Run Billy Run

The Enigma That is Billy Hamilton

Who is Billy Hamilton? Is he the electrifying second-coming of Tim Raines? Or is he Usain Bolt in baseball spikes? Will he force comparisons to the Billy Hamilton who stole 111 bases in 1891? Or will we someday talk about him in the same expectorant breath as Willie Taveras?

Right now, this very minute, who Billy Hamilton is depends on who you want him to be.

Hamilton has now started in 20 games in 2014. As we are all well aware, almost no definitive conclusions can be drawn from this petri dish of a sample, but clues are there and you ignore them at your peril. And keep in mind dear reader, Hope is a diamond.

What have Hamilton’s first 90+ plate appearances told us?

Overall, he’s hitting .221 with a .253 OBP and a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) resting at a puny 45. That’s the bad news. If we are searching for some clue that Hamilton might be figuring it out, and if we do that by slicing his 20 starts neatly in half, we can clearly see he’s been better in his second ten games than he has been in his first ten. Billy has had 4 multi-hit games so far, 3 of them coming in his last 10 starts. However, those 3 multi-hit games came against the Pirates and Cubs, pitching staffs ranked 10th and 12th in the National League. Two of those multi-hit games came against pitchers currently with an ERA of 4.35 and higher. Against exceptional pitchers, Hamilton has struggled mightily. In his first 20 starts, he has alarmingly gone hitless in 9 of those games. But only 3 of those have occurred in the previous ten. There are signs he might be figuring something out. Or, he might simply be capitalizing on weaker competition.

What say you? Who is the real Billy?

Last September, Billy the Kid provided a tantalizing taste of the player the Reds believe he might be—havoc personified. When he has reached base this year, he’s shown that same ability to rattle defenses, to drop jaws. He distracted Francisco Liriano into throwing a meatball to Joey Votto, who proceeded to deposit the lefthander’s offering 391 feet into the right field sun deck. Hamilton has scored from third base on a Jay Bruce popup that was infield fly rule ready. I spent hours on Fangraphs looking for a havoc metrics. There is no CAR (Chaos Above Replacement). No BBIP (Bobbled Balls in Play). BILLYf/x? Nope. Not there. And therein lies the danger. Just as we know there’s value we can’t quantify, we have a natural and exuberant tendency to overstate that value.

Let’s also recognize he’s also been thrown out on the bases, as he continues to see major league pitchers’ pickoff moves for the first time. His success rate of 69% coincides precisely with Tom Tango’s break-even demarcation line. That’s got to improve.

Without a doubt, there’s reason to believe in Billy the Kid. From the time he arrived in rookie ball, he’s had an OBP of .383, .340, .410, .413 and .406. Then, he got to AAA and those numbers went south faster than the swallows leaving Capistrano. Is that a function of tougher pitching as he moved up the organizational ladder? More than a few people think so. However, did the move from shortstop to centerfield in Louisville distract Hamilton, interrupt his learning process as a hitter while he made the adjustment to a new and challenging position? His OBP did improve as the year went on. But, he started off so poorly, he was never able to get it back to respectability, finishing at a pedestrian .305.

In 2014, the early trends are concerning. His walk rate of 3.4% so far is alarming. He’s swung a weak bat from the left side, often looking overmatched. His strikeout rate of 21.3% recalls the wrong Hamilton—Josh—and it would be worse were it not for all the bunting.

Billy’s contact rate swinging at pitches inside the strike zone is above 90%, but it’s misleading because again, bunts. Subtract those and that number drops significantly. And speaking of bunting, Hamilton has shown a tendency to bunt the ball with all the touch of a blacksmith, sending the ball to places even he cannot outrun—straight into the gloves of defenders for easy putouts.

The organization has said Billy Hamilton is ready. It’s hard not to believe some of this is bluster. Scouts have said he could do with a few more months in AAA refining his swing. However, he sits at the top of the lineup for a reason: the people who are shepherding him along on his journey to major league longevity believe in him. Repeatedly, it’s been said he’s a quick learner, one who only has to be told something once, where it is then absorbed and put into practice. It’s also been said that he’s remarkably unflappable. He’s a listener, knows what he needs to accomplish and where he’s heading. As VP of Player Development Bill Bavasi said, “He’s a real quick study.” His baseball IQ is pretty high. He knows who he is and what his path is to the big leagues.”

