One of the keys to the American League Divisional Series for the Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching staff is/was limiting the damage done by one-time Devil Ray prospect Josh Hamilton. The likely AL MVP finished the regular season hitting .359/.411/.633 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 32 home runs and 100 RBI. As you can see, the plan of “limiting the damage” did not go well for most teams this year.
That said, the man does have some human elements. While Hamilton mashed right-handed pitching with a ridiculous OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) of 1.163, he was a mere mortal against lefties. Facing southpaws, his OBP dropped to .331 while his slugging dipped to .458. Of his 75 extra-base hits this year, only 14 came against LHP.
Unfortunately, the Rays are only carrying two lefties in this series: David Price and Randy Choate. That ruled out plan A of just throwing lefties at Hamilton. Instead, the Rays have had to utilize a different approach against him this series.
Not surprisingly, Hamilton has crushed fastballs this year. He’s crushed many pitches, but fastballs especially. On the other hand, softer stuff has been slightly more effective against him. Over the course of the season, 18% of the pitches thrown to him were change-ups. The pitch registered a strike 64.3% of the time. When he did swing at the pitch, he missed 21.3%. In addition to the change-up, Hamilton saw nearly 15% curveballs with 63.6% of them for strikes. In terms of whiffs, he came up empty 15.5%.
When facing righties, the percentage of change-ups to Hamilton jumps from 18% to 23.4%. Meanwhile, the amount of swing and misses remains strong at 21.4%. Righties threw him 14.1% curveballs with 13.2% of them inducing the whiff.
With that in mind, the Rays have attacked him with off-speed and breaking-ball pitches. So far the results have been favorable. Hamilton is just 2-14 with four strikeouts. The two hits he does have are both singles.
In the first four games of the series, Hamilton has seen 57 total pitches. Of those pitches, 25 have been fastballs. He has not whiffed on one of them. On the other hand, he has been thrown a combined 28 curveballs and change-ups with 22 of them from right-handers. On those pitches, he has missed 32% overall and 36% vs. RHP.
In game five, Hamilton will square off against lefty David Price. He went 1-4 in game one against Price. His lone strikeout came on a whiff of a curveball. He also flew out later in the game on a change-up.
Even though the lefty-lefty match-up is already a positive in the Rays’ favor, staying away from the hard stuff and feeding Hamilton a steady diet of breaking and bending pitches is still their best bet for limiting his impact.
Let’s hope Price can limit the impact of everyone else while he’s at it.