Things have so far either gone very right for the Angels (see: Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards) or very wrong (see: Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, David Freese). For the season’s first seven and a half games, Josh Hamilton was firmly in the former category. He was hitting .444 with two home runs and six RBI’s, and his off-season weight gain seemed to have done what it was supposed to do, which was to restore the power he had lost during his first season in Anaheim.
During the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game, though, things all of a sudden went very wrong for Hamilton, too. He tried to beat out a grounder with an ill-advised headfirst slide into first; he didn’t make it; he ran off the field smiling (see video below). On Wednesday the team announced that he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb, and will be out a minimum of six to eight weeks.
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The injury sounds similar in nature to the one that Dustin Pedroia suffered early in 2013 and played through (in secret, at first), but for a player with Hamilton’s particular skill set there seems little choice but to undergo surgery. The multifaceted Pedroia hit just nine home runs, the fewest since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2007, but still he had a WAR of 6.6 (the third-best of his career) and managed to be the linchpin of a champion. We already know what a powerless Josh Hamilton looks like. We saw it last year, when he had a career low OPS of .739 and a WAR of 1.5. Hamilton without pop simply doesn’t work.
“The news sucks,” Hamilton said on Wednesday. “Anytime you play and you’re playing hard and having fun, the last thing you want to do is do something that is going to cause you to miss time and maybe hurt your team in the long run. If I could see the future, obviously, I wouldn’t do it.
If Hamilton couldn’t foresee this exact future, though, he’s lived through versions of it in the past, as have his employers. This will be Hamilton’s sixth trip to the disabled list during his eight years in the majors, and a number of his earlier stints were the result of ailments that were in part self-inflicted. He spent 24 games on the D.L. in 2010 due to fractured ribs he suffered while crashing into an outfield wall. The next year he broke his arm sliding headfirst into home plate, and missed 35 games. The Rangers tried to protect Hamilton, by attempting to limit his time in centerfield and encouraging him to be careful, but they didn’t have much luck. This will very likely be the fourth year of the last six in which he misses at least 28 games – that is, about a month’s worth of them. Hamilton has often said that he can’t change the aggressive nature with which he plays, the way he dives around the field, but at age 33 almost all of his value comes from his slugging. Advanced metrics suggest that he is no better than an average outfielder, and despite his athleticism he’s never been much better than an average baserunner. So the only possible outcome of his aggressiveness, really, is a negative one, and the Angels are now dealing with such a result. For the next two months or so, they will have Collin Cowgill and the newly promoted J.B. Shuck in leftfield, not Hamilton, and his extended absence might be enough to swing the balance of their season into the red.