2016 Reds

The Case for Continuing Patience with Billy Hamilton

Through 2,220 innings, 1,087 plate appearances and 279 games played, there is enough information to formulate a trio of proclamations about Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds center fielder:

*Billy Hamilton is a sublime defender.

*Billy Hamilton is an elite, perceptive base runner.

*Billy Hamilton is one of the worst hitters in the major leagues.

In an abstract sense, it’s quite striking that a player with so little time in the big leagues can offer two clear strengths and one explicit weakness. Let’s examine the three proclamations separately:

Billy Hamilton is a sublime defender

Hamilton, who began his pro career with the Reds as an 18-year-old after Cincinnati took him in the second round of the 2009 draft, spurned an offer to play football and baseball at Mississippi State in favor of taking up pro baseball. (Can you imagine Hamilton as a punt returner? Yeesh.) Through his first four minor league campaigns, Hamilton primarily played shortstop. However, the Reds officially moved to their touted prospect to center field in the 2012 Arizona Fall League.

“There are a lot of reasons,” former Reds vice president of scouting and player development Bill Bavasi told MLB.com in October 2012, speaking to Hamilton’s position change. “We have [Zack] Cozart. We have Didi [Gregorius]. If you watch Hamilton’s style of play, it’s a pounding style of play. It would be an easier position for his body to take along with the base stealing. Everything seems to work better.”

While Billy Hamilton the Shortstop may have been blocked by Cozart and Gregorious (now the Yankees shortstop), errors were a major issue anyway. Hamilton tallied 39 fielding miscues in 132 games at Low-A Dayton in 2011 and added 31 errors in 125 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola in 2012. And with Brandon Phillips entrenched at second base, Hamilton  — who played 55 games at second base in rookie ball in 2010 — wasn’t going to play there either.

Hamilton became a full-time center fielder during his lone season at Triple-A Louisville in 2013, and he’s been nothing short of sensational since taking over the same position for the Reds to begin the 2014 campaign. Among 128 qualified players from 2014-15, Hamilton ranks second to only shortstop Andrelton Simmons in Defensive Runs Above Average and is second to only Jason Heyward (primarily a right fielder) in Ultimate Zone Rating.

For those who prefer traditional metrics, over that same span (2,175 innings), Hamilton has a fielding percentage of .997 and has registered just two errors. Both of those marks are tied for the third-best in all of baseball over that period.

At different times, Hamilton has flashed his shortstop’s arm, his ability to simply go get a ball, and his natural athleticism, as the man can get up for someone generously listed at 6-0.

Billy Hamilton is an elite, perceptive base runner

From 2014-15, Hamilton topped all of baseball in BsR, Fangraphs’ all-encompassing base running statistic. In 2015, Hamilton turned in one of the best BsR seasons of all-time, and could have had a chance at the best single-season BsR in the history of the sport had he played closer to a full season and not been limited to 114 contests because of a shoulder injury.

As far as stealing bases, Hamilton showed profound improvement last summer, raising his successful base stealing rate from 71 percent in 2014 — which was below the league average of 73 percent — in 79 attempts to 88 percent in 65 attempts in 2015.

“It’s not that his speed is any better,” Reds manager Bryan Price said last April. He’s making better decisions on when to go and taken a lot of intelligence information we have and put it to work for him, being able to shut it down on a good slide-step. Most of the league is going to make a pretty good effort to slow him down by being quicker to the plate.”

Hamilton is simply an astute base runner. He swiped third base 16 times in 2015 (most in the majors) without getting caught, and occasionally his prowess on the base paths supplied the Reds with an easy run. Oh, and Hamilton has 126 stolen bases in 279 career games.

Billy Hamilton is one of the worst hitters in the major leagues

Level Plate Appearances Slash
Minors (Career) 2,272 .280/.351/.377
Triple-A (2013) 547 .256/.308/.343
Majors (2014-15) 1,087 .242/.287/.330

There’s no point in sugarcoating it: since he became a starter for the Reds in 2014, Hamilton has been one of the game’s worst hitters. Hamilton’s wRC+ of 67 puts him 114th among 117 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances over the past two seasons. After slashing .250/.292/.355 as a rookie, Hamilton regressed in 2015, slashing .226/.274/.289. Of the 176 hitters to accumulate at least 450 plate appearances in 2015, Hamilton’s wRC+ of 52 was the second-worst in all of baseball. Hamilton’s on-base percentage of .274 ranked 173rd out of 176 players with at least 450 plate appearances.

In order for Hamilton to improve as a hitter, he must first grasp his limitations. As his Hamilton’s frame (6-0, 160 pounds soaking wet) would indicate, he has trouble consistently hitting the ball hard.

