Josh Hamilton is good. We all know this. In fact, in mid-April ESPN blogger Dave Schoenfield had a post demonstrating how no one should ever throw a strike to Hamilton. Part of this is because as of today he's walked only 13 times in 138 plate appearances with five of those coming intentionally. Eight walks in his other 133 appearances gives him a 6% walk rate meaning he'd draw around 50 unintentional passes in an entire season. While that's not exactly Mariano Duncan* he's no Adam Dunn either. Last Wednesday Hamilton set an American League record by accumulating 18 total bases in one game. Let's take a look and see where these pitches were located in each of his at-bats.
*Sidenote: Duncan's career high in walks was 38 and it came in 1985, his rookie season. He would walk 30 times the following season but never again walk more than 24 times in his 12 year career.
Josh Hamilton entered the game with a .376/.435/.703 line. His first plate appearance came in the first inning against Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. Elvis Andrus was on first base with one out. This is a situation where you want to challenge Hamilton and make him swing but if you saw his heat map you know you don't want to leave anything in the the middle of the strike zone.
The first pitch Arrieta threw was a curve ball on the outside part of the plate but still in the strike zone.
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As you can see the height of this pitch was Arrieta's problem. Being on the outside part of the plate, it's unlikely that Hamilton would homer here. This is a pitch that probably should've been around the hitter's knees. There wasn't enough break and instead it reached home plate belt high. As a result it's now 2-0 Rangers.
Hamilton came up again in the 3rd inning and again Andrus was on first base. This time, however, there are two outs and the score remains 2-0. Arrieta had set down the minimum batters after Hamilton homered until Andrus bunted his way on so he was probably feeling pretty good about his stuff.
Arrieta started Hamilton off with a high fastball/sinker that he took for a ball. The pitch wasn't even borderline since it was at eye level. Hamilton may not walk much but he knows better than to swing at a pitch that far outside of the strike zone. The following pitch was an inside sinker that was still probably a bit high. The third pitch of the at-bat looked like this:
Another belt high pitch on the outside part of the plate. This one was a fastball that Hamilton was just able to square up on and take the other way. Again, Hamilton does not display big time power on the outer half of the plate. Those are pitches he tends to just go the other way with for hits. The fact that he was able to deposit two balls into the bleachers on outside pitches tells us just how zoned in Hamilton was that day. It's now 4-0 Rangers.
Hamilton's third at-bat took place in the fifth inning. Again, he was facing Arrieta and the score was 5-0. Arrieta has nothing to lose here as there's one out and nobody's on base.
The first pitch was a sinker low and two feet outside. The second pitch appeared to be a change up but it had a lot of movement on it and completely fooled Hamilton who swung right through it. The third pitch was another sinker that had no chance at being a strike coming in ankle high and inside off the plate. At this point Arrieta needs to decide what he's going to do because he's already served up to home runs to this guy. Well, Arrieta throws him another curve on the outside part of the plate that just caught too much of the vertical strike zone.
Though Hamilton didn't hit a home run here he did hit it hard enough that it one-hopped the wall in right-center field. That's 10 total bases in three at-bats now and it's only the fifth inning.
In the seventh inning Josh Hamilton batted for the fourth time. Elvis Andrus was on first base with one out and Jake Arrieta was just pulled. Davey Johnson probably knew Hamilton would've hit his third home run here so a pitching change was made. Left-hander Zach Phillips was called on to face the left-handed Hamilton. Coming in to this at-bat, lefties were just 2-20 vs. Phillips so this was a good call by the manager.
The first pitch was a hard sinker/two seam fastball that Hamilton hit foul of third base. The second pitch was a slider that slid plenty but it crossed home plate stomach high down the middle.
Unlike the outside part of the plate, Hamilton has lots of power on pitches down the middle. This ball was hit to dead center and though Adam Jones chased after it, it was really a no doubter. It's now 7-1.
Josh Hamilton's final at bat came in the 8th inning and again Elvis Andrus was on base. Side arm reliever Darren O'Day is in the game. After falling behind 0-2 on two vicious swings, O'Day leaves a fast ball thigh high in the middle part of the plate.
Hamilton hit this one on a line that probably would've orbited Earth if there wasn't a wall in it's way. That's was home run #4.
His final line was 5-5 with four home runs, one double, and eight RBI. Hamilton raised his batting average to .406 and his slugging percentage was over .800 at this point also.
Some people may say that Hamilton hit his four homers because he had some hitter friendly pitches in each at bat. I agree but only to an extent. I believe every hitter gets a pitch to hit in every at bat but the great hitters are the guys who take advantage of them. Hamilton is the best hitter in baseball right now and he's not missing anything. If he can stay healthy this could be a special season.*
*Hamilton is a free agent at the end of the year and made no secret of his displeasure during spring training that Texas wanted to put off contract negotiations until after the season.