Already, some want him moved down in the lineup, where the air is less stifling. But, if he handles adversity the way those around him say he does, the “pressure” argument might be nothing more than easy armchair psychoanalysis. Pressure comes from within. The pressure on a rookie is undeniable, but it stands to reason that how a player handles pressure has more to do with the makeup of that particular individual than the pressure itself. It’s why one person can tightrope across the Grand Canyon, while another cannot handle the stress of managing the office phones. Pressure comes from your peers. Yet, from all reports, it appears he has the full support of his coaches and teammates, particularly Votto, all whom are likely providing a warm cocoon for the rookie to work and thrive. The pressure argument seems overblown.

Batting Hamilton directly in front of Votto does more than simply allow Joey to see more hittable pitches. If Hamilton reaches, it forces the defense—specifically the first baseman—to play closer to the bag and opens a larger hole for Votto on the right side of the infield. Move Billy and you not only lose that, you increase the number of innings Votto comes to the plate without Billy hitting in front of him because one of the players between them made the last out the previous inning.

Batting 8th or 9th means fewer outs, but it also means fewer opportunities for that one electrifying moment on the basepaths that can change the course of the game. But fewer outs are good. We like fewer outs.

It would be a simple decision if the Reds had a compelling alternative to lead off. But do they? Batting one of your power hitters down there is a non-starter. The increase in OBP will likely be more than offset by the production lost in the middle of the lineup. Brandon Phillips is walking at a 2.9% rate. Todd Frazier is the one player who you could make an argument for leading off. He’s begun the season with a modest .330 OBP. But even that is above his career norms. And again, you lose the protection for Votto, so the benefit would seem to be negligible.

The odds on Hamilton making a difference may be getting longer, but if he can figure it out, the payoff could be substantial, and in the end, this might be the best case for why he should stay right were he his for now. If he can prove himself a patient hitter who can turn himself into the Norris Hopper of bunting, the offense stands to be transformed once he learns pitcher idiosyncrasies and opposing catchers’ tendencies. Maybe.

But, Maybe is an unreliable buddy with whom to ride shotgun. Maybe is the roommate who tends to be nowhere around when the rent is due. How long the Reds continue the experiment is directly related to their won/loss record. Win—and the Billy Express rolls on and patience abides. Struggle—and the real pressure will be on Price and the front office to rethink.

So far, Billy Hamilton is the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

But not for long.

85 thoughts on “The Enigma That is Billy Hamilton

  1. Excellent summation of one BHam. With Billy I focus on two bits of evidence: K’s and pop-ups. The surest way back to AAA is an excessive number of either. Don’t look now but he hasn’t K’d in four straight and against very good pitching. Every time he pops the ball up, I cringe. Limit the K’s and easy fly balls, he is ready. If not, then AAA.

    Batting in front of JV, we can virtually eliminate W’s as a part of his game but the good news is he will see a lot of fat pitches. IMO, there has been enough progress to continue the experiment but May is a big month for young Billy. I’m crossing my fingers he can make the grade because the Reds need a productive BHam to seriously compete for a play-off slot.

    Again, great work Richard. Thank you for such a well thought out Blog Post.

    • Charlotte, very glad to see your comment leading off this section. And upon 1st blush, it appears that we and the Billy H fans will need to be the frontrunners in carrying the torch for Billy – as I definitely wish only the best for the Reds and thank them for demonstrating the courage in sticking with Billy through all this adversity, their fans who deserve a bona fide winner and resounding success but most of all for Billy – for he defines a hard worker who has a resounding willingness to refine his skills (including his ability to bunt as that drag bunt on Sunday was a beaut) demonstrated that he will do whatever he can to become what you and I envision him becoming – as visionaries others may eventually come to see the light. G-O R-E-D-S !!

      • Also, curious how he does the second time around against pitchers. This will help prove the “quick study” aspect.

      • @Charlotte, I dont listen to any baseball jargon from a man who refers to BB’s as W’s. Sorry. BTW, Hamilton is a joke. Thats an honest Reds fan for you. During his “good years” in the minors his BABIP was too high, end of discussion.

    • Have a new one from the Enquirer – Shumaker to play SS when he is finally healthy. How about that – SS not CF. By the way folks, definitely contend Billy Ham plays as decent a CF as Cozart SS. Now we are onto something.

  2. Great article, Richard.

    There’s a new post at FanGraphs on Billy Hamilton that goes along with this. It explains that players like Hamilton, with zero power threat, have a hard time making their speed play.

    Zero power = outfielders play in, infielders play in, pitchers throw strikes. These adjustments drastically narrow the odds of success to make the ability to steal bases, and create havoc more broadly, have enough value.

