2014 Reds

Bat Billy Eighth

I know this opinion is unpopular, but I feel it strongly, so I’m going to go ahead and say it.

Billy Hamilton has no business leading off for the Reds. At least not right now. And perpetuating that experiment can only hurt the Reds.

Does Hamilton deserve a chance to see if he can play in the major leagues? Maybe, although I suspect quite a few players meet that standard. But even if Hamilton is the best center fielder in the organization and even if the Reds need to give him a chance to play, that still doesn’t mean he should be leading off.

Batting Hamilton first puts needless pressure on him. There are countless examples where managers bat rookies lower in the order to keep the pressure down while they get used to the Major Leagues. Bryan Price’s batting order may be doing Hamilton a great disservice.

Price can simply slide the entire order up one spot and bat Hamilton eighth. If and when he proves he can get on base against Major League pitching (lower the bar to .320 OBP) only then should he be considered for the lead-off spot. Would moving him down in the order hurt his confidence? I doubt it. Good players overcome minor slights like that. A larger concern is how continued failure in the lead-off spot affects his confidence.

And no, this opinion isn’t born of panic from his .000/.077/.000 start. (Although his first twelve at bats don’t inspire much faith.) My view is based on his lack of a track record above AA for being able to do the job. It’s an open question whether Billy Hamilton can be a Major League player at all, because of his hitting. Face it, if Billy Hamilton didn’t fit the outdated stereotype of the havoc-creating, oh-so-fast center fielder, you’d never ever ever think of him as a lead off hitter. Maybe if he was still just a skinny shortstop, he’d be easier to imagine batting at the bottom of the order.

I hope Walt Jocketty and Bryan Price don’t feel like they’ve painted themselves into a low-OBP corner. Jocketty has been saying publicly for months that Hamilton is the lead-off hitter. He said the same exact thing about Willie Taveras. The Reds GM failed to land a full-time alternative, so of course he’s saying what he is. Grady Sizemore and Brett Gardner were plausible names that surfaced during the Cold Stove season. But they’re leading off for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

I heard a radio analyst stumble into this horrible argument earlier this week: “Hey, Willie Mays went 0-for-20 when he first started and he wanted to be sent back to the minors. But the Giants didn’t send him back and look what happened.” Billy Hamilton is no Willie Mays, and you could get a pretty reliable sense of that based on their respective performances in AAA.

  • Willie Mays’ production in his year in AAA: .477/.524/.799
  • Billy Hamilton’s production in his year in AAA: .256/.308/.343

And Mays – Willie freakin’ Mays – spent most of his rookie season batting sixth, seventh or eighth for the New York Giants.

I’m not crazy about Brandon Phillips leading off for the Reds. But the club is where it is. Phillips could easily have an OBP fifty to eighty points higher than Hamilton, at least right now. All the more reason to get Joey Votto’s elite OBP higher in the order.

I hope Billy Hamilton knocks the door down. I hope he bats .300 and walks. I’m cheering every single at bat for him to prove me loud, wrong. But until Billy Hamilton shows he can be a Major League hitter, he shouldn’t bat lead-off.

37 thoughts on “Bat Billy Eighth

  1. I’d much rather see him at AAA leading off every day until he gets on a sustained run. Bernadino and Heisey can manage CF OK.

    Why burden the back end of the line up with another dead wood piece,

  2. If the situation hasn’t improved in a month or so I would agree. For now though I’m willing to give him a chance. Let’s see how he does this weekend in NY against a less stellar pitching staff.

  3. A month is too long for a club that hopes to compete for a post-season spot to experiment with the lead-off spot. If he has to play CF for the Reds instead of Louisville, why not spend that month batting him eighth and see if he can hit and get on base like a Major Leaguer. If yes, then move him to lead-off.

    • Yeah if he keeps showing up like he did this week I think he’ll be back in Louisville within 2 weeks, tops. I see them sending him down before I see them moving him in the order.

