Hamilton fighting urge to press for power
ANAHEIM -- Angels cleanup hitter Josh Hamilton entered Thursday's series opener against the Tigers sporting a very respectable .292 batting average to go along with a .370 on-base percentage. But his slugging percentage is only .431 -- not much higher than the league average of .390 -- and he's managed only five home runs in 202 at-bats.
That's one home run every 40.4 at-bats. In five years in Texas, he hit one every 17.8 at-bats, the 16th-best ratio in the Majors from 2008-12. Last season, a tumultuous one until the very end, it was one every 27.4 at-bats.
"It's still there," Hamilton said of the prodigious power that once made him one of the game's most feared hitters. "In batting practice, early BP, it's there. It hasn't gone anywhere. I'm just trying to get it to translate to the game. But the worst thing you can do is try to do it in the game, try to create it."
That's when Hamilton's hips flare open, and he chases breaking balls in the dirt, and he gives away at-bats, and he starts guessing, and he abandons the middle of the field.
That's the Hamilton he's trying to keep away, even as the frustrations mount over his relative power outage.
"It's always the factor of less is more," Hamilton said. "And as a player, as a hitter, that's something you strive for your whole career. There's only a select few guys who get it and stick with it. But the majority of guys always seem like they want to get a little more, when they don't have to."
The questions surrounding Hamilton last year mostly centered on, "What's wrong?"
This year, it's more like, "Is he truly back?"
It's been a difficult one to answer, even after a scorching first week, because Hamilton missed nearly two months with a broken left thumb. But now the sample size has stretched out a little further, and the peripherals mean a little more. Here are a few key ones ...
• Hamilton's strikeout percentage (28.7) is on pace to be the highest of his career, slightly topping 2012 (25.5) and 2013 (24.8). But he's also on pace for a career-best walk percentage (10.9) and a career-best OPS against opposing left-handers (.903).
• His extra-base-hit percentage is 7.8, currently the lowest of his career and barely above the Major League average (7.7). His isolated power score - a stat that measures a hitter's raw power by looking at the frequency of his extra base hits - is 139, which would rank 89th in the Majors if Hamilton had enough at-bats to qualify.
• Hamilton is seeing only 35.5 percent fastballs, by far the lowest rate of his career, and has actually seen more breaking balls than fastballs in July. The 33-year-old will continue to sit fastball, though, because "when you get in the mode of looking for other stuff, that's when you get your fastball and you foul it off."
Hamilton admits he's getting a little antsy, and has caught himself abandoning his mechanics while searching for extra-base hits (his two flyouts to center on Wednesday were a prime example). But for the most part, he's staying within himself.
And because of that, he's confident the power will re-emerge.
"If you start a season with a drought in power," Hamilton said, "you have to know that if you continue to put good swings and think about staying up the middle, it'll come -- you'll start elevating it and getting the results you want."