  3. BHam surely knows he’s underperforming, any true professional knows when they are. With that being said he has shown good confidence and poise (i.e not becoming a head case). I personally don’t buy the “if he was only in AAA he could learn to hit”. I watched Willy Mo Pena hit 30 jacks in AAA three years back and he still can’t hit major league pitching.(Glad we got Arroyo for him). So AAA for BHam would only be a confidence booster and works if his replacement at Pro level brought a greater war (free Heisey?!). Lets not forget he’s batting a majority of the time Lefty and he’s only been doing that for the last 2 years, while most of his colleagues have been batting the same side of the plate since they learned how to spell.

    • After just reading my post, my last sentence just convinced me that he needs drop the switch hitting or go back to AAA and refine it.

      And let me be the first to say Heisey will be “the next Ludwick”.

      • Understand your sentiments but CH has broken my faith one too many times. I would put more stock in Schumaker “if” it is to replace BHam as a lead-off guy. Heisey career .306 OBP with some speed, does not cry out “lead-off”.

        This shouldn’t be taken as a sign that I have lost any faith in Billy, I haven’t, but I need to practical and accept there is a small chance I may be wrong about him.

        • Love Heisey, but please Reds keep him on the bench as a PH or late inning defensive replacement – that helps to minimize exposing his inherent limitations (he is not nor will he ever be an every day ball player).

        • Charlotte – if you end up being wrong – I will be too. As it is, the month of May will be Billy’s definitive month – if the trajectory of his recent improvements continue upward, everyone should be in his camp and happy come June. If not, Billy will end up in Louisville with Schumaker in CF. Truly believe it will ultimately end up being an easy decision for the Reds – and here’s hoping its a thumbs up for Billy, not just by the Reds braintrust but also by their fans. WHO-DEY (sorry – Reds need a similar chant).

    • 100% agree with the poise observation. Have not seen any signs of losing his cool or look beaten. I’m huge on body language and I have always liked what I have seen from the young man. Good BL doesn’t make you a MLB player but it projects that he at least “acts” like he can do the job.

      • I love it how he sprints back to the dugout after being caught stealing, neither moping nor acknowledging that he was beaten nor looking at the ump or the fans as if something extraordinary or unjust has occurred. It’s about the exact opposite of BP’s reaction (or so I would imagine). And the more of that, the better.

    • Concerning Wily Mo: My Newfoundland dog is named after him (long story). When he (the player) got traded to the Sox, the dog’s name sent the wrong message here in Red Sox country. Still glad we got Bronson.

  4. As VP of Player Development Bill Bavasi said, “He’s a real quick study.” His baseball IQ is pretty high. He knows who he is and what his path is to the big leagues.”

    Billy (Reds version of Beane) – glad to see the Reds are on top of it. The Reds need more players like Billy – quick study, high baseball IQ (like my namesake) and determined to exceed his inherent limitations (like my namesake as well) since he will never, ever be a Strausberg or Trout. Billy is as sheerly determined as a cornered cat.

  5. Just wondering what would have happened to Pete if he had broken in at the same time as a Strausberg and/or Trout. Would he too have been subjected to such disdain from discenters? And if so, how that would have been a complete injustice as well as genuine huge loss to the Reds very proud history.

    • Cream rises to the top. It may have not been with the Reds but he would have with some team.

      • You mean just like Pete was with the Phillies and Expos? Over the course of his career, Pete was a tried and true winner – and so is Hammy. Time to be patient and stay the course. Glad to read that there are some level headed executives in the Reds front office.

    • I’m pretty sure Pete Rose would have been fine. I don’t know where you get this stuff from. Rose was putting up 5+ win seasons at age 24. Old school or new school, pretty much everyone was down with young Pete Rose.

      Billy Hamilton may be determined, but he’s a long way from being a young Pete Rose.

      • Al, 10 HRs and .270 average for Pete his first 2 seasons. Its great debating the issue, but please try (as I corrected myself, will you?) and post accurate stats – 5+ wins for Pete his 1st 2 seasons? Where did that come from? Pete did absolutely nothing special his 1st 2 seasons – now were there issues with a young Pete – sure there were just like Billy Ham. The better question is where are you getting your information from?

      • I’m not disagreeing that Pete got better, I just think it’s crazy to say that young Pete had issues just like Billy Hamilton.

        As a rookie, Pete hit .273 /.334 /.371. He had 40 extra base hits and scored 101 runs. He also had 55 walks and only 72 strikeouts in almost 700 plate appearances.

        Billy is hitting .221 /.253 /.279 and he’s on pace for 27 extra base hits and 68 runs scored. Also on pace for 20 walks and 128 strikeouts.

        I think your point is that Pete got better, and so maybe Billy will too. I just don’t see them as being anything like each other.

