Season Preview

2014 Season Preview: Billy Hamilton

The biggest unknown in the Reds 2014 season is young Billy Hamilton. He is being handed both the centerfield and leadoff jobs to begin the season. Reds fans are both hopeful and nervous. Watching Hamilton run is a religious experience and the only question is if he will bring enough of a bat to carry his weight in the majors. Here are my projections.

Billy Hamilton
2013 Slash Line: .256/.308/.343 (AAA)
2014 Projection: .255/.315/.330

2013 WAR: 0.6 (Choo – 5.2)
2014 Best Guess WAR: 2.0
Projected Difference: -3.2 WAR from Choo
2014 Floor: 0.0 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 5.0 WAR

I want to start the discussion by saying that no one should expect Hamilton to replace Choo. That’s simply not fair. They are radically different players with radically different skill sets. Choo was a finished player while Hamilton is still developing. So while it is very unlikely the Reds will get as much out of center as they did last year, that does not mean Hamilton is destined to be a bust.

Hamilton, at this point, is all about potential. So let’s discuss what we know and don’t know about him.

What We Know:

Hamilton will lead the league in steals if he plays every day and he will hit for zero power. It’s all about the legs. He’s a rare player who might be more likely to hit an inside-the-park homer than the conventional trotting variety. The only real hope for improvement is that as he ages, he gains a bit of strength. Just a touch more power would do him a great deal of good. He did crack a .400 SLG at two different minor league stops, but what we should hope for is that he can get it north of .350.

What We Don’t Know:

How much he will walk and how good his defense will be. In two minor league stops in 2012, Hamilton walked a lot. Like Joey Votto-level a lot. Last year, he was more Todd Frazier. This is the big key to his value. If he walks like Frazier, he’s probably not a total disaster, but many will be questioning his effectiveness. But, if he can even find a middle ground between Frazier and Votto, then the Reds will really have something. A 10 percent walk-rate probably means an OBP north of . 340, and with Hamilton’s speed, that is an excellent place to be.

He figures to be above average in center with projections generally ranging from just above average to, gold-glove level. My money is on him being closer to a gold-glove than average.

What we’ve heard in spring training so far, is encouraging. If Hamilton really does focus on taking walks and getting on base, this could be a big year for him. In the end, we have to hope the potential pays off soon.

Season Preview:

Joey Votto
Brandon Phillips
Zack Cozart
Ryan Ludwick

36 thoughts on “2014 Season Preview: Billy Hamilton

  1. If he gets on base .340+ he will break the record for stolen bases and WELL exceed Choo’s run production. It’s a pipe dream in 2014, though. I think it’s more likely he sees some time in Louisville before July.

    • @eric nyc: I don’t think it’s a pipe dream. I also don’t think he’ll break the steals record. Henderson got on a .398 clip the year he set the record.

      .340 is not likely, but it is possible. It all depends on how much he walks.

      • @Jason Linden: I know it seems like a silly thing to say, but I think Billy Hamilton might go down as a better base stealer than Henderson, whether or not he breaks the record. Regardless, at OBP .340+ he would produce way more runs than Choo and would probably walk away with ROY.

        • @eric nyc: Agree about ROY. That’s a best-case scenario kind of thing. As for production, depends on how you define it. he might score more runs than Choo, but I doubt he’d be a more productive offensive player.

        • @Jason Linden: Just talking about scoring runs. Last year Choo scored about 1/3 of the time he got on base. Hamilton has scored at close to 1/2 of the time he’s gotten on base and he hasn’t had Joey hitting behind him. At .340 he would score quite a few more runs than Choo last year. I’d guess when all the numbers are crunched his wRC+ might not be as high, but in terms of practically replacing Choo in the leadoff spot I’d be thrilled with just having him cross the plate that often.

  2. The focus on walks is well placed.

    That’s why it concerns me when I hear people in the Reds organization saying that the key to him getting on base is bunting. Bunting often works in the opposite direction of taking walks and working the count. Getting the ball down on a bunt, especially early in the count, makes it much less likely a hitter will walk. The threat of bunting is helpful, though. So getting the word out that Hamilton may bunt a lot is fine.