      • Understanding that this is only April, but this season could definitely be lost this month. Reds are already 2 games out of 1st and if they don’t start turning it up a notch then simply start planning for 2015. Have a series coming up against the Cards starting on Monday, then 7 games against the Pirates in 10 days, then a series in Atlanta, and in between a series with the Rays. This season could be lost quickly. If the Reds survive April, it could be a fun summer at the old ballyard – but its looking more and more that that’s a big IF. The Reds don’t have a lot of wiggle room. And Price needs to show a little emotion – he looks like a statue. Definitely wanted a manager with more fire, guess it didn’t happen.

    • I addressed this word-for-word in the article. Not basing my opinion off of 12 at bats. It’s one I’ve had for months, when I was annoying everyone here with my constant complaining during the off-season.

      • I was trying to find the off-season article(s) where you said Billy Hamilton should not lead-off but I could not find any. Please tell me the title of the article(s) where you made this claim.

        • You need to brush up your research skills. Pretty much everything I wrote in the off-season was about how the drop off from Choo to Hamilton was too severe to contemplate. None of the editors here have been as skeptical of Hamilton’s value as I have been. There’s plenty of legitimate criticism of stuff I’ve written, but implying that I’m shifting my take on Billy Hamilton isn’t one of them.

          Try “The Opposite of Moneyball” and “I Don’t Know Man” for starters.

  4. Most concerning is Hamilton’s inability to yet lay down an effective bunt. We know he will never be anywhere near a Choo-caliber hitter given his Minor League stats, but if the strategy is straight speed, he should to be able to bunt himself on base more than…zero times per series. Okay, it’s early in the season and the Cards pitched well. But giving him few weeks makes a lot more sense if the thinking is that he’ll get comfortable with hitting major league pitching. The leash should be shorter with someone who is not expected to hit well. Bunt or get off the pot. Batting him eighth is reasonable when considering him in terms of (a) his strengths and (b) his newness to the batting lineup.

    On the other hand…Phillips’ last season illustrates his strength as an RBI guy who can make contact with with RISP. Batting him first is not ideal. It just may become necessary.

  5. I like the idea of giving him a month also. At every level he’s played at, he seems to struggle early an improve as the season progresses. Batting him 8th? No when he does get on, steals, do you expect the pitcher to drive him in?

    • Someone has to bat ahead of the pitchers. If Hamilton is the worst hitter in the lineup, at least for right now, shouldn’t he hit there? And obviously, he can steal second and be bunted to third. He has a lot better chance of advancing on one of our pitcher’s bunts than someone slower, like Brayan Pena, does.

      • This exactly. I said something a few days ago about how Brayan Pena is going to be an easy target as the lead runner on a sac bunt attempt.

    • No – like Steve said, I expect the pitcher to get him to third. It would appear at the moment that the pitchers are more likely to give him a pitch or two to steal than BP is; once he does steal, as long as there are less than two outs, the pitcher bunts him over, and you have a man on third. You may even get a chance, every now and again, to steal him twice and let a pitcher bunt him in (not that I’m advocating building any kind of strategy around this particular rarity – just noting that having Hamilton on the bases creates opportunities).

      But to Steve’s original point – the Reds are asking Hamilton to bat leadoff right out of the chute, in spite of his being a guy who has never shown that he can consistently hit major league (or even AAA) pitching. He had a bit of success during his cup of coffee at the plate last September, which we have to take with a certain grain of salt because he was hitting against (a) a lot of expanded-roster pitching, and (b) the Astros. I’m 35 years old, have a bad back, and haven’t played anything other than softball since I was 18, and I’m half certain I could have cleared the Mendoza line against the Astros last year.

      And while we’re only talking about 12 at-bats, this week has not inspired a lot of confidence that Hamilton’s about to START illustrating his ability to hit major league pitching (I know this crowd doesn’t particularly appreciate PDoc’s “eyeball test,” but Hamilton failed it pretty badly, looking overmatched in most of his at-bats against an admittedly top-shelf pitching staff). So while I’m not suggesting we send him to AAA (though another three weeks sans improvement could change that tune), I have to agree with Steve – the guy in the leadoff spot has to wear pretty big shoes, and asking Billy Hamilton to fill them in a rookie season we’re not even sure he’s ready for is a tall order. What’s the harm in dropping him to the 8th (or, if you’re bent against hitting him in front of the pitcher, even the 9th) spot to figure out if he can hit at this level? It’s not like lineups are set in stone day-to-day; find out if he can hit down there, and if you look down at the stat sheet one day and the OBP number next to his name has jumped into the .325 range, then you pencil his name back in at the top of the order.

