COMMENTARY | The Texas Rangers' success for the first two months of the 2013 season has made fans quickly forget Josh Hamilton, the departed slugger and former MVP, as the team has surged to 32 wins in its first 52 games and currently sits atop the American League West by three games over Oakland.
Hamilton came to Texas in December of 2007 as a former No. 1 draft choice with a checkered past who was trying to make a comeback. He spent five drama-filled years as a Ranger while building his star. Fans embraced him and loved his feel-good comeback story as he became one of the game's elite power hitters and helped lead the Rangers where they had never gone before -- to the World Series (two years in a row).
His departure in the offseason to the Rangers' division rival, the Los Angeles Angels, created a wave of controversy, as did his subsequent jibes that Rangers fans were "spoiled" and that Dallas was not a baseball town.
Those same fans have booed Hamilton every time he's come to bat this season in Texas. Though there have been a few cheers mixed in, the majority of fans at the ballpark have let Hamilton know they don't like being accused of not being baseball fans.
Comments about Dallas not being a baseball town aside, the question on everyone's mind immediately after Hamilton left was this: How are the Rangers going to replace that production? Even with a bad couple of months to end 2012, Hamilton still hit 43 homers and drove in 128 runs. He averaged 28 homers and 101 RBIs in five years with the Rangers -- and that's counting an injury-filled 2009 in which he played only 89 games.
Without Hamilton, the Rangers are scoring fewer runs, yes -- they average 4.6 per game compared to 4.98 last year -- but do they miss his production on the field? The verdict is in on this one: no. The Rangers' pitching has picked up the slack, and that's why they were tied for the most wins in baseball through 48 games. The team ERA is 3.48 this season compared to 3.99 last year, a half-run difference. That 3.99 ERA in 2012 placed them exactly in the middle of the pack -- 16th out of 30 teams -- and they were able to win 93 games because they led the major leagues in runs scored.
This year, they are ninth in runs scored, but they've moved up to sixth in ERA (their ERA is first in the AL). It's clear that the pitching has made up the difference this year with Hamilton gone. They are giving up fewer runs, which has allowed them to fall back a bit in runs scored and not miss a beat.
And speaking of Hamilton, it's no secret that he hasn't exactly been setting the league on fire with his performance at the plate. He's batting just .222 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 51 games, and four of those homers have come against the lowly Astros. So at least to Houston, he's still an elite slugger. By comparison, Nelson Cruz leads the Rangers in homers with 12 and RBIs with 35.
Meanwhile, the Angels are so far behind the Rangers in the standings that they need binoculars to see them. The Angels just won eight in a row and they're still five games under .500, 8 1/2 games out of first. Since the Angels gave Hamilton $125 million for five years, they better hope he rights the ship because they're stuck with him until after the 2017 season.
And that's fine with the Rangers. The Angels can have Hamilton while the Rangers will take the improved pitching that carries with it first place and the second-most wins in baseball.
Brian Honea is a Dallas, Texas-based freelance writer who is a lifelong Texas Rangers follower.
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