        • Another difference between Pete and Billy are their minor league performances the year before they broke in:

          Pete: .330/.431/.500 (age 21)
          Billy: .256/.308/.343 (age 22)

          It’s a disservice to both players to compare Billy Hamilton to Pete Rose. At least based on the early parts of their careers, Hamilton is nowhere near the player that Rose was.

          Saw someone compare Hamilton to Willie Mays. Here is Mays’ minor league season before joining the Giants:

          Mays: .477/.524/.799 (age 20)

        • Catch the game last night? So what am I basing the comparison to Pete Rose on? Well, the excitement they bring every day to the field, their exuberance, determination, their quest to be the best – albeit with limited ability, and being GAME CHANGERS. For those who don’t know this little known fact about Pete – he was, according to his manager, the 2ND best player on his Western Hills High school baseball team back in the late 50s. The best – Eddie Brinkman who went on to play SS for the Detroit Tigers (must have been 1 heck of a team – 2 future major leaguers). Check out Pete’s first 2 ML seasons – as it was a great find as far as pete’s last minor league season (.330) but did the “squat spark plug” find himself immediately in his first 2 ML seasons? No – so give this kid a chance to grow – he might very well surprise you. And if he does, the comparison to Pete may very well be valid. By the way both players are bona fide WINNERS.

        • Hmm. Billy Hamilton the “winner” played for a Louisville Bats team that went 69-75 last year. In 2012, his Pensacola team was 68-70 and, well, his 2014 Cincinnati Reds are still on the frowning side of the scoreboard. Yes, it’s ridiculous to put those records at his feet. Just like it’s ridiculous to call him a “winner” based on really nothing.

        • Billy won 2 games single handedly in April (one against a division rival) – the first month of his rookie season. So on that alone he is a winner. He can’t help it if Homer Bailey, (a pitcher the Reds are greatly depending on has stunk) is pitching like batting practice for the other team and can’t hold even a substantial lead (in one game provided an early 4-0 lead only surrender it completely almost immediately and to ultimately surrender 5 runs in 5 innings) – and that the 2 highly paid stars (Votto and Bruce) have done very little to help their team. Let’s just hope the trio can get things straightened out and begin producing.

  6. The “No Better Option” reason is the only thing I keep leaning on. I just couldn’t trust a hitter as undisciplined as Frazier or Phillips to bat leadoff when there’s no upside of speed once they get on base. And that’s really it, as you say. If Ludwick was struggling I would consider starting Heisey and having him lead off, but Ludwick is having a very good year so far and I’d hate to lose his bat. Start Heisey in CF and you’re just sitting Hamilton on the bench – he’s not going to get any better there. I think in a perfect world I would send Billy to Louisville for a month or two and let Heisey man CF and batting leadoff. But I think Walt is so all-in at this point that he’ll probably give Billy at least until the All Star break unless his OBP nosedives somewhere close to .200, which is entirely possible.

    • Speed is the last thing you need from a leadoff hitter. He hits directly in front of your power guys. Where you need speed guys is in front of the guys who can’t hit for power, where the speed guys can take those extra bases because of their own skills, not the hitters skills.

      That is what I have never understood about the idea of having speed at the top of the lineup. It simply doesn’t make as much of a difference there as it does further down in the lineup.

      • Depends on how you look at it. Technically your 2-3 guys aren’t necessarily your “power” guys. They’re you’re best contact hitters. When Billy gets on base he’s pretty much on 2nd, which means any single from Votto or BP will probably score him. We shouldn’t be expecting either of those guys to put up monster HR numbers.

      • I see your point, Doug, but will point out that even heavy-duty power guys don’t have more than 40 or 50 hits in a season guaranteed to score a runner from first (unless he’s enormously fast). I expect that speed helps everywhere.

    • Doug I couldn’t agree more, and I have no clue how “speed at the top” became the conventional wisdom. The other thing to add to your argument is that making an out on the bases means a lot more with your sluggers at the plate.

      Votto is slugging .471, if you make an out getting caught going from first to second, there’s a decent chance he’s going to get an extra base hit afterwards and you’ll have missed a scoring chance. There’s a lot less risk running in front of Pena or Cozart.

      • Well I think we can all agree making an out on the base paths is always a bad thing.

        By this logic you either completely disregard speed in lineup construction or you put it somewhere around the 6 hole? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Putting your fastest guy on base in front of your worst hitters means he’s going to score less runs. Yes, it probably means those bad hitters will have more RBI’s than they would otherwise, but overall you’d be squandering your best base runner on a lot of SO’s and weak outs.

        • No, it doesn’t actually mean he’s going to score less runs, that’s the point. Consider the career numbers of Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart.

          Bruce: .256/.331/.480
          Cozart: .246/.281/.383

          There really isn’t a very big difference in batting average. That means that if Billy Hamilton is on first, and steals second or third, he is going to score about the same number of times because Bruce and Cozart historically get about the same number of hits per AB.