      • I concur, he has looked over-matched and undersized. When they brought him up last season, I personally thought part of the reason it worked out is because the Reds used him as a pinch runner first. It allowed someone else to take the pressure of the at-bat, and it also put more pressure on the pitcher to keep him close to the bag. But so far his hitting skills are by far his downfall.. and how does the reds not have him BUNT? If he can not make contact on a bunt, it’s hard to have faith he will be able to make better contact on a swing…

  6. The “give him a month” crowd misses my point. I’m not saying give up on him as a major league player. He needs *more* than a month of a trial for that. I’m saying that during this time when the Reds are trying to find out if Hamilton can handle Major League pitching, he shouldn’t bat lead-off. Batting first in the order may actually make it harder for him to succeed because of the greater pressure. At least that’s what dozens of managers have believed through the years.

    • And no, this opinion isn’t born of panic from his .000/.077/.000 start.

      Here’s a question, then: Would you still be calling for his demotion in the batting order if he was hitting .320 with a .450 OBP?

      Don’t kid yourself, of course this article was a reaction to how he has struggled so far. It’s dangerous to form any conclusions in baseball after just one series, a series that featured pretty good pitching to boot.

      I for one am for giving him more time at leadoff; why juggle him around in the lineup? Let’s see if he can handle leading off, which includes mentally preparing for it. There is not enough evidence one way or the other yet.

      If he gets a couple of hits against the Mets and scores some runs, hopefully that will calm some nerves all around.

      • This. It’s been three games against what is probably the best pitching staff in all of baseball. Let’s give the kid a chance.

      • Hmm. Since you seem to know my thoughts, please explain why I was against using Billy Hamilton as a lead-off hitter before the season started? Maybe I could see the future – just the first three games, mind you.

        Seriously, I’ve been against this plan all along. I just wanted to point out that one doesn’t need to have Hamilton lead-off just to give him a chance to be a Major League player.

        Would I feel differently if he’d gotten off to a different start? Well, at the least I’d be skeptical. I wasn’t convinced by his spring training stats. But players do get better and sometimes they make a jump. So a fast start might be a true indication that he can handle the role.

      • I concur. It is unlikely he by himself can bury the Reds in a month. If he goes 0 for NY then a day off might help.

  7. When Brandon Phillips can ‘easily have an OBP 50 to 80 points higher’ than your leadoff guy, you need another leadoff guy. I was always a proponent of hitting him ninth. I know that has the popularity of a Eric Milton bobblehead night, but I think it would be best, especially if Brandon and Joey are coming up behind him. I agree with Steve on this one, and I have from the beginning of the BHam discussion. I just don’t think the kid’s ready for the top of the lineup.

    • I am on board with the Preacher. First, I hate batting Hamilton first. I have seen too many promising players in this organization buried by getting 500 at bats at the top of the order. I actually think there may be some merit to use the, dare I say it, Tony LaRussa strategy of batting the pitcher 8th and Hamilton 9th. You protect him a little bit yet still have him hitting in front of the best hitters. I don’t like Hamilton batting 8th. That’s a tough spot to hit in the National League. Any time he comes up with two outs, he’s going to get walked so they can get to the pitcher – and that negates the value of a stolen base.

  8. I see your point in working him in slowly, and he certainly looked lost the first two games but yesterday he looked better against Lynn and hit a couple of line drives. Ideally he can help the team most in the leadoff spot and that’s why they are going to give him at least a month and I think the team can survive with the way the pitching is dominating. Go Reds!

  9. You make a very valid argument but leadoff spot is for speed, not batting average. Stubbs batted lead off for two years and he was always near the top of the MLB most strikeouts list. Hamilton is batting leadoff because if he reaches base, he will most likely be able to advance by stealing.

  10. I had been considering this for a month or so now (since Spring Training started) and I think, given my ‘druthers, I’d do this for the lineup:

    Phillips
    Votto
    Bruce
    Frazier
    Ludwick/Heisey
    Catcher
    Hamilton
    Cozart
    Pitcher

    If Hamilton gets on in front of Cozart, he’s likely to see more fastballs. Cozart can hit a fastball when he knows it’s coming (at least that’s my entirely unstatistically backed observation; I tried searching out BA by PitchType and surprisngly couldn’t find it). This lineup is likely to help both of the Reds current ‘worst hitters.’

