Plan B for facing Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton has had plenty of chances to work on his home run trot recently. Jim Cowsert/US Presswire

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton has 18 homers in the Rangers' first 34 games, something nobody has ever done in the history of baseball. But here's another number that is a little stunning: Hamilton has just 13 walks, with five of those being intentional.

How unusual is that 18-to-13 home run-to-walk ratio Hamilton currently has?

Well, consider the number of walks drawn by the greatest single-season home run leaders in history:

1. Barry Bonds, 2001: 73 homers, 177 walks

2. Mark McGwire, 1998: 70 homers, 162 walks

3. Sammy Sosa, 1998: 66 homers, 73 walks

4. McGwire, 1999: 65 homers, 133 walks

5. Sosa 2001: 64 homers, 116 walks

6. Sosa, 1999: 63 homers, 78 walks

7. Roger Maris, 1961: 61 homers, 94 walks

8. Babe Ruth, 1927: 60 homers, 137 walks

9. Ruth, 1921: 59 homers, 145 walks

The pitchers have always reached a tipping point in dealing with a hitter as good as Hamilton is right now, when they decide the risk of facing the hitters behind Hamilton is lower than it would be to throw a pitch to the slugger.

There is an intermediate step for pitchers to try, an approach that was used against Vladimir Guerrero, who seemed to swing at anything he could reach. Pitchers would expand the strike zone -- almost to where they would roll it to the plate.

Pitchers could throw stuff far out of the strike zone to see if Hamilton will hack at it. The numbers suggest that he might.

Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Information dug out these stats: Going into Saturdays' game, Hamilton had swung at the first pitch in his at-bats 57.5 percent of the time -- by far the most of any hitter in the majors. Freddie Freeman ranked second, at 51.7 percent.

Hamilton had swung at the second pitch 60.6 percent of the time, more than any hitter in the majors other than the Cubs' Darwin Barney, who had swung at 60.7 percent of his second pitches.

"I don't know why they throw him a strike," a talent evaluator said this weekend. "He swings at everything. Why throw anything over the plate?"

There have been moments in the past when Hamilton's hyper-aggressiveness has exasperated the Texas staff -- such as during the postseason last year, when the Detroit Tigers gave him nothing to hit early in that series and Hamilton swung anyway. Later in that series, Hamilton made an adjustment, taking more pitches and going a little deeper in the count and giving himself a better chance to do damage.

But generally, Texas manager Ron Washington believes that Hamilton should be left alone, rather than being admonished for jumping at pitches early in the count. In 2012, that approach is working for Hamilton in a big way.

"I've never seen a hitter with better pitch recognition," said the evaluator. "He gets that front foot down and then adjusts with his hands. It doesn't matter whether it's 98 mph or 75 mph -- he'll adjust."

In other words: If it's a 98 mph fastball, Hamilton is ready for it. He plants his front foot in his swing, identifies the pitch, and then swings. If it's a changeup, Hamilton will read it, wait before starting his hands, and then swing. If it's a slow breaking ball, Hamilton will read it, wait before starting his hands, and flick his bat at it, as if he's swinging a wiffle ball bat.

That's what he did on Saturday, clubbing his 18th home run on a curveball from former teammate C.J. Wilson. It was Hamilton's ninth home run in his last six games -- and his seventh off a breaking ball this year.

From ESPN Stats and Info, the year-by-year total of home runs for Hamilton against breaking pitches:

2012: 7

2011: 6

2010: 6

2009: 4

2008: 1

He has killed everything on the strike zone compass this year -- up, down, inside, outside, low-and-outside, high-and-inside.

It might be time for pitchers to start beyond the far reaches of the strike zone and see if Hamilton will follow them. If he doesn't and starts taking walks, then facing the hitters behind him might be far less treacherous than pitching to a hitter who is doing things we have never seen before from anyone, whether it's Ruth, Maris, McGwire or Bonds.

From ESPN Stats and Info: Willie Mays and Josh Hamilton are the only two players in MLB history with a .400 batting average and at least 17 homers in their team's first 34 games. Mays was hitting .405 with 17 homers for the 1964 Giants. Hamilton is hitting .402 with 18 homers for the 2012 Rangers.

