Here's a quick look at what to many of us is the feel good hit of the spring (and hopefully the feel good hit of the summer). With opening day rapidly approaching, just what has spring training told us about Josh Hamilton?
First there is the caveat-spring training stats generally mean nothing. But with Hamilton basically all we have are scouting reports that predate his off the field problems and his spring training numbers to provide a glimpse of the player that has emerged from addiction (ignoring the handful of at bats he got at A- ball last year).
Overall this spring, Hamiltonís triple slash stats look impressive thru 62 at bats:
.403/.532/.565; BABIP: .471
Lines like this lend credence to the notion that Hamilton should be given a starting job in centerfield or have his plate appearances maximized until he proves otherwise.
But a deeper look suggests there is some cause for pause.
Itís potentially informative to break spring training up into halves with unproven players because clearly the quality of pitching increases as opening day approaches. For instance, as spring training drags on (and I do mean drags on....), younger developing arms get optioned to the minors and established major league pitchers see more innings and begin throwing their full pitch arsenals etc.
Here are Hamiltonís spring numbers split in half by date:
March 1 thru 14 (36 PA)
.586/.647/.931; BABIP: .640
So far, so good. That looks phenomenal.
March 15 thru 27 (34 PA)
.242/.306/.333; BABIP: .333
Those numbers are not nearly as encouraging as there is a decided lack of power and his OBP is bad. Interestingly, his BABIP was .333 which is still higher than normal (normal being .290-.310 for major league hitters), so he hasnít been hit unlucky during the second half of spring.
It bears repeating that generally spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt but often roster decisions are made in part due to performances during this period. This despite the small sample sizes and questions concerning how relevent the opposing talent levels were to real mlb games. What then does Hamiltonís spring performance thus far tell us?
Basically I think this much is certain-he has earned the 25th spot on the roster. However, primarily itís his defense that has allowed him to do so. His glove, legs, and arm strength are certainties barring injury. The scouting reports have been verified in that regard and considering all are thought to be above league average, it's this defensive skillset that makes him a better option than Hopper or Wise at this point. On the other hand, Hamiltonís spring has done nothing to erase the doubts about his bat or suggest how much his bat can be counted upon to produce. Penciling him in as a significant starter or even suggesting that he should be allowed to get significant PAís until he fails really is unwarranted at this point. He still has a lot to prove. Making him prove that his bat isnít ready yet probably does nothing to help the Reds nor does it help Hamiltonís development.
Hereís to hoping he goes on a tear during this last week of spring trainingÖ.