Josh Hamilton Phillies Rumors: Could Lefty-Dominated Lineup Survive in NL East?

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterNovember 13, 2012

Josh Hamilton hit .291 against lefties this season.
Josh Hamilton hit .291 against lefties this season.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Are the Philadelphia Phillies interested in free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton

A similar question such as "Is the Pope Catholic?" could be the response. Hamilton is the best available hitter on the free-agent market. The Phillies have a need for a power bat in their outfield. 

Besides, as CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury explains, Philadelphia's front office does a thorough check on all available players. Even if the Phillies aren't necessarily in on a particular player, the market could always swing in their favor. 

This might be the case with Hamilton. If teams decide to pass on him because of his reported desire for a seven-year, $175 million deal, the Phillies could seize an opportunity. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that Philadelphia doesn't have a problem with a $25 million annual salary. Its issue would be the length of Hamilton's contract. 

Paying Hamilton that much money would seem strange, given general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s stated intention to get the Phillies' payroll below the $178 million luxury tax threshold for 2013. But perhaps the possibility of landing an MVP-caliber player like Hamilton has Amaro reconsidering that stance. 

Adding a hitter who slugged 43 home runs with 128 RBI would certainly make the Phillies lineup more formidable. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins led the team with 23 homers this year, though injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard obviously reduced their season totals. 

However, there's one problem that immediately comes to mind when talking about Utley, Howard and Hamilton possibly making up the middle of a lineup. All of them hit left-handed.

The preference, of course, is to mix it up in the middle of the batting order, if not through the entire lineup. A manager doesn't want an opponent to bring in a left-handed relief specialist and shut down three or four hitters in a row. Even worse, what if the skipper had to sit a couple of his best hitters when facing a tough left-handed starting pitcher? 

But would this apply to the Phillies if they signed Hamilton? Would the middle of the lineup be easily handcuffed by left-handed pitching?

Against lefties during his career, Howard has hit .227 with a .739 OPS. That's not very good. Unfortunately, it was even worse last season, as he hit .173 with a .604 OPS. 

Utley has hit lefties pretty well in his 10 major league seasons. He has a career .270 batting average with an .853 OPS; but southpaws hurt him this year. Utley hit .215 with a .679 OPS in such matchups.

Rollins is a bit of a different case, since he's a switch-hitter and bats right-handed against lefty pitchers. Over his career, he has a .272 average and .752 OPS. But he was bitten by the same bug that got Howard and Utley, apparently. Rollins batted .218 with a .612 OPS against left-handers last year.

What about Hamilton? Would he improve this mix even though he bats left-handed? He's a career .280 hitter versus lefties with an .808 OPS. This season, Hamilton was even better, batting .291 with an .853 OPS, 10 home runs and 41 RBI. 

How would this foursome fare against some of the tougher left-handers in the NL East? Fortunately, they wouldn't have to face Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, so that's getting off to a good start. 

The Washington Nationals' Gio Gonzalez may have been the best lefty starter in the NL this year. Left-handed batters hit .232 with a .585 OPS against him this season. Howard went 0-for-5 against him, while Utley batted 2-for-6 (.333) and Rollins batted 3-for-7 (.429). 

Granted, those are very small samples to judge from, but Gonzalez only has one season in the NL. Hamilton, however, faced him regularly in the AL. He's batted .353 (6-for-17) against him over his career with a 1.127 OPS, two homers and four RBI. 

Johan Santana is another tough left-hander the Phillies have to face regularly. Interestingly, he was worse against lefties than righties this season, giving up a .281 average and a .745 OPS.

Even more intriguing is that Howard has hit Santana well during his career. He's 8-for-25 (.320) with four home runs, seven RBI and a 1.170 OPS. Utley has a .241 average (7-for-29) with four home runs and eight RBI, helping him toward a .980 OPS. Rollins is also 7-for-29 against Santana with two homers and three RBI.

Amaro hasn't been afraid of putting three left-handed bats in the middle of his lineup. Shortly after becoming the Phillies GM, he signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year deal. That didn't appear to make sense, as Philadelphia needed a right-hander to complement Utley and Howard.

Ibanez had three good seasons with the Phillies, and batted .254 with a .770 OPS against lefties. The Phillies also made it to the World Series (defending their 2008 championship) in his first season. 

If Phillies manager Charlie Manuel were to bat Hamilton fourth, between Utley and Howard, the lineup likely wouldn't have three nearly automatic outs against left-handed pitching.

Hamilton doesn't appear to be the best fit for the Phillies, but if the team had the opportunity to sign him, could Amaro resist the opportunity?


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