Josh Hamiltonis one of the best players in baseball, and the Los Angeles Angels have him on board for the next five seasons. His five-year, $125 million contract is obviously a sizable commitment, but no one can doubt that he will make the Angels a better team when he’s on the field. Still, there are plenty of reasons for Angels fans to be concerned that go beyond the typical anxiety over injuries and previous personal problems.
When a player has Hamilton’s talent and his ability to put together seasons like his otherworldly 2010 (.359/.411/.633, 8.4 WAR), it can be extremely easy to overlook signs that perhaps he isn’t as untouchable on the field as he often appears. One of the most concerning aspects of Hamilton’s game at the plate is that he has been merely very good on the road. A lot of players have splits that favor their home performance, sure, but Rangers Ballpark in Arlington has rightfully gained a reputation as a huge stat-booster.
While Hamilton was nearly the same hitter on the road as he was at home in 2012, his career numbers tell a different story. The 31-year-old slugger has posted a career line of .315/.373/.594 at home against a line of .292/.354/.504 on the road. That’s a big difference, and even if the road version of Josh Hamilton is still an extremely good player, he isn’t the kind of guy who makes good on a contract that pays him $25 million per season.
Another potential problem that will only make itself more evident as Hamilton grows older is his defensive ability. Hamilton has consistently been rated highly by UZR for his work in the outfield, but all of that changed when he posted a -12.6 mark in 2012. This could certainly be a random variation that comes from a small sample size–advanced fielding metrics are still very susceptible to those sorts of problems–but it could also be a sign that Hamilton is losing a step. This isn’t as big of a deal for the Angels as it would have been for a club intending for Hamilton to play center, as Mike Trout already has that position more than covered.
Scouring Hamilton’s splits and potentially inconsistent defensive data might seem like nitpicking, but these are valid concerns a team needs to have when doling out this much money for five years in a row. More than any evidence we have seen so far, the Angels need to be worried about the portion of Hamilton’s career they have chosen to acquire. Hamilton has already likely give Texas the five best years of his career; he’ll turn 32 during the 2013 season and 37 during his last year in L.A. If Hamilton’s less than patient approach at the plate, defensive degradation, and ability to thoroughly mash outside of Arlington aren’t a big problem now, they’re almost certain to be within a couple of years.
It’s always risky to sign a player to a contract this large, but with Hamilton it’s doubly so. He’s likely headed toward slight decline at any moment, he’s already shown signs of slowing down, and he’s been just about as injury prone as any player in baseball. More troubling is that in Hamilton’s six-year big league career so far, FanGraphs has valued his production at a very impressive 25 WAR. Why is that a problem? Because based on the present value of a win, his efforts have been worth around $107 million. That’s over six seasons instead of five, and it’s over the prime years of Hamilton’s career.
The Angels have a deadly lineup and a well-balanced roster right now, and they’re primed to make a run in October. For their sake, they’d better hurry up and win a World Series championship now before their big spending gets really ugly.