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June 24, 2010

One-Hoppers

Hammerin' Hamilton

by Ben Lindbergh

If you pay a visit (or, more accurately, pay for a visit) to Bill James Online, you’ll be greeted by the output of a typically Jamesian toy:

Look at the name at the top of the list (as if you haven’t already). Yes, it’s true: Josh Hamilton is so hot right now. Now refresh, and lo and behold, another leaderboard appears:

Hamilton’s raging fever appears to be contagious. We needn’t go into the methods by which James’ thermometers operate (suffice it to say that no actual orifices are involved—every player and team starts the season at room temperature, rising and falling from there based on recent performance), but it’s clear that the left fielder is having a month for the ages, and taking his team along for the ride (though to say that he’s carrying his team would be something of a stretch). After adding a double and a home run on Tuesday night, Hamilton’s torrid stretch now stands at 39-for-June (or, to be more precise, 39-for-82), resulting in an eye-popping .476/.500/.878 line that has catapulted his overall TAv to 7th in the AL. Meanwhile, the Rangers have gone 17-4 for the month, rattling off 10 wins in a row concurrent with Hamilton’s 17-game hitting streak. In fact, with a victory (despite a rest day for Hamilton) and a Tampa Bay loss last night, the Rangers have laid claim to sole ownership of the second-best record in the majors.

Hamilton has actually become less selective in June, walking in only 3.5% of his plate appearances. If his .19 June K/BB ratio were equivalent to his full-season rate, it would rank third-worst in MLB. Of course, it’s hard to fault a guy for swinging away when everything his bat touches turns to gold: Hamilton’s BABIP on the month is a cool .534. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that a full 30% of his June fly balls have made it over the fence, resulting in a Bonds-ian .402 ISO. Actually, come to think of it, during a four-year stretch of Bonds’ career, a .402 ISO would’ve been a downgrade over the career homer leader’s full-season figures, which should make you appreciate (or loathe, if that’s more your style) what the much-maligned slugger achieved on the field all the more.

How rare is a streak as hot as Hamilton’s? From 2000-2009, there were 26 instances of a player topping Hamilton’s 1.378-OPS performance over a stretch of exactly 20 games and at least 80 at-bats. However, those 26 torrid time periods belonged to only 10 players, some of whom managed the feat multiple times. The list reads like an offensive honor roll for the 21st century (except, perhaps, for Adrian Beltre, whose presence owes everything to his monster 2004), though plenty of marquee names couldn’t quite crack it:

Name

Instances

Chipper Jones

6

Lance Berkman

5

Albert Pujols

5

Adrian Beltre

3

Larry Walker

2

Luis Gonzalez

1

Manny Ramirez

1

Alex Rodriguez

1

Ivan Rodriguez

1

Mark Teixeira

1

 
Regardless of how long he maintains an MVP pace, it’s safe to say that Hamilton has bounced back in convincing fashion from an injury-marred and unproductive 2009. After Hamilton’s latest offensive outburst, Rangers manager Ron Washington was quoted as saying, “He’s been doing everything…I just hope he can keep it up for three more months.” That’s a pretty tall order; if Hamilton sustains the unsustainable through September, Bud Selig will be dropping the Triple Crown in his general vicinity and backing away rapidly, for fear of getting singed. Hot streaks aren’t predictive of future performance, so we shouldn’t expect Hamilton to be better tonight or tomorrow by virtue of his recent hot-hitting ways than we would have otherwise, but we can still revel in a run of superlative performance while it lasts. Hamilton may have preemptively declined a repeat appearance in the Home Run Derby, but that hasn’t prevented him from putting on a show.

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

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