There’s a lot of chatter today about the play that resulted in Josh Hamilton breaking his arm yesterday. A lot of it — most notably from Buster Olney — involves questioning his head-first slide. I’m not too impressed with that line of thinking. Lots of guys — most guys, in fact — slide head first. Maybe it’s not ideal, and maybe it’s not what should be taught to kids, but it’s certainly accepted now, and it’s not like you change those sorts of habits.
The real question I have is why Hamilton was even going in the first place. And not just because it seemed like the wrong kind of ball to take that kind of chance on. Hamilton actually agreed with that in real time and publicly criticized his third base coach over it after the game (“I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’ But I listened to my coach”). Throwing the base coach under the bus like that didn’t reflect particularly well on Hamilton, but what reflects worse on Hamilton is going along with the bad call anyway.
Josh Hamilton is the reigning AL MVP. He’s the centerpiece of the Texas Rangers offense. While you don’t want players shirking the authority of the coaches, if the player is a superstar with the baseball instincts of Josh Hamilton and, if as Hamilton said was the case here, he has a strong feeling that something bad is going to happen on the play, the player should substitute his judgment for that of the base coach. Ron Washington isn’t going to put Josh Hamilton in the dog house if he ignores the coach on a play like that. Young players aren’t going to henceforth ignore the coach’s instructions. Hamilton should have gone with his gut and stuck at third.
Or, if he simply felt that he had no choice in the matter and had to do what the coach said, he sure as hell shouldn’t have come out and criticized the guy after the fact. I mean, if you’re going to follow military protocol in following orders, you should probably follow military protocol in not questioning them later.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.