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Seattle Mariners vs. Los Angeles Angels Series Preview (7/12-7/14): Focus on Josh Hamilton

The Angels come into town with almost Mariner but not really Josh Hamilton having a rough year. Here's what we don't know.

there's that familiar cheek bulge again
there's that familiar cheek bulge again
Date Time Venue Probable Pitchers
7/12 7:10 pm Safeco Field Jerome Williams vs. Joe Saunders
7/13 7:10 pm
Safeco Field Jered Weaver vs. Felix Hernandez
7/14 1:10pm Safeco Field Joe Blanton vs. Hisashi Iwakuma

The Angels are on a hot streak, coming all the way back from 33-43 to their current record of 44-46. Hey, the Mariners have been 10 games under .500 at points this season! The Mariners get both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma back to back, but the combination is a lot less inspiring than it was a few weeks ago. Iwakuma's meltdown against Boston was one for the ages, but thanks to Joe Blanton, the Mariners may be able to keep pace on Sunday even if there's a repeat performance.

Jered Weaver's average fastball velocity is now 86.6 mph. There are only four qualified pitchers who throw a slower fastball than Weaver - Eric Stults, Barry Zito, Mark Buerhle, and R.A. Dickey. Weaver has the slowest right-handed fastball (starter, non-knuckler version) in baseball outside of Shaun Marcum, who didn't qualify and is now done for the year with a mess of a shoulder injury. Weaver never threw all that hard, but this drop is still crazy.

The Angels have been almost inconceivably bad in a number of ways, but at the top of most people's lists is Albert Pujols (.325 wOBA) and Josh Hamilton (.307 wOBA). For perspective's sake, the Mariners have six current regulars with higher wOBA than both of those players. Despite two of the expected stars having down years, the Angels have a team wOBA of .329, which is 3rd in baseball. They still have Mike Trout.

Josh Hamilton is in the first year of a five year, $125 million contract. He still strikes out a lot, he still chases a lot, but the power is way down, his BABIP is unusually low at .266 (Hamilton has always ran well over .300), and it all results in this.

Player A 0.251 0.293 0.425
Player B
0.229 0.289 0.422

Player A is JJ Hardy. Player B is Josh Hamilton.

Nobody really knows what's happened with Hamilton. We can speculate and reason the best we can, as Marc Normandin did a few weeks ago. Age, home park, slowing bat speed, and struggles with two strikes are all attributed to Hamilton's struggles. Some of them may be true. Maybe they all are. Do we really know? That's the best we can reason, while this story continues to fly under the radar.

Last summer, Josh Hamilton decided to quit chewing tobacco. He cited personal and religious reasons for his decision, and then he promptly hit .245/.322/.487 the rest of the season. The Mariner didn't care, and offered him a lot of money. The Angels didn't care either, and did the same.

Hitting is as much mental as it is physical, and even though we try to focus on the tangible, there's a whole world out there that is in a murky, floaty grey area

Presuming Hamilton didn't chew since then, there could be a connection. Or there isn't. I don't know. Tobacco is a drug, and it's easy to forget that because it's such commonplace in the game. Chew gives you an altered state of mind, one that Hamilton has used for a long time to be a successful professional baseball player. When something you know and use is taken away, things are different in one way or another. Surely the effects are varied for everyone, but what if everything about age, slowed bat speed, and park factors are played up more than they should be? What would have happened if somebody made Jeff Bagwell quit in the middle of a season?

Josh Hamilton has now given up and is back on chewing tobacco. He's been dominant the past week since being spotted with it, but it's a week. It's small. Really small. Maybe there's something here, or maybe it's a coincidence. Hitting is as much mental as it is physical, and even though we try to focus on the tangible, there's a whole world out there that is in a murky, floaty grey area. We'll never know if chew was what made Josh Hamilton such a bust for a year. If he hits the rest of the season, there will be a rush of narratives about this being the cause of his struggles. Hamilton isn't about to admit that his addiction is what caused this. The chew could be as much confidence and routine as it is chemical.

What else occurs in player's minds, diets, routines that we are in the dark about? Analytics have taught us so much about a player's value and projected career path, but there's an important lesson to be learned. There are still massive portions of this game that we cannot know, rationalize, or analyze effectively. Maybe Josh Hamilton is an example of that. We don't know, and we probably never will.