Two years into a five-year, $125-million deal with the Angels, outfielder Josh Hamilton, who won the 2010 American League most-valuable-player award with the Texas Rangers, is looking like a major bust.
Hamilton’s batting average hovered around the .200 mark for the first four months of 2013 before a late-season surge pushed it to .250. But his power numbers — 21 home runs and 79 runs batted in — were a significant drop from the 43 homers and 128 RBIs he had with the Rangers in 2012.
Hamilton missed most of this past April and May because of a torn left-thumb ligament and most of September because of right shoulder, chest and rib-cage injuries, finishing 2014 with a .263 average, 10 homers, 44 RBIs and 108 strikeouts in 89 games.
The Angels still won a major league-best 98 games with minimal contributions from Hamilton, but imagine how lethal the middle of their lineup — which features Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick — would be if Hamilton could regain the swing that made him one of baseball’s most feared sluggers from 2008-2012?
“He didn’t have a great finish to the season, and it was fairly uneven throughout, but Josh is still a gifted athlete,” General Manager Jerry Dipoto said at the winter meetings. “When he’s right and he’s clicking, he can do things a lot of guys just can’t do. We need to find out how to get to that point 100% of the time.
“That’s where the front office, the coaching staff, the Angels family comes in. Our expectations are that he’s going to come into camp [next spring] prepared to play and give us the best he can. We have seen good versions of Josh. We just need to figure out how to make that a longer window.”
The Angels and a national television audience saw the worst of Josh in October, when Hamilton, his timing obviously off after not playing for almost a month, looked overmatched during a three-game division series sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, as he went hitless in 13 at-bats.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hamilton was ripped by TBS analyst and former major leaguer Gary Sheffield for his “bad body language,” when Hamilton showed virtually no emotion after his feeble at-bats.
“He didn’t finish the season very well; none of us did,” Dipoto said. “We got swept out of the postseason. We didn’t look good. We didn’t swing the bat well, with few exceptions, and it was a short stay.
“Josh has borne a lot of the brunt of the anger associated with getting swept out of the postseason, but he wasn’t the only one. We all played a part.”
The Angels hope the recent hiring of Johnny Narron as their hitting coach at triple-A Salt Lake might have a positive impact on Hamilton, at least during spring training. Narron was Hamilton’s “accountability partner” at Cincinnati in 2007 and during several of the outfielder’s best seasons with the Rangers.
“We felt it was a great advantage to add him to our triple-A mix, but I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t some kind of added motivation to bring him in because of his history and relationship with Josh,” Dipoto said of Narron, a former Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach.
“He won’t spend a ton of time after opening day with Josh, but any contribution Johnny can make in helping Josh get to a good place will help. He knows Josh’s swing and what it looks like when it’s going at his best. He understands how to talk to Josh about the physical act of hitting.
“We have Don Baylor, Dave Hansen and Paul Sorrento as wonderful hitting coaches. Johnny comes in with a fresh new perspective and might be able to shed some light on how to help Josh move in a direction that would be more productive for him.”