All four of the previous players to hit at least 17 home runs in the team's first 34 games finished the season with between 40 and 50 homers.

The Hamilton home run tracker:

• 18 home runs (in 2011, he hit his 18th on Aug. 28, against the Angels)

• Matches the combined homers of Mike Napoli (7), Adrian Beltre (6) and Ian Kinsler (5) this season

• Average distance: 414.3 feet

• Hamilton's home run Saturday was his third shortest (383 feet)

• Five homers off left-handed pitchers, 13 off right-handers

• Five during day games, 13 at night

• Six home runs have given Texas the lead, one (Saturday's) tied the game

• One home run to left, five to center, four to right center, eight to right

The Rangers lost on Saturday, however, because of small ball. C.J. Wilson reminded Rangers fans that his heart can be sizable, writes Gil LeBreton.

Wilson took the ball in consecutive starts on consecutive days, Mike DiGiovanna writes.

We've got the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers on Sunday Night Baseball at 8 ET.

Hamilton's contract

The Rangers have had open dialogue this year in their contract talks with Hamilton, so it's possible something could be worked out this season. But no, this burst of offense from Hamilton hasn't changed anything; the Rangers have always recognized and respected his potential and his prowess, which moved them to acquire him and then to retain him despite the inherent risks that come with someone with his history of addiction.

There is a school of thought that the Rangers' knowledge about Hamilton's history -- deeper than that of any other team, naturally -- would make them less likely to sign him than other clubs. I totally disagree: It makes them more likely to sign him.

For other clubs, Hamilton's past is a dark abyss, an unknown that might make them reluctant. The Rangers are in the best position to know what works for Hamilton, what makes him tick, and what helps him; they are in the best position to properly assess the risk versus the reward. And for Hamilton and his family, who have all dealt with a whole lot of uncertainty, the Rangers are a known quantity. They know the team's support system and have seen how he can thrive within it.

Teams pay now and later for big contracts, writes Joel Sherman.


Scott Rolen landed on the disabled list, and as Tom Groeschen writes, you have to wonder if Rolen's career is nearing an end.

His resume for the Hall of Fame is solid, considering his position; he is arguably the greatest fielding third baseman in National League history. But he's not a lock. Rolen's career by the numbers:

Games: 1,975

Hits: 2,021

Homers: 310

Runs: 1,191

RBIs: 1,259

OPS+: 122

All-Star appearances: 7

Gold Gloves: 8

Albert Pujols drew a walk Saturday, his first in more than two weeks. He's got seven for the season. "They are pounding him with fastballs," said an evaluator, "and he's cheating like crazy to get to them."

Because opposing pitchers are challenging him inside, he is starting his swing earlier -- turning on his front foot, opening up in his swing -- and this has made him more vulnerable on the outside part of the zone. Pujols' brilliance in the past has been built on his balance, and he just doesn't seem to have that balance right now.

Jered Weaver has always had that unusual crossfire delivery, in which he seems to step toward the third base dugout rather than directly at home plate. He assumes it came from emulating his brother, Jeff, and yes, as an amateur, coaches tried to change him. But in the end, he stuck with what felt natural to him. "I went back to what I know," he said Saturday.

It's working for him.

• The Baltimore Orioles are nearing the end of a 15-game stretch in which they have faced the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays -- and they're 8-4 in that run. So yes, it's time to take them seriously. They've got a two-game lead in the AL East in the aftermath of Brian Matusz's outing against the Rays on Saturday. Mark Reynolds landed on the disabled list.

Dings and dents

1. Wilson Ramos was hurt in the Nationals' win against the Cincinnati Reds, and word came this morning that Ramos suffered a torn ligament in his knee that will require surgery.

The Nationals summoned Sandy Leon from the minors, Amanda Comak writes.

2. Bryce Harper is OK, and he has a new nickname.

3. Desmond Jennings' knee is not improving much, writes Marc Topkin. Hideki Matsui could be summoned quickly, writes Roger Mooney.

