After reading of the Phillies reported interest in Josh Hamilton, my mind began to wander. Admittedly, like most fans, I would love the idea of another power bat in the lineup that has the potential to have a major impact on a team that struggled all season to score runs; but I began to wonder if Hamilton is right for our team. While I have no doubt that the Phillies are performing their due diligence on the talented outfielder, I still have reservations about committing to him over a long-term. There are three questions in particular that I keep coming back to:
1. Can he stand up to the pressure of playing in a baseball city? Hamilton has been a cornerstone of the most successful era in the history of the Rangers organization. Over a five year stretch, the team has played in two World Series and has seen the fan base grow substantially. They drew the fifth most fans in all of baseball in 2010 and 2011 growing from 2.4 million to 2.9 million; however, this season their attendance topped 3.4 million, good for an overall second place. With all due respect though, the good people of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex area cannot be confused with the passionate baseball fans that reside here in the Delaware Valley.
After a torrid start, Hamilton performed poorly in the months of June and July hitting .223 and .177 respectively and the fans made him aware of their displeasure. Now try to imagine that happening in a Phillies uniform with a hefty long-term contract to live up to, spectators that expect a better effort and a player that has never played in a city that loves baseball. Being booed in Texas is not the same as being booed in Philadelphia and I wonder just how tough Hamilton is and how he would respond.
2. How great is the risk of a long-term contract? Hamilton’s personal demons off the field have been well-documented and any organization that chooses to sign him long-term will have a safety net in place. His social issues notwithstanding, what are the risks of his on-field performance? Hamilton’s numbers are among the best in baseball over the past five years and he is in fact a legitimate superstar.
We’d all love to have his 43 home runs and 128 rbi’s wearing a Phils uniform but it’s important that we examine those numbers to see what kind of player we’re getting. In breaking down Hamilton’s power numbers we find that last season he hit 21 home runs in the first through fourth innings but unfortunately he did not get stronger as the game went on. Hamilton only homered five times in games where the Rangers trailed between one and three runs from the 6th inning or later. Add to that the fact that he did not hit a home run in the 6th inning or later when the game was tied and it becomes obvious that this is not a player who is likely to hit a clutch home run with the game on the line.
Equally telling is the fact that he hit nine home runs with his team either ahead or behind by five runs and you can see how these numbers helped to pad his stats a bit. What may be the most concerning stat is the fact that his strikeout total rose by nearly 80 percent from 93 strikeouts in 2011 to 162 this past season. The postseason has been unkind to him as well as he has only hit .227 with six home runs and 22 rbi’s in 34 games. With this evidence at hand, remove the off-the field aspect and ask yourself if you as a Phillies fan want him in the lineup for the next 5-6 years with the top-flight salary that he will certainly command. Despite the fact that the Rangers are only reportedly offering him three years to remain with them he will certainly get a long-term deal from someone. Do you want it to be with us?
3. Have we learned nothing from the Giants? There seems to be a misconception in sports that you have to pay an absurd amount of money each and every season to guarantee that you will have a certain level of success. For those that believe this to be true I offer you the 2010 and 2012 Giants. Let’s specifically focus in on this year. The Giants have done a tremendous job of developing their own players as the three main components of their starting rotation (Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner) as well as starting position players at catcher, first base, shortstop and third base were all drafted and developed within the organization.
Although the team’s payroll topped $111,000,000 this season, 72 percent was allocated to the pitching staff. What they got was a team that finished dead last in home runs but won its second championship in three years. There’s something about a team that develops its own players, teaches them an organizational philosophy and watches them win together. The Yankee dynasty of 1996-2000 was built on the players they brought through their system not through the ones they purchased in later years. I do not believe it is a coincidence that it took them nine years to win another World Series when they eschewed their farm system in exchange for their checkbook.
Similarly, the ’08 Phils were built in the same manner when the core of the team that was home grown sprinkled with trade and free agent signings that transcended numbers. I would propose that it’s that kind of blue print that the Phils need to return to. I remember the horrible times when the organization seemed reluctant to part with a dime and when Ed Wade didn’t seem to have the guts to pull the trigger on the big deal that we all wanted or got fleeced when he actually did. I appreciate that RAJ aggressively pursues players that he believes will help the organization win for a long time; but I wonder if it’s necessary. The Giants success has taught us otherwise.
Josh Hamilton is in fact a tremendous player and talent but I’m just not sure he’s the right fit for our team. I don’t know how he’ll react to being booed when he goes through a 2 for 25 slump. I’m not sure I like the idea of investing a lengthy contract to a player that turns 32 this May and will likely want a five year minimum. I don’t know if he can be counted on to come through in the clutch when the team most needs him; and I’m just not sure that we absolutely have to have him. Thanks for not being afraid to go after the big fish and having the stones to reel him in but I think we can pass on this one. RAJ, put the checkbook away on this one.