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 Face it, if Billy Hamilton didn’t fit the outdated stereotype of the havoc-creating, oh-so-fast center fielder, you’d never ever ever think of him as a lead off hitter.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.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.