4. An injury to Josh Tomlin forced the Cleveland Indians to do some shuffling.

5. Rickie Weeks needed X-rays.

6. Stephen Drew took a major step in his rehabilitation.

7. Carlos Quentin has had a setback.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. A Houston Astros outfielder is back from a mental break.

2. The Minnesota Twins are thinking about putting Brian Duensing back in the rotation.

3. Aubrey Huff is working to come back.

4. Brian Fuentes has replaced Grant Balfour as the Oakland closer.

5. Brendan Ryan was benched.

6. Bob Brookover takes another look at the recent Philadelphia trades and how they cut into the organization's depth.

7. The Pittsburgh Pirates have juggled their rotation.

Saturday's games

1. Brandon McCarthy dominated Detroit, but Yoenis Cespedes landed on the DL, Susan Slusser writes.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how McCarthy shut down the Tigers:

A. McCarthy struck out eight hitters with his curveball despite throwing only 12 two-strike curves for the game. He had six curveball strikeouts combined in his first seven starts of the year.

B. Tigers hitters missed on seven of 10 swings against McCarthy's curveball.

C. McCarthy went to just one 2-0 count all game and only two three-ball counts.

D. Overall, McCarthy induced 20 swings and misses; his previous season high was nine.

2. The Rays made a bunch of mistakes.

3. J.A. Happ gave up some taters.

4. Brandon Beachy was The Man for the Atlanta Braves in shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves will be going for a Mother's Day sweep of St. Louis, writes Carroll Rogers.

5. Poor command took down Ricky Nolasco.

6. Jose Bautista is finding his stride.

7. Quiet bats are plaguing the Tigers, as Shawn Windsor writes. Jim Leyland is confounded.

8. The Dr. Jekyll version of Luke Hochevar pitched for the Kansas City Royals and did great things. Hochevar likes the quick pitch.

9. For the Cardinals, there is more frustration.

10. Chris Sale lost in his return to the rotation.

11. The Chicago Cubs-Milwaukee Brewers game got a little tense, and Alfonso Soriano was hit.

12. Edwin Maysonet got a huge hit for Milwaukee.

13. Felix Doubront got it done for the Red Sox.

14. Phil Hughes looked great at a time when he needs to be great.

15. The New York Mets just keep on plugging away: David Wright and the rest of the New York lineup kept pounding opposing pitchers.

16. The Rockies' offense went flat.

17. Anthony Gwynn got a big pinch-hit.

18. The Phillies lost again, even with Roy Halladay on the mound.

19. The Giants' plow horse got it done, again.

20. Hector Noesi struggled against the Yankees.

21. Andrew McCutchen led the way for the Pirates, writes Bill Brink.

22. The San Diego Padres are Roy Halladay's kryptonite.

By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats and Info:

2: Bases-loaded walks for Adam Wainwright on Saturday; he had just one in his career entering the day.

10: Home runs -- and games -- at Target Field for Jose Bautista; he's fifth all time in home runs at the park (opened in 2010).

Other stuff

Brandon Inge is tormenting the Tigers for now, writes Bob Wojnowski.

Yu Darvish was adamant about returning to the mound after Friday's rain delay, Gerry Fraley writes.

• The Dodgers' owners will be put on T.J. Simers' hot seat.

• The lack of trust is hurting the Indians' attendance, writes Sheldon Ocker.

Jamie Moyer has become a consistent drain on the Rockies' bullpen, writes Patrick Saunders.

• Guy Spurrier wonders: What's wrong with Adam Lind?

• Waite Hoyt is remembered as a pitching and broadcasting great, Mike Dyer writes.

• The Twins' Brian Dozier blends some unique skills, Ben Goessling writes.

Emilio Bonifacio set a record.

Chipper Jones deserves the accolades he is getting, writes Bernie Miklasz.

• The Miami Marlins are having grass problems at their new park, Joe Capozzi writes.

Jonny Gomes swings a pink bat for his mom.

Happy Mother's Day ...

And today will be better than yesterday.