    Billy Hamilton’s bunting may become a fearsome weapon. But as with a few other Reds’ players (Zack Cozart), taking more walks will likely determine whether they’ve had a productive offensive season.

      • @Jason Linden: Just posted this on Twitter, too. Ricky Henderson had a *career* walk rate over 16%. He walked 17.7% of his PA in the season he stole 130 bases. He got on base 261 times that season. I’m worried that Billy Hamilton, even playing every game, will only get on base 200 times. For comparison, Choo got on base over 300 times last season (which was an amazing season).

    • @Steve Mancuso: I agree about your point about bunting = less walks.
      I think a lot of people are wanting BH to walk a bunch, assuming that the pitchers will be tossing up pitches outside the strike zone. I personally think that he will see a lot of pitches in the zone…NOT wanting to walk him. He needs to be prepared to see a lot of strikes. If he proves that he can hit, THEN pitchers might be more careful with pitches in the zone…thus more walks.
      I believe he will hit better than expected, just because he will see a ton of strikes.

  3. I think durability has to be a concern, particularly this year when he will be asked to play that extra month+ of games (vs the minor league season) for the first time.

    Over time, he has to maintain his pure speed long enough to learn the trade of how guys steal with only “mortal” speed. He could end up with the shelf life of a pro football running back if speed remains essentially his only asset.

    A big plus for Henderson was that he developed effective(at the least) occasional power. Hamilton might be well served to start spending more time (than it appears he does to date) in the weight room.

    • @OhioJim: Rickey developed that power the same way alot of the Oakland players (McGuire, Canseco, etc.) developed their power: via modern medicine.

  4. I think the main focus of Hamilton is what will he do when he gets on base and how that impact the Reds. I know it is easy to look at the back of a bubble gum card and see the raw stats batting average, on base percentage so on and so on. But what we don’t see is how productive they are when they get on base. Choo in his own right was and extremely productive player but Hamilton has a chance to be a once in a life time special type. In his short stint in the majors I saw Hamilton score from second base on a ball hit the third baseman the ball didn’t leave the infield. Many of Hamilton’s special abilities may not show up on a bubble gum card but will show up on the scoreboard.

  5. I was fortunate enough to watch him in about a dozen games this past season in triple a, and I’m still not convinced of him. I can say one thing, and that is of course that he is fast, and he has the speed to make up for errors in the field. It was clear to me though that his first step wasn’t always in the right direction in CF last year, and I wonder what that will mean at the major league level.

    Also, in regards to his batting, I’m no sabermatrician, but the games i went to he seemed to do better later in the game in terms of hitting. I don’t recall him ever being on base before the 5th inning in any of the games i went to. Of course this is a relatively small sample size, but I’m not over optimistic about his ability to produce at the major league level yet.

  6. Since each player plays offense and defense, no one should be separating one out when discussing a player. Overall, I don’t believe Hamilton will be an improvement on Choo. However, I do believe that if Hamilton can get anywhere above a 300+ OBP, he will be an improvement on Stubbs. The only thing I saw as a strength of Stubbs was his arm. But, it’s not like he’s going to be making a couple of plays with that each game if not each week. With speed being Stubbs strength, I don’t believe Stubbs ever accepted it as his strength. I believe Hamilton has.

    I don’t care if he was to hit one HR. The leadoff hitter’s responsibility is to get on base, period. So many comparison’s to Henderson. Shoot, I remember watching Henderson walking to first, stealing 2nd and 3rd, then coming home on some sacrifice hit. The A’s had a 1-0 lead and no hits, and I don’t think the SLG made that big of a deal with it.

    • @steveschoen: Disagree on the value of home runs. Choo hit 21 of them. That’s 21 times he knocked himself (and others) in. That’s a huge percentage (almost 20 percent) of his runs scored. Ricky Henderson hit 297 home runs in his career — that’s 13 percent of the runs he scored. The lead-off hitter’s responsibility is to produce runs. He does that both by getting on base, advancing runners and driving people in, including himself occasionally.

