“I’m about 50 percent, but I’m going to give you 100 percent of my 50 percent.”
– Josh Hamilton, last week.
Josh Hamilton is hurt. He admitted as much, and watching him during the postseason, it’s been pretty obvious that his pulled groin is affecting him. However, last night should have been the final straw for Ron Washington, as Hamilton’s 8th inning at-bat against Arthur Rhodes revealed a guy who just isn’t healthy enough to take his normal hacks.
Take a look at the swing Hamilton put on that final slider from Rhodes.
The pitch was up and didn’t have a lot of bite, so it’s not like he had to lunge across the plate to reach it, but the swing is all arm movement anyway. His lower half barely shifts as the bat crosses through the zone, and there’s no attempt at any kind of weight transfer. He just loops the bat across the plate with his arms, and even when he makes contact with a mediocre belt-high slider, the best he can do is hit a pop-up to center field.
Here’s a better angle on the fastball directly preceding the out, in which Hamilton fouls off a pitch he should have absolutely crushed.
That is the swing of a guy doing the best he can with only the upper half of his body, and as Hamilton said, I’m sure he’s giving 100% of the 50% he actually has at the moment. Unfortunately, Major League hitters need the lower half of their body in order to drive the ball, and that’s the 50% Hamilton currently can’t use. That he’s managed to hit .267/.286/.378 during the playoffs with a pulled groin is actually kind of impressive, and shows some pretty remarkable natural hitting skill. However, for the Rangers, that swing should been the last straw, and Hamilton should find himself hitting in the lower part of the order for the rest of the series.
Without the ability to use his lower half to generate power, Hamilton’s best case outcome on most swings now is something like a bloop single. He still has enough bat speed to get around on pitches, but he’s just not going to be able to hit them with any authority – it’s not a coincidence that he hasn’t homered since September 23rd. And, unfortunately for the Rangers, a version of Josh Hamilton that lacks power isn’t a good enough player to hit in the middle of their batting order.
The good news for Ron Washington is that he has options, especially against LHP Jaime Garcia tonight. The team used Mike Napoli – he of the .320/.414/.631 season this year – in the #7 spot last night, and in his career, Napoli’s a .294/.400/.555 hitter against southpaws. If Washington wants to disrupt the line-up as little as possible, simply switching out Napoli and Hamilton could make a significant difference, giving the a healthy right-handed bat extra shots at the Cardinals left-handed starter.
However, if I’m the the Rangers, I’d take advantage of this opportunity (if you can call your star player getting hurt an opportunity) to make even more significant line-up changes. To avoid going back to Texas down 0-2, here’s the line-up I’d run out against Garcia tonight:
This moves the five best hitters in Texas’ offense against an LHP to the 1-5 spots, and by putting a weak hitter like Andrus behind Hamilton, they might be able to get some respect walks from the Cardinals pitching staff – a broken down version of Hamilton is probably still a better hitter than Andrus, but he’s not good enough in his current state that an IBB isn’t a good outcome for the Rangers.
I’m sure Hamilton wouldn’t like getting dropped from the #3 spot in the batting order during the World Series, but unfortunately, he’s injured, and he’s shown that he can’t be expected to produce at his regular season levels. The Rangers have other options, and especially against a left-handed starter, they should use them.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.