          The difference is in walks (which don’t knock in the runner either way), and power. If Hamilton steals second and Bruce homers, the stolen base didn’t do any good. It could have been Sean Casey on base and he’d have scored. If Cozart singles, the stolen base can do a lot of good.

          The quesiton is this: how many RBI does Bruce lose by having a station to station hitter in front of him compared to Hamilton, and how many RBI does Cozart gain by having Hamilton instead of a station to station guy.

          Here’s some more discussion of speed in the lineup: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/3/17/795946/optimizing-your-lineup-by.

          The numbers generally say speed is most valuable in front of singles hitters.

        • I get that – assuming your “singles hitters” actually hit for average. If you’re talking about batting him in front of Cozart because Cozart hits proportionately more singles than Votto, that seems to be ignoring the fact that Cozart also just gets himself out a lot more than Votto. Factor in a dead out for the pitcher and you’re talking about a lot of wasted BHam trips to the basepaths. I’m not an expert on lineup construction, though. I imagine the numbers are much more weighted towards OBP than speed, which is a hard thing to quantify. It seems logical to me, though, that Billy Hamilton would score more runs batting ahead of Votto than he would ahead of Cozart. Flip the equation and put, say Frazier at 1 and Hamilton at 7. Tally up the number of runs they would score together and I’d be willing to bet it’s fewer than we’d have in the current configuration. Getting VERY hypothetical now, though. And like I said, I’m not an expert.

        • You’re right that it’s tough to quantify, but people with bigger computers that mine have done it, and say speed is best used in front of high contact singles hitters.

          It seems like you’re kind of looking at it from a perspective of how many runs Hamilton will score, rather than the team (except in your very last example, and there’s where we disagree).

          I think the point is that yes, Hamilton would score fewer runs hitting in front of the #7 hitter than in front of Votto. But that because of Votto’s power, pretty much anyone who gets on base in front of him is going to score a lot of runs, so the dropoff between Hamilton and Frazier say, wouldn’t be that much for the team.

          The guy hitting in front of Pena or Cozart would probably score a lot more if they could get themselves to second or third, because those guys hit for a lot less power.

        • You said it right there – “HIGH CONTACT singles hitters.” Unfortunately we don’t really have any of those on this team.

        • “Timothy Raines (born September 16, 1959), nicknamed “Rock”,[1] is an American professional baseball coach and former player. He played as a left fielder in Major League Baseball for six teams from 1979 to 2002 and was best known for his 13 seasons with the Montreal Expos. He is regarded as one of the best leadoff hitters and baserunners in baseball history.”

          btw, that’s Vince – not Vice

  7. I also wonder how much control Walt has over mandating Price bat Hamilton leadoff. I’ve often wondered about exactly how much power Price would/does have in the organization. Technically he can fill in his lineup card however he pleases. And certainly Dusty did whatever he wanted regardless of what Walt thought or even said in the media. But Dusty was fired. And Price is a rookie manager with incredibly high expectations – By all accounts, just about everyone expects him to come in his first year and go on a deep playoff run. If he fails at that, his tenure could be very short. And if he finds himself out of a job in 2 years he’ll likely never get another shot at a major league managing gig. So if Walt, who has Big Bob’s ear, says “You have to bat Hamilton leadoff until I say otherwise” I wouldn’t be surprised if Price just shuts his mouth and nods whether he likes it or not.

  8. As far as measuring the “Hamilton Effect” in isolation, the closest thing I can imagine is look at the percentage of times he scores once reaching base. I’m sure he does and will continue to have some effect on pitches Votto sees, but I would imagine that the cumulative impact this would have on any meaningful statistics (let alone actual runs scored) would be pretty negligible. So looking at Hamilton on the base paths, so far this season he has scored 42% of the time he’s reached base. In AAA last year he scored in 44% of his trips. In his record breaking SB year of 2012 he scored in 45% of his trips. For comparison, over his entire career Drew Stubbs has scored exactly 44% of the time he’s reached base.

    And this, more than anything else, is what causes me the most concern about Billy Hamilton. Even if he can find a way to eventually get his OBP north of .300 – even into the .330 range, which I think is probably a best case scenario for him even in the long term – he’s still only a marginal improvement over a guy like Stubbs who we all know (and the numbers support) is squarely a league average player. Basically, even in a near perfect world Billy Hamilton is not the savior of the Cincinnati Redlegs. Maybe he’ll drive up attendance a bit and give us a little more cash to play with, but the whole sideshow is starting to remind me of Aroldis Chapman.