      • @Steve Mancuso: I never said HR’s weren’t good and valuable, Steve. I said that I don’t care if the leadoff hitter hits one HR. His responsibility is to get on base, period. By the way, HR’s are included in OBP. It would be safe to imply with what I said that if it was a HR the leadoff hitter gets, fine. I just don’t care if it is a HR.

        Just like what everyone was saying why Stubbs and Cozart were batting 1-2 for the longest time when they weren’t able to get on base, the 1-2 hole hitters need to get on base more than the 7-8 hole hitters do.

  7. If he hits .255, I can’t help but think he’ll slug a little better than .330. Not from traditional power, but a lot of hits that 99% of the world would call a single, he can possibly turn into a double. If he hits a double to the right field gap or line, he can probably turn that into a triple.

    Now, of course I don’t think it’ll make up for other players hitting 20-30 HR.. but in his minor league career he had a .098 ISO. Considering in his bad AAA season he had a .087 ISO, I just don’t see his ISO dropping down the .075 in the majors. I think his speed will keep it up in the .090 range.

    I know it’s a pretty minor disagreement as far as the grand scheme of your projections go, but there it is.

    • @ToddAlmighty: This was basically the comment I was going to make. I’m actually a little surprised that RLN is so Bearish on Hamilton in general.

      He had a rough start last year, and had an incredibly low BABIP for a player like him, but this is a guy with a career minor league line of .280/.350/.378. My guess is that he’s going to be right there this year.

      I also think he’s going to be a lock to score 100+ runs, and could be close to a two win player in the field alone.

      My projection is that he’ll be a 3+ win player this year, and closer to a 4+ win player soon (if not this year).

  8. What I have always admired was Hamilton’s coachability. A player with superb physical capability and a strong desire to excel, who will listen and follow good coaching, is a diamond in the rough. Hamilton has proven to be such a player at every level he has played. Hamilton understands his role on the team how to maximize his contribution.

    “My job is to get on base and get into scoring position for these guys and have them drive me in,” said Hamilton. “If I can get to third on one pitch, that’s pretty good.”

    Hamilton has demonstrated his commitment during the 2 spring training games he has played. In his 1st game, he worked a BB in a 10 pitch AB after fouling off multiple pitches. That is a Vottoesque type of performance. In his 2nd game, he lined a single after working a full count, another Vottoesque performance.

    As far as his bunting, I completely agree that the threat of a bunt is more of a weapon than actually bunting, unless Hamilton absolutely perfects his ability to place a successful bunt. Hamilton almost undressed the 3B charging to protect against a possible bunt by placing a strong hit down the 3B line. If that ball goes through, the runner will score from 1B and Hamilton ends up at 3B.

    Additional strength/power will certainly enhance Hamilton’s prowess at the plate, but not necessarily by producing HR. More power will mean more drives going through the infield and more doubles/triples going to the wall. I have no data to support the hypothesis, but I suspect Hamilton’s higher SLG at lower minor league levels was attributable to connecting with the higher percentage of fastballs thrown at lower minor league levels. If that is true, then Hamilton’s plate discipline could be a huge advantage by not chasing the hooks off the plate and jumping on the fastball that will come if the pitcher gets behind in the count or tries to get ahead in the count.

    I still believe Hamilton would benefit by additional time at AAA, but his early results and approach this spring (miniscule sample size) are encouraging.

    • @Shchi Cossack: agreed Old Sage Cossack on all you post and this really stands out to me:

      “he worked a BB in a 10 pitch AB after fouling off multiple pitches”

      If that is his mindset in every at bat, that he is going to challenge all sides offensively, not just stealing bases but frustrating pitchers from the moment he steps into the box by making the pitcher throw him strikes and fending off tough pitches, he will replace Choo.