Out of 124 qualified players from 2014-15, Hamilton ranked 122nd, only ahead of Ben Revere and Dee Gordon in FanGraphs’ measure of how often batters make hard contact. Funnel the year down to 2015 and switch the statistic to exit velocity, and things don’t get much rosier for Hamilton, who ranked dead last in average exit velocity among 221 players with at least 190 at-bats. (Hat tip to Baseball Savant.)

Hard Hit % (2014-15) Exit Velocity (2015) wRC+ (2014-15)
Revere 17.1 82.8 mph 95
Gordon 17.5 83.9 mph 107
Hamilton 20.0 82.3 mph 67

But how can it be that in terms of wRC+, Revere — who was one spot above Hamilton in the exit velocity rankings — hovers around league average and Gordon — who was just four spots above Revere — is above-average? The answer is fly ball and ground ball rate. Look at Revere, Gordon, and Hamilton’s fly ball (FB%), ground ball (GB%), and infield pop-up rates (IFFB%), as well as their batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from the same 2014-15 period.

Revere 16.6 59.8 3.4 .334
Gordon 18.9 59.7 5.5 .365
Hamilton 37.6 42.0 10.0 .287

Hamilton doesn’t need to look far for his blueprint to becoming a league average hitter. Revere and Gordon keep the ball out of the air and employ their legs to run out batted balls that average runners are thrown out on. Want more proof? Gordon led the majors with 57 infield hits last season. Second? Revere, with 41. Hamilton was way down the list with 28, only one ahead of Starlin Castro. Hamilton would torch Castro in a foot race, but Castro’s ground ball rate in 2015 (54.1 percent) was 12 percent higher than Hamilton’s.

Beyond improving on his ground ball rate, there is hope for Hamilton. For one, regardless of where his batted balls land, Hamilton should be due for some better luck. Hamilton’s BABIP crashed from .304 in 2014 (when his ground ball rate was worse (41.5 percent) than it was in 2015) to .264 in 2015. League average BABIP was .299 in 2015.

Hamilton also took more free passes last season, upping his walk rate from 5.6 percent to 6.5 percent. He also cut down on his strikeouts, slashing his K rate from 19.1 percent in 2014 to 16.5 percent in 2015. Hamilton could also refine his not-so-great bunting skills, but it’s worth noting that Hamilton’s 12 bunt hits in 2015 were just four behind Gordon’s MLB-best 16 bunt hits.

The Case for Continuing Patience

As early as midway through the 2014 season, it was plain to see that Hamilton would’ve been better served spending more time at Triple-A. Alas, the Reds were seemingly desperate to not only thrust Hamilton into a starting role (with no viable backup behind him), but also into the No. 1 spot in the lineup, a hell of a lot of pressure for a rookie to bear for a team that was a contender in the first half of the season. (The Reds were 51-44 and a game and a half out of first at the 2014 All-Star Break.) Hamilton was relied upon to be the team’s table-setter despite clearly being unready and unfit for the role.

Quick aside: A little more than a week after I wrote that Hamilton needed a break from the leadoff spot last May, the Reds removed Hamilton from his perch atop the lineup. In 2015, Hamilton actually logged more plate appearances batting ninth (226) than he did batting first (208) after 602 of his 611 plate appearances in 2014 came from the leadoff position. In 2015, Hamilton was bad in the leadoff spot (.230/.293/.342), but he was worse batting ninth (.223/.264/.248). I have no idea where the proper place in the lineup is to bat Hamilton.)

Again, this is what we know. Hamilton is a sublime defender, an elite, perceptive base runner, and is one of the worst hitters in the major leagues.

This is where it’s important to remember that Hamilton won’t turn 26 until September and is entering just his third full season in the majors. Hamilton need not look far to notice that a high draft pick like himself can take off as a hitter in his third full season in the big leagues, as Jay Bruce (1st round, 2005), Brandon Phillips (2nd round, 1999), and Joey Votto (2nd round, 2002) all achieved career-best slash lines and wRC+ totals in their third full turns as major leaguers.

So, it’s important for Hamilton to play every day so the Reds can continue their evaluation of their unique talent. And if Hamilton displays improvement as a hitter, the Reds would be wise to secure a team-friendly extension with Hamilton sooner rather than later. After the trades of Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman plus a handful of smaller moves, our own Steve Mancuso projects the Reds to be sitting on about a $30 million budget surplus. The Reds appear to be sitting out free agency, so locking up one of their own like Hamilton (who has already racked up 6.1 fWAR in 279 career games despite his struggles at the dish) through his arbitration years — which begin after the 2016 season — seems like a worthwhile endeavor.