    • There’s nothing wrong with a league average player that you’re paying league minimum.

      Also, remember that when Stubbs put up an OBP of .330 he was a 3.5 win player. The problem with Stubbs was that his OBP went in the tank, along with his value. It’s going to be the same with Hamilton.

      If Hamilton can get on base at a .330 clip, he will be an above average player.

      • Well Stubbs also has some power in his bat. In 2010, the year you’re talking about when he put up a 3.2 WAR (the only year it was ever higher than 2) he had a SLG of .444. Hamilton is never going to come close to that in the majors.

        I think Hamilton can and will eventually be an above average player, but only a slightly above average one. And if he’s cheap then that’s perfectly fine. But I would hate to see a scenario where we start overpaying him ala Chapman for a “Wow” stat like SB’s that doesn’t really amount to much at the end of the day. And I would hate to be content with a leadoff guy who’s just slightly above average at the expense of trying to develop one who might be much more than that. The clock’s ticking on the Joey Votto era. Imagine what having a truly great leadoff hitter would mean to this team.

        • We had a truly great leadoff hitter last year. It was really nice, but it didn’t put us in the playoffs.

        • “2 words – Vince Coleman – ask the Cards about him – they loved him.”

          Yes, Vince had a solid 13 year career. In his first year he won the ROY. He stole over 100 bases due in part to an OBP of @.340 in his first three seasons. After that, he never touched 100 SB’s again. I agree that VC is a better comp than Tim Raines or Rickey Henderson, but I don’t see Billy turning in ROY type of numbers this season. Also, if you look at the arc of Coleman’s career, he began to plummet drastically after his few few seasons. When you depend on speed, you can have a shorter bright spot career. As I remember it, Coleman played all three outfield positions as well. I could be wrong on that one, but I think that was the case.

          St. Louis loves him, true enough. But ask if the Mets, Royals, Tigers, Reds (heck, I forgot he was on our team); the teams he played the second half of his career, feel the same way.

        • And just for the fun of it, over Coleman’s first 6 seasons with the Cards (basically when he was good) he scored 46% of the time he was on base and sported a hefty .325 OBP. If Billy can get up into that kind of territory I’d be happy.

        • Vince Coleman earned 11.6 WAR his entire career (FanGraphs). Mike Trout earned 10.4 last year. Shin-Soo Choo earned 5.2 WAR last year. The players who profile like Coleman – zero power, meh walk rate – they just don’t add that much value, even with 100+ SB in a season.

        • Well Coleman also had a problem staying healthy and his OBP was kind of all over the place, even in those early years. When he got on base at anything over .320 he consistently put up 3.0+ WAR. Billy doesn’t have any injury history that I’m aware of and is also coming into the league a year earlier than Coleman, which means knock on wood he can have some more healthy seasons. So again, the big question is if he can consistently get his OBP north of .320. If he can and he can keep it there and he can stay healthy, he could be somewhere just shy of Jay Bruce in the WAR category. There are a lot of if’s in there, but you either think Hamilton can become a .320 OBP hitter consistently or you don’t. If he can’t do it, he doesn’t belong on a contending roster at all.Should we expect Hamilton to be worth very much after he hits 30? Probably not. But put up 4 or 5 3.0+ WAR seasons, maybe threaten or even break the SB record? Could be a nice little career there.

        • I just realized how all over the place I am in this thread. This is what the Hamilton Enigma does to people! ARRRRGH!

        • Eric,

          According to both BR and FG, Coleman had exactly 1 season worth 3+ WAR in his career. No idea where you’re getting your data.

          On the plus side, Coleman’s defense was probably responsible for this as it was consistently in the negative column. The Reds would be happy if Hamilton put up 1.5 oWAR for 4-5 years. His defense doesn’t seem spectacular, but well above average. You’d think Hamilton would consistently be in the 2-4 range if he matched Coleman’s offensive production.

        • CP, I was looking at BR but you’re right I misread it. I should have said he put up ~3 WAR in those seasons, the other two being 2.4 and 2.8.

      • Stubbs also had 22 HR’s and 77 RBI’s that year – batting leadoff. If Billy Hamilton ever hits 5 HR’s in a major league season I’ll be shocked.

    • Not the savior, Eric, but a valuable piece of the puzzle. If he’s scoring 100+ runs a year and playing gold glove defense, he’s an above average asset.

  9. I hope Billy can turn it around soon. The main problems I have with his game right now are the pop-ups, the times caught stealing, and how few pitches he sees. Those all seem like things he can improve.

    His swing looks like it’s developed a loop that it didn’t have last year, and I think that accounts for the huge drop in his line drive rate, and the huge increase in his fly ball rate. If they can get him to flatten his swing out, I think he’ll get back to where he was.