      Stubbs never learned how to do this. BP does it when he wants to. Making it a part of your identity, of who you are at the plate, making the pitcher not only not want to face you on base but in the box, knowing that Votto and Bruce are behind him….Lay off the curveballs Billy. You will see the heat. How he handles those curveballs is the story of 2014

  9. 9 pitch AB to lead-off today’s game (0-2 start). Looks very comfortable at the plate

  10. So, watching the first three starts, I’m terribly excited to see what Hamilton can do this season. Kid has been terrific (albeit in just 7 AB’s) but I see him taking balls, working counts, and no K just yet.

    Also, for the purposes of this article, keep in mind that Choo had the worst range of any CF in MLB last season, by a wide margin. Hamilton projects to have similar range to Carlos Gomez (who has the best range in baseball), so they’ll be a few balls at the very least that Hamilton will be able to track down, that Choo could not. Runs saved no doubt.

      • @preach: The word on Hamilton’s arm while playing SS was that it was lacking both in strength and accuracy. Strangely, the scouting reports are neutral to positive since he’s moved to CF. Choo and Bruce have two of the best outfield arms in baseball. Compared to them, not strong.

        • @TC: I’m pretty sure that I remember Chris Welch saying, late last season, that BH’s arm was considerably stronger and more accurate than earlier reports were indicating. The outfield throw is, of course, quite different from the infield throw and, if all else fails, BH could probably run the ball in get some assists.

  11. BHam + getting on base = Runs.

    Choo got on base over 300 times, but only scored just over 100 runs, 106 I think. About a 33% success rate of scoring.
    I think BHam’s rate will be much higher, around 43-45%, for a variety of reasons.
    The key is going to be the #2 hole hitter.

    • @WVRedlegs: In the minors it’s been closer to a 45-50% success rate, which I think is sustainable in the majors especially with Votto batting behind him. Crunching the numbers, Hamilton needs to get on base at about a .330 clip to equal Choo’s runs scored. Probably won’t happen in 2014, but that should be doable by 2015 or so. Hopefully. It’s crazy to think that’s how dangerous his speed is – It can basically add the equivalent of 60-70 points to his OPS in terms of runs produced.

  12. It is likely that CF defense will improve, bases will be stolen, and runs scored. Billy has the potential to be a 4-tool player, lacking only the potential of “hitting with power”. Right now I think he comes complete with three tools: Range, Arm, and Running Bases. Hitting for Average is something he did do all the way through until Louisville while learning a new position:

    2009: R – .254 OBP (Partical season. Acclimating to professional baseball)
    2010: R – .383 OBP
    2011: A – .340 OBP (Learning to switch hit)
    2012: A+/AA – .410 OBP
    2013: AAA – .308 OBP (Learning to play CF)

    The league average OBP by a CF in 2013 is .325, by leadoff is .337. If he finds his minor league OBP average of .350 he would have had the 5th highest OBP of all major league leadoff hitters in 2013 and tied for 7th among all CFs.

    But wait, there’s more…

    If you take into consideration, Billy always had off seasons in the minor leagues while he was adjusting to something, but bounced back very nicely the next season that means he may struggle this year adjusting to the majors. But he is likely to bounce back. And if he “struggles” with a .340 OBP like he did while learning to switch hit, (in the words of the Cowboy) Ohhhhh momma!

    Can Billy settle into a nice cozy .375-.380 OBP? I think he can.

    Hamilton is never likely to be Choo. Choo is special. This is not to say Hamilton is not. Choo’s just very special. But you add the improvement in defense and the help he gives the hitters behind him while he is tearing up the basepaths, his total value can rival Choo.

    Oh, and don’t forget, Hamilton can run into a homerun (or 6) a year.

  13. Bunt single in the third (run scored) – Walk / SB / Advanced to third on C throwing error in the 5th (AGAIN).

    Can’t stop him.

    • @FrustratedRedsFan: It’s EXTREMELY early, but you have to like what he’s shown this spring so far. While I can’t envision him actually maintaining this kind of pace, the most encouraging sign is that he doesn’t look overmatched, which were the reports out of winter ball. That he seemed intimidated by big league pitchers. He doesn’t look intimidated now. That’s a great sign. And his wheels are, of course, as advertised.

  14. Pingback: Redleg Nation 2014 Season Preview: The Rest of the Rotation | Redleg Nation

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