2014 Fantasy Baseball Risk/Reward: Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton hit .285 with 43 home runs (a career-high) and 128 RBI with the Texas Rangers in 2012, but that was largely propelled by a fantastic start (.368, 21 home runs and 57 RBI through the end of May) and signing with the Los Angeles Angels with a move to a more pitcher-friendly home park made that level of production unlikely to be repeated in 2013. But fantasy baseball owners that expressed some faith in Hamilton on draft day last year certainly expected better than they got in a mostly healthy season (.250, 21 home runs and 79 RBI over 151 games-636 plate appearances).
Hamilton dropped weight after signing with the Angels, but he has reportedly gained 20 pounds this offseason in an effort to regain his previous form. Is he a potential value pick in fantasy drafts this year?
Hamilton put together a solid finish last season, as he hit .323 with a .484 slugging percentage in September, and he hit more fly balls (39.5 percent) and line drives (24.9 percent) during the second half of the season than he did in the first half (38.4 percent and 20.4 percent respectively). As expected he also hit fewer ground balls over that stretch (35.6 percent vs. 41.2 percent in the first half), but his home run power (seven home runs after the All-Star break) did not resurface.
Hamilton’s contact rates over the last two seasons (72.5 in 2013; 71.2 in 2012) have been beneath his career mark in that category (77.1 percent), and his walk rate has been below 7.5 percent in two of the last three seasons (9.4 percent in 2012). His 2013 batting average on balls-in-play (.303) was lower than his mark in 2011 (.317) and 2012 (.320), but not so far off his career BABIP (.330) to serve as an outlier that drove down his batting average last season.
Hamilton has topped 500 at-bats in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career over the last two seasons, so his durability may not be as much of a concern as it has been and a likely move to left field on a more regular basis this season should help him stay in the lineup. That said, 2012′s power production is unlikely to come back at his age (33 in May) and he offers little to fantasy owners in stolen bases (four last season and a career-high of nine back in 2008).
Hamilton’s numbers may improve some across the board in his second season with the Angels, but I’m uncomfortable projecting much more than a a .270 batting average, 25 home runs and 85 RBI for him in 2014. He definitely has the potential to exceed those numbers, but the risk of a further drop in power production is almost equal and Hamilton’s potential upside is not something I’m likely to chase on draft day.