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May 11, 2012

The BP Wayback Machine

Making Waves in the West

by Christina Kahrl

While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audiencesend us your suggestion.

With hindsight, it's easy to see that the Rangers won the Hamilton-Volquez trade. At the time the trade happened, though, that wasn't obvious, as indicated by the contemporary review reproduced below, which originally ran as part of a "Transaction of the Day" column on December 27, 2007.

​Texas Rangers

Acquired CF-L Josh Hamilton from the Reds for RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Danny Herrera.

As deals go, it's hard to know what to make of this pickup. The Rangers need pitching, but heck, they need a lot of things, so dealing one of their best pitching prospects isn't the end of the world. The problem is how much we can believe in Hamilton, even setting aside his past. After his breakout in the first half last season, he barely played in the second, starting only 20 games because of injuries. He hit five homers in those games-impressive-off of Bobby Howry, Greg Aquino, Anthony Reyes, Lance Cormier, and Buddy Carlyle, or Bobby Howry and four pretty fringy guys. We can skip making too much of that-of course people hit more homers off of bad pitchers than good ones. But it got me to thinking, and looking around a bit. So I saw that it's also really interesting that Hamilton was especially effective against junkers, mashing finesse pitchers at a .675 SLG clip, and for 12 of his 17 homers. That's what a peek at B-Ref can tell you, but it got me to thinking a bit more. Then this year's Acta Handbook provides the equally interesting info that Hamilton ranked fourth in the NL in "OPS versus Sliders." Then, thanks to Dan Fox's handy-dandy BIP Chart-try it, Mikey, you'll like itit really isn't bad for you-I can tell you that Hamilton was an extreme opposite-field hitter when he got the ball in the air, pulling only 15.4 percent of the fly balls he put into play.

I'm not a scout, but it would be interesting to see what major league advance scouts who followed the Reds would have to say about this, or what they captured in their evaluations of Hamilton. That's certainly a weird bunch of facts, which suggest to me that Hamilton's not catching up to fastballs, but that he is muscling the stuff that he can catch up to. Watching him several times last season certainly didn't help me see that; when he played I saw feats of strength, and was as impressed as everyone else. A true specialist-a scout-would lend color to this interesting collection of observable data.

So, what does this mean for the Rangers? Certainly, hitting in the Gap helped Hamilton put pitches out of the yard; he slugged .617 at home, and .497 on the road. Both good marks, but a big split. While Texas is a fine place for lefties to hit for power, that's hitting to right field, where the corner and the power alleys are both closer than they are in left. Hamilton's a singular enough strange talent that maybe this all means he'll get better when he learns to catch up to fastballs and take them for a ride; maybe it also means that he's got a slider-speed bat and will get eaten up once he goes through the league another time or two. With Hamilton, I don't think we can say for sure, because there's so much about his history that defies easy explanation or anticipation.

At the very least, on the surface of it GM Jon Daniels has added an immensely gifted player who looks like he can hit right-handers and play a fine center. The risk taken is about as large as might be conceivable in a deal of prospect for prospect. Hamilton's gifts have been the stuff of legend for years, but there's an equally frightening amount of pumpkin potential. We've been nominating deals for "the one that made/broke/saved/killed Jon Daniels" for a couple of years now, and this fits comfortably with the Soriano and Teixeira swaps on that list. The possibility is that in Hamilton he gets the MVP candidate who might erase ready memories of the other two. For a pitcher, even one as talented as Volquez, that seems like a fun risk to have taken. The Rangers aren't going anywhere immediately anyways, and if Hamilton works out, his best years will cost the Rangers next to nothing to enjoy.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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Inside The Park: Can T... (05/10)
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