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Josh Hamilton’s Home Run Derby: Legit or Lucky?

With two Silver Sluggers and an Most Valuable Player award, the Texas Josh HamitonRangers’ Josh Hamilton has always been one of baseball’s elite, but his on-field injuries and off-the-field substances have limited his potential throughout his career.

However, you’ve probably heard that 2012 is a completely different story. Through his first 30 games, the Rangers’ outfielder has amassed a whopping 18 home runs and 41 runs batted in, with an eye-popping .402/.457/.873 slash line.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you probably also heard about Hamilton’s power surge last Tuesday night, when he teed off on the Baltimore Orioles for four home runs, eight RBIs, and 18 total bases at Camden Yards. With only 16 four-HR games in Major League Baseball history, the feat ranks among perfect games (21) and unassisted triple plays (15) as one of the most rare achievements in baseball. With that being said, how much luck was involved in Hamilton’s epic night?

Let’s break down each of his long balls:

Home Run No. 1: Hamilton started his off the fireworks with a bomb off of Orioles’ starter Jake Arrieta in the top of the first. The 79-mph curveball stayed up over the leftmost third of the plate, a meatball for the left-handed Hamilton considering it was thrown by a right-hander. The baseball traveled a mere 404 feet, barely escaping the center-field wall and Andruw Jones’ outstretched glove. Move the walls back a yard, and Jones could have hauled it in. According to ESPN’s online Home Run Tracker, this tater had “just enough” to escape Camden Yards, but would not have left any other ballpark under standard weather conditions. However, MLB Advanced Media recorded a 6-mph breeze blowing to straightaway center field at first pitch, which gave the ball some extra lift over the fence. Conclusion: Lucky

Home Run  No. 2: Hamilton’s second dinger also came off of Arrieta in the third inning, but unlike the first, there was no question about this one. The right-hander’s 93-mph sinker wound up in nearly the same location as his first offering, but Hamilton redirected the faster pitch 387 feet into the left-center bleachers. Clearing the fence by a whopping 23 feet, ESPN’s database claims that it would have left 26 of the 30 stadiums in the Majors. In other words, only the offense-killing confines of Petco and Marlins Park might have kept this one in the yard. Conclusion: Legit

Home Run No. 3: After doubling off the wall in right-center field, Hamilton slammed another home run to left-center field. Again, the offering (a 78-mph slider from left-handed rookie Zach Phillips) was on the outer third of the plate, but hung up in the zone, easy pickings for a red-hot Hamilton. Number 3 ended up in nearly the same spot as Number 1, landing 406 feet from home plate. With the wind continuing to blow toward center field, Jones jumped but had no hope of snagging it. ESPN estimates that the breeze added six feet to this shot, turning an easy can-of-corn into Hamilton’s third dinger of the night. Conclusion: Lucky

Home Run No 4: Ex-Texas Ranger reliever Darren O’Day was Hamilton’s final victim. For a fourth time, the pitch (another slider clocking in at only 83 mph) landed in Hamilton’s wheelhouse, giving him another opportunity to show what he can do with off-speed pitches landing on the outer third of the plate. Number 4 traveled 425 feet to left-center, so far from numbers 1 and 3 that Jones could only give a half-hearted jog across Camden’s outfield. The wind actually knocked a foot off this long ball’s distance, but this one would’ve left 87 percent of Major League Baseball parks anyway (ESPN). Kudos to Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter for not ordering an intentional walk, but at this point, Hamilton was so locked in that he could have hit one out even if it was two feet off the plate. Conclusion: Legit

With four juicy outside pitches and a strong wind to work with, Hamilton clearly caught some breaks last Tuesday night. Achieving this feat during a night game probably made things a bit easier. Hamilton is historically a poorer hitter during day games, batting .260 versus .332 during night contests from 2009-2011. But does a .402 hitter really care what time he takes his hacks? It’s interesting to consider the factors behind his epic performance, but it can’t take away from Hamilton’s ability with the bat.

His otherworldly start makes for a more enthralling off-season, when he will be the top free agent on the market.

 

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  1. Pingback: “It’s Not a Break:” My Selections for the 2012 American League All-Star Team : Baseball Reflections

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