    He can’t keep getting caught stealing, and I think this is just a matter of picking better spots. Every time he gets on base now he feels like he has to run, and that plays into the other team’s hands.

    Pitchers are throwing him strikes, but not at an alarmingly high rate. Right around 50%. Only Cozart sees fewer pitches per plate appearance than Hamilton right now, and that’s bad company to keep. As a leadoff hitter, seeing pitches is part of your job. Especially if you aren’t hitting.

    I’m still a fan, and I don’t really care where he hits. If I were coaching him, those are the three things I would try to work on.

    • Very good observations. The caught stealing will diminish with time and a better strategy ie quit running on the first pitch every time. Pitch selection will iron itself with time to, I believe.

      That leaves us with the darn pop-ups and here we are 100% simpatico.

      Normally I don’t go this deep in the weeds but here goes: One of the disappointments I have is the lack of infield hits and to a lesser degree bunt hits. My take is that until Billy gets the line drive rate up, he will not get those hits. He has to get the infielders to back up to get those singles off slow rollers, etc. If he is not driving the ball through the infield by line drives and harder hit ground ball, it isn’t going to happen. The only way to do that is as you say, “flatten out his swing”. Probably a lot easier said then done.

  10. I see Vince Coleman as a good comp for Billy Hamilton and I also see Dee Gordon as a good comp for Hamilton. Hamilton has the potential to be an above-average player, especially when you factor in his defense and his speed on the bases. The question is rather or not he is that player now. Gordon and Coleman had nothing left to really prove at AAA prior to their respective promotions. That’s not the case with Hamilton. The issue the Reds have is that there isn’t a plan B. I think the plan B was probably Skip Schumaker but he got hurt.

    • That’s it in a nutshell. Our options are limited. The way I see it, the conventional wisdom says we should do one of three things with Billy Hamilton:

      1. Hit him leadoff for a team competing for the playoffs.
      2. Hit him in the 9th (or 8th) spot in the order.
      3. Hit him at AAA.

      One of these options is not like the other two. In fact, it’s diametrically opposed to the other two. Unfortunately, plan B is non-existent in my mind. If ‘Skip Schumaker’ is the answer at leadoff, we really need to ask another question. I think we are going to have to ride the Billy train until this season until it gets us to where we are going, or until it jumps the tracks.

      • Reds seem to be all in on the guy. If he doesn’t come through, good bye playoffs.

        Actually I rate Schu above Stubbs, so you never know. I don’t think Stubbs understands baseball that well and will just float around for another year or two before being dispatched permanently to the minor leagues. He is unable to make the necessary adjustments to realize any degree of sustained success. I highly doubt he even enjoys the game. It’s a job and pays the bills.

        • Charlotte – great minds do think a lot alike. You echoed my sentiments about Stubbs very well – as he looks completely bored playing baseball – its simply a job to him to pay his bills. Now for Billy it’s different as his baseball IQ is very high (he’s completely into it and an ardent student of the game) – Stubbs is low and thus constantly failed in his efforts to improve (spent years frustrated by Stubbs’ inability to get more out of himself and his natural talent – unlike Billy who actually does). Beginning to seem like Hamilton is expanding his repertoire daily. Sunday the drag bunt to perfection, Tuesday – well Tuesday night Billy was being Billy. Hammy is a catalyst who is consistently honing his skills and improving as a player in the process. And after the opening series against the Cards – Subbs who very well may have laid down – Billy again being Billy responds by hitting .282 since that opening series with a .333 BA in his last 10 games. Thus you can see Billy is constantly learning new ways to improve and win ballgames. GO REDS – you have a diamond in the rough

        • Have you ever met or talked to Drew Stubbs about baseball? If not, I don’t it’s particularly wise to pretend to know what his motivation level is.

        • This the words “think” and “highly doubt” coach that. I don’t know what’s in his head and do not desire to. These are my impressions not necessarily reality..

    • The only thing is, if Vince Coleman is the best comp for Hamilton, Coleman wasn’t really all that good. He had one season with 3+ WAR in his career. Although, Coleman wasn’t all that good at the defensive side of ball, which is interesting.

      I kind of expect the people that are most pro-Hamilton to come back and say that WAR doesn’t give enough value to speedsters. Fangraphs has tried to do it as much as possible with UBR and wSB. I’m open to data suggesting it doesn’t work, but the numbers look pretty good to me. Hamilton is 22nd in baseball, but well behind guys that have gotten on base substantially more in 2014, Dee Gordon, for example, has Hamilton doubled in value @ 2.5 v. 1.2.

