At some point this winter, a team with money to spend and an opening in the outfield for a big left-handed bat will make Josh Hamilton a very wealthy man. With the winter meetings approaching and some big names already off the board, the baseball world is wondering "When?" and "How wealthy?" Hamilton's home run totals and 2010 MVP season make him one of the most enticing talents on the market, but his age, injury record, history of substance abuse and performance away from the hitters' parks he's called home give general managers plenty of reasons to think twice before committing to a long-term contract.
We can tack on yet another concern to that long list of red flags: Hamilton is not a patient hitter. Over the course of his career, he's struck out at an above-average rate and walked at a (barely) below-average rate even though pitchers have plenty of incentive to stay away from his power. Last season, his tendency to swing (and chase) grew much more pronounced, while his contact percentage plummeted.
Because Hamilton doesn't add any value via the walk, most of his offensive performance hinges on what happens when he makes contact. The outcome of a batted ball is dependent on two things: speed and quality of contact. The early 30s are when bat speed starts to slip and reaction time suffers. If Hamilton had better command of the strike zone, his ability to take walks could compensate for his inevitable declines in other areas. As it is, his offensive value is closely tied to skills that soon start to fade in free agents of a certain age.