    I still can’t figure out why Heisey isn’t the starter in left (besides the contract that Ludwick signed dictates that he makes more money). Ludwick is clearly not going to be an asset in the field and thus his bat should be used in in the situations where he is most likely to make a difference. I’d love to see him coming in as a pinch hitter and being the secondary piece of a platoon that only starts when the matchup is favorable.

  11. It’s hard to fault your logic, Steve. I will say, in Billy’s defense, that he arrived relatively late to the greatest game, has had to adjust to a new position and to learning to switch-hit. This is not to say that he should be batting leadoff right now, but I’m not certain that we have clear evidence that he couldn’t be a good major league hitter. He won’t be Willie Mays, no, but neither will anybody else.

  12. Totally agree, Steve. At this point he has one, maybe two, of the traditional five tools. Speed and fielding. But as you pointed out, his minor league track record does not translate into a good major league hitter. Now, with a lot of work and time, he may develop into that player. He is just not there yet, and this is not his fault. Too many people have bought into the hype, including Time magazine. Right now, I see him as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. Nothing more, nothing less.

  13. This all has to be laid at the feet of Walt Jocketty. His reluctance and complete failure to do anything significantly this winter to help the offense has led to this already. Jocketty’s lack of vision for 2014 must not be understated. You mentioned the Sizemore and Gardner whiffs, but you left one off. The Old Cossack, myself and a couple of others clamored for Emilio Bonifacio after KC DFA’d him. Jocketty had a chance to trade a minor piece for him, but instead let the Cubs pick him up off waivers. The Cubs and Theo out-foxed our over-the-hill and out of touch GM.
    What has Bonifacio done for the Cubs in 3 games? Just bat .688 that is all. 11-16 and 3 R’s in 3 games. Granted, Bonifacio won’t keep that pace, but he does have a good track record in MLB so far. Last year was a down year for him, 2011 was his best year, and 2012 was an in between year. The down side on him was a trend that was starting downward. But his versatility, speed and pretty good (not great) OBP history would have served the Reds better than Bernadina, Soto, or Santiago.

    • One correction on your statement WV. The Cubs did not claim Bonifacio off waivers. Bonifacio cleared waivers and became a FA. The Cubs signed him as a FA. WJ did not need to offer even a minor trade piece to obtain Bonifacio, just claim him and take on his $3.5MM contract. That $3.5MM would have covered so many holes in and insurance for the Reds roster.

      • Thanks for the correction ole buddy. I stand corrected. That makes it even a bigger whiff on WJ’s part. I watched some of those Cubs-Pirates games and cringed every time I saw Bonifacio get a hit. Jocketty really let down the fans this off-season.

        • Jockety is still at it. Time to let him out to graze greener pastures. He’s still living off his time in Saint Looie. And Ludwick definitely is not the answer in LF. The Reds line-up is so broken and no signs of anyone on the Reds staff knowing how to fix it. And on the B Ham experiment, the start of the 2014 season is not the time to do it Good chance the Reds are buried by the end of April and Price’s head will roll. So sad.

  14. If he’s going to keep leading off, I sure hope Price has a chat with BP about his responsibilities in the 2-hole. He has to give Hamilton a chance to size things up, intimidate the pitcher, and steal. Hacking at everything just won’t cut it.

    • BHam has only been on base once….what is there to chat about?? BP swung through fastballs down the middle of the plate with two outs.

  15. Why I cant argue with Hamilton’s AAA record, but three games is pretty quick to hit reset button. Let’s see him get a few at bats against some other clubs. Sticking too long with something that isnt working is not good leadership, but also flip flopping on changes in the wind looks weak too.

  16. It’s a little early to panic regarding Hamilton, especially after three games. Give the guy a chance to get acclimated to major league pitching before he’s moved down. With the injuries and schedule, this month is going to be tough for the Reds.

  17. Interesting…Tonight’s lineup just posted. Both Hamilton and Cozart are sitting. Bernadina in CF, Santiago at SS.

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