        • Raines is really unlikely to be a comparison for Hamilton because of the power numbers. Raines hit 170 home runs and should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s just wildly over-predicting a Hall of Fame level career for a guy who couldn’t hit in AAA. I hope Hamilton is a Hall of Famer. But you guys aren’t convincing anyone with those unrealistic comps.

  11. I appreciate the Vince Coleman comparison ..to a point. I never recall Coleman scoring on a pop-up to short or going from first to third on a ground out to the pitcher, and this is within 25 days of the start of his first season. Obviously he needs to have these kind of games on a much more consistent basis for the legend to take root

    I understand the position I have taken on BHam is way out of the mainstream but I really like that too. IMO; he will be a one of kind or at minimum, first of his kind.

    • Coleman did put up the kind of numbers to win ROY. Unless some switch turns on, I don’t see that with Billy. True enough, it’s not really a perfect comparison as far as total skill set goes. Even the game has changed some. I do have your opinion that we have to put him in and let him work, but I don’t share your level of excitement quite yet. I really, really hope you are correct.

      • Wasn’t suggesting that Billy is anywhere near the player Vince Coleman was but he can do things I did not see Coleman do or anyone else for that matter. I’d say come on in the water’s warm but I’d be lying to you.

    • Possibly a diamond in the rough? And I hope you agree in time with my assessment that we need to move on from the Vince Coleman comparison as I believe that will eventually do Billy an injustice – I’m actually shooting for a solid comparison to Tim Raines. Btw, hope you enjoyed the game Tuesday night – another Billy Hamilton show – 2 so far this month and as far as Billy’s trajectory – its pointing up – as he settles in as a major leaguer.

      • In time, it is my position that there really won’t be anyone to compare to him. He is just too different. I would venture that in the end he could very well be more valuable than Vince or Tim but we have a longgggggg way to go.

  12. For some weird reason this whole discussion had me looking up Barry Larkin’s stats. It’s so easy to forget how good he was for so long. Favorite anomaly: He won the MVP in 1995 with an OPS+ of 134 and came in TWELTH in voting the next year with an OPS+ of 155. He also set career records for HR’s and RBI’s that year with 33. It was basically the best season of his career pretty much across the board except for BA where he ended up just shy of .300. But we were firmly into the steroid era at that point and the MVP went to Ken “Household Name” Caminiti and his 40 HR’s and 174 OPS+

  13. I’ve always thought BHam was nothing more than Juan Pierre, and when I look at Pierre’s career numbers that is probably optimistic. For his career Pierre slashed .295/.343/.361, with a wRC+ of 85. And right now, that slash line looks optimistic for BHam. Juan’s first full year he slashed .327/.378/.415 with 46SB. That totaled a wRC+ of 91. We’d all be doing backflips if BHam put up those numbers, but at the end of the day even those numbers aren’t that good. It’s still below league average. When you’re hoping your star prospect can be as good as Juan Pierre…

      • Pierre played from 2000 to 2013. MLB did survey testing in 2003, implemented a weak testing program in 2004, strengthened it in 2005, First player is caught in 2005. 2006 the penalties are increased again to the 50, 100, life. At least half his career is not in the steroid era.

    • Pierre put up that slash-line at the height of the PED era. That’s why his wRC+ wasn’t above league average. Those same numbers now would produce a much better wRC+.

      Juan Pierre may be a decent comp for Hamilton. However, I think Hamilton is a better defender than Pierre ever was. Offensively, I think the comp is pretty solid. I hope Hamilton will be a guy who can hit .300 at some point and have an OBP > .340. My projections for him for this year weren’t nearly that good though.

      • And while we haven’t really seen it yet for the Reds, all the home team announcers say that Hamilton has an excellent arm. If true, that certainly sets him apart from Juan Pierre, too.

        • I wouldn’t say excellent or really even a plus arm but, he has a good arm and his throwing is accurate.

        • I wasn’t really commenting on his defense. Pierre had a weak arm, no doubt about it, and I expect Hamilton’s defense to rate better than Pierre’s. I thought Hamilton was considered to have a so-so arm for a SS; so, other than a slightly better arm, I wouldn’t expect much difference otherwise. But I could be completely wrong on his arm, and Pierre could have been a poor defender for reasons beyond just his arm. It wasn’t really my point.

          And my reply above was intended for LWBLOGGER. I now realize which link to click to reply the right post. :)

    • Raines actually hit double digit home runs in several seasons. Too much power to compare to Hamilton.

  14. By the way, to answer your question – a lot closer to the 2nd coming of Tim Raines than Usain Bolt if the Reds continue to give Billy a chance and he’s not injured – count on it.

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