Hamilton's getting superstar money ... but is he really a superstar?

Rick Yeatts

I don't believe Josh Hamilton is worth $25 million per season.

I don't believe the Angels will, in the long run, be well-pleased with Josh Hamilton's contract.

I do believe the Angels have become the odds-on favorite to win the American League West next season. But just barely, and that might well change between now and Opening Day.

Let's take that third part first. The Angels finished third in the A.L. West last season, but it was a strong third. They finished third in the whole league in scoring, despite playing half their games in what seems to be a pitcher-friendly ballpark. On the flip side, their pitchers finished with the seventh-best ERA in the league, which isn't good in the context of the ballpark.

The Angels have, however, jettisoned their worst starting pitchers, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren. Now, that's a positive development only if you replace them with better pitchers. That hasn't really happened yet, but might. My point here is that the Angels were really good last year; just not quite good enough. Considering they did finish third, it wouldn't have made much sense for them to stand pat this winter, and they haven't.

There's a big problem with assuming the Angels are better with Josh Hamilton in right field in 2013 than without him in 2012 ... By some perfectly reasonable measures, Hamilton wasn't as good last season as Torii Hunter, and in fact might not be as good as Torii Hunter.

Yeah, I know. It seems crazy. It's not, at least if you believe Wins Above Replacement. According to whichever version of Wins+ you look at, FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference.com, Hunter actually came out ahead of Hamilton last season. Yes, Hamilton finished with significantly better raw hitting statistics. But what those raw hitting statistics forget to mention (because they're so darned raw) is that a) Hunter was a lot better in the outfield, and b) Hunter's home ballpark was pitcher-friendly, and Hamilton's was hitter-friendly.*

* In his career, Hamilton's OPS is 109 points higher in home games than road games. That's a larger-than-normal difference. I would not suggest that Hamilton is a creation of his home ballparks, but they certainly haven't hurt him.

How hitter-friendly has Rangers Ballpark been? According to The Bill James Handbook, Rangers Ballpark has been the No. 1 hitter's park in the American League over the last three seasons. By a lot. Meanwhile, Angel Stadium has been the No. 3 pitcher's park in the league. Hamilton's going from one extreme to another, and his numbers are going to suffer for it.

Does all that mean Hunter's a better baseball player than Hamilton? Or just as good? No. What it means is that adding Hamilton to the lineup doesn't constitute a substantial upgrade. It also means the Angels, who now have six players for five positions, can deal from strength in their quest to upgrade the pitching rotation. And of course the addition of Hamilton to the Angels necessarily means the subtraction of Hamilton from the Rangers. With no compensatory replacement at hand.

Here's the thing, though: Neither of these teams is finished. The Angels are probably going to trade for a pitcher, and the Rangers are probably going to spend the money they're not spending on Hamilton on someone else. Maybe two someone elses. But whatever happens, there won't be a great deal of difference between these clubs on Opening Day.

Okay, now about those other parts. Again, Hamilton is going from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park. He'll turn 32 shortly into next season. He's averaged just 123 games per season over the last four seasons. Last season, Hamilton's contact rate, 65 percent, was the lowest in the major leagues; lower than Carlos Peña, Mark Reynolds, and Adam Dunn.

Which doesn't mean Hamilton's not a good player. He's a really good player. But he's probably not the player Angels fans think they're getting. Which they'll begin to realize in 2016 or '17. If not earlier.

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