The downside of being a big hot-stove name is the extra attention that comes with early-season struggles. Ask Josh Hamilton.
The former Rangers star’s departure created quite a stir — as did his comments about Texas baseball fans — but his performance has been more disconcerting than this winter’s drama. With 27 strikeouts in his first 23 games, the slugger has been moved out of the cleanup spot against left-handed pitchers. Naturally this move created even more attention for Hamilton’s struggles.
Not every former Ranger is finding things so difficult. Two of Hamilton’s mates moved east and have found the change palatable to date.
Ryan Dempster struggled down the stretch for the 2012 Rangers after being acquired mid-season from the Cubs. He has settled in to the middle of Boston’s rotation, posting an ERA a 1.5 runs better than his Texas line. Increasingly eschewing his sinker in the past two years, he’s nearly shelved it in 2013 in favor of his four-seam fastball. It is tempting to correlate the performance change solely to the pitching change, but let’s wait on that a bit.
The Red Sox also signed Mike Napoli from the Rangers to play first base. Scrapping the catcher’s gear he wore in Texas will help keep Napoli’s bat in the lineup and his legs fresh in the summer heat. He’s leading major league baseball in RBI and doubles.
With just one strong outing in April, Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey has generally been unable to harness his knuckleball. He walked 54 batters in more than 233 innings in 2012 (2.1 per nine innings pitched) but is walking batters twice as frequently this season (4.3). His highest walk total of April (five) came in his most recent outing.
But if not for Dickey’s Cy Young Award last season and his big trade to Toronto, we might not be noticing any of this. Dickey got off to a slow start last year — albeit not this slow — before dominating opponents in May and June.
Early returns on trades and free agent signings are nothing to hang a hat on — it’s where they stand in September that counts— but you can be sure Dempster and Napoli are finding their new homes more comfortable this spring than Dickey and Hamilton.