Team: Texas Rangers
Stats: .329 AVG, 13 HR, 58 RBIs, .603 SLG
Measurements: 6'4", 235 lbs.
Nicknames: The "Natural" is OK, but how about "The Thoroughbred"?
Signature: Galloping into the American League in hot pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Mysteries: Where did this guy come from? How did he get so good so fast? Do the Reds secretly wish that they never traded him despite the stunning rise of Edinson Volquez? Does Hamilton take tips from fellow thoroughbred and Triple Crown threat, Big Brown?
Heading into 2008, Hamilton was one of those trendy sleepers touted by those experts everyone kind of despises but obediently listens to.
And why not? The guy clearly had talent, was the No.1 overall pick in the 1999 Draft before drug problems put his career on hold, belted 19 homers at a .292 clip in just 90 games during an injury-plagued 2007 rookie season and would now get to play half his games in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which is pretty much the Garden of Eden for hitters ... except there are no talking snakes, and clothing is mandatory.
So a nice, productive 2008 season from Hamilton is no surprise. But what's surprising is the fact that he's posting Triple Crown numbers and pretty much providing the best fantasy stats of any American Leaguer. So what gives?
To the evidence!
Clean bill of health: Hamilton was well on his way to a 30-homer rookie season until he missed a bunch of games with a sprained wrist and gastroenteritis. What exactly is gastroenteritis? We'll save that for another Unusual Suspects. Anyway, with Hamilton gastroenteritis-free and seasoned with about a half a year of Major League experience, it's no wonder he's been able to go off on opposing pitchers.
K zone: Hamilton has done a much better job of cutting his strikeouts in his sophomore season, lowering his K rate from .22 to a supernatural .14. It's not science, folks: Fewer strikeouts leave more opportunities for more hits. I swear it's true.
Down with BABIP: Of course, no thoroughbred can race through the year without a little help from Lady Luck. And this all-natural mammal is no different. The 27-year-old Hamilton sports a .337 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), up 19 points from his a mark of a season ago.
Product placement: The name of the game for Hamilton this year has been RBIs. How has he upped his total at such a rampant rate? Well in 2007, former Reds manager Jerry Narron placed The Thoroughbred in the leadoff spot for the plurality of his at-bats, which naturally limited his RBI opportunities and also might help explain why he is "former" Reds manager Jerry Narron. This season, Rangers manager Ron Washington quit horsing around with his lineup, leaving his top horse in the three-hole for 208 of his 219 at-bats, and the results have paid off in spades.
Of course, there are always ulterior explanations.
It only makes sense that a serious Triple Crown threat would emerge in the National Pastime the same year that a serious Triple Crown threat would emerge in The Sport of Kings.
And what better player to symbolize this cross-sport harmonization of epic proportions than a Texas Ranger? For it is the Texas Ranger who flaunts his equestrian skill on a daily basis, saddled on horseback while investigating crime and upholding the laws of society. And it is the Texas Rangers, armed with Rangers Captain -- their Palomino-style equine mascot -- who showcase their fierce determination through the Wild (American League) West on a daily basis.
So does this all mean that Hamilton and Big Brown are both locks for the Triple Crown? Maybe yes, and maybe no.
But at the very least, they're both stallions.