup is one of the most overrated and over-discussed decisions in all of sports, but in some cases, it makes a significant difference. This could be one of those situations.
The Angels lineup will be impressive no matter order the bat in next season, but if they get the order right, there could be no way to pitch to them.