I want to show you something:
That is the National League average slash line for all hitters who aren’t pitchers.
Now I want to show you something else:
What’s that look like to you? Pretty good, huh? Right around league average OBP, very solid power. Sure, this player could take a few more walks, but no one is complaining about him player in the lineup, especially when I tell you he’s a dynamite center fielder and the greatest base running force MLB has seen in years.
Of course, you know who I’m talking about already. At least you do if you’re paying any attention. I’m talking about Billy Hamilton.
But wait a minute, you say. Hamilton is hitting .260/.299/.370 (yesterday’s numbers). You are correct, I say. I have merely taken out his first three games. I do this for two reasons.
1. Hamilton has said publicly that he was a disaster during that first series. He says he didn’t sleep and was constantly in fear of being sent down. Call it butterflies, but it’s safe to say he wasn’t at his best. That’s not really the most interesting of my two reasons, though.
2. Narrative. Let me explain.
So much of how we talk about baseball is guided by the narrative numbers provide for us. The current narrative for Billy Hamilton is that he really struggled initially, but is starting to come to life and maybe – maybe – he’ll get it together enough to play.
But imagine something. Imagine that Hamilton’s 0-12 (with 1 BB) to start the season had just happened over his last three games. What’s the narrative then? It’s probably that he started great and just hit a bump the road. Sure, we’d like him to walk more, but we’re feeling pretty good about him.
Both are right. Both are right because these kinds of things happen to all baseball players, but they happen, more or less, at random. A hot start can end as a “really good season where he cooled off at the end” and a cold start can end as “a decent season he managed to salvage with good second half.” This can be the story for two players with the exact same numbers.
I’m not telling you to ignore Billy Hamilton’s first three games. I certainly won’t ignore them, but I do think it’s a good idea to look at the context they provided for us. Though it has cooled lately, there was a lot of talk early about Hamilton being overmatched. But no one would ever call the the player Hamilton has been since those first three games overmatched. With Hamilton’s speed and defense, they might call him an all-star.
As much as we might want to, we haven’t seen nearly enough of Hamilton to know who he is yet. My money is right where it has been for some time: average major leaguer with a high ceiling and a low floor. I don’t know who he’ll be. I might not even know at the end of this season, but it’s important we all acknowledge that the sample is still small. Sit back. Watch a game. See what happens. I’m always being told, “that’s why they play the games.” Let ‘em play.