89 thoughts on “The Case for Continuing Patience with Billy Hamilton

  1. It used to be easy to understand baseball stats. No more. I have no idea what all those acronyms mean and honestly don’t care. I have eyes. I can see him scoring from 1st base, chasing down fly balls and driving pitchers nuts when he is on first. Hit the weight room, keep ball on the ground and practice bunting 100 pitches a day.

    • Presumably you are a baseball fan if you are on a site like this commenting. Why not take the time to learn those stats? They can bring a whole new level of appreciation to the game.

    • In the time you took to type out your reply, you could have researched the statistics to obtain a brief understanding.

    • Some of us are interested in advanced baseball statistics and some are not. So be it. But all of us have the privilege, apparently, to comment on this site as long as it is centered on the Reds.

      • No one was implying he doesn’t have the privilege to comment.

        All I attempted to state was that I have a larger appreciation for the game with stats than I did without. He, by his own admission, doesn’t understand them. I was simply saying he might have a similar experience to mine if he took the time to learn about them.

        Just trying to help out another baseball fan!

      • It’s more than fine to not understand. Everyone has to obtain knowledge to understand anything in this world. It is also fine to not care, but I think it’s disrespectful to the writer to verbalize that you don’t care about what a large part of his thoughts and research show.

  2. Thanks, Grant. Persuasive argument, though I need no persuading. An aside to Gary: I’m not so certain that lack of strength is BH’s problem. It looks more like flawed approach, to me. Power wouldn’t be his game, and he wouldn’t be able to run that fast if he were weak in the core. Keep it on the ground. Take more pitches. Bat lower in the order.

    • Respectfully, we know taking more pitches isn’t going to lead to more walks, until he alters his approach to be more effective at doing some type of damage. Pitchers simply aren’t going to nibble the corners and waste pitches on him until they, in some capacity, fear him. If he starts hitting grounders and tries to push/pull ball down the lines (think Edgar Renteria) then we have something.

      • Good point, Streamer88. Perhaps they’d begin to respect him enough to stop throwing strikes if he did put the ball on the ground more often, but they obviously don’t fear him now, until he gets on base.

  3. The comparisons to Gordon and Revere are encouraging and offer an obvious track to improvement. If Hamilton was even league average as a hitter he’d be an allstar as a player. Ground balls and bunting Billy. I remain optimistic on his future. I also think the Reds should extend him now. It’s a low cost gamble and since teams now trade contracts as much as players why not have a favorable one with Hamilton. I’m also hopeful that low expectations for 2016 will give Hamilton room to improve without the glare and pressure of a contending team’s spotlight. Run Billy run – right after you reach first!

    • I agree 100% with this. Toss out an extension now. A low-risk, high-upside gamble! Hamilton is really, really close to being a perennial 3-3.5 WAR player.

  4. I agree that further evaluation is necessary. He needs to be on the Willie Mays Hayes regiment to focus on ground balls. I would also like to see the Reds listen to Hamilton when he asks to give up switch hitting. I think it would do wonders for exit velocity/hard hit balls if he only hit from the right side.

    But if there’s a year to evaluate, 2016 is it. Honestly, I’d do the evaluation in AAA until he has proven he can hit there, but I don’t expect the Reds would do that. It would save them service time, meaning if Hamilton can put it together they may add an extra year of control. Plus it might help him ease back into things after shoulder surgery this off season.

    What I would like to see for 2016: evaluate the players on the roster and who might be useful and productive moving forward. Get the young guys consistent playing time (Rodriguez, Duvall, Schebler, Cave, Peraza, etc) whether with Reds or AAA (if an option). Don’t start/advance service clocks if you don’t have to because the longer control into expected competitive years, the better. Start separating the wheat and the chaff towards the end of the year.

    • You said exactly what I logged on to say. So let me ditto it. Agree 100 percent he was called up too soon. Reds are going nowhere in ’16 so lets use it to evaluate what we have. And there is no reason I know of not to have BH begin the year in Louisville. As Grant points out he fared no better batting 9th than he did batting leadoff. Let’s see if have can get his confidence back and move toward being an everyday player. Because right now, even with his other elite skills, he doesn’t look to be someone you pencil in the lineup on a regular basis..

    • I think Hamilton should have an option year left, so I’m totally down with sending him to AAA. Giving him more time to develop with less pressure is good, plus it may let us keep him for an extra year down the road when we’re good again (hopefully).

    • I totally agree with having Billy at AAA for 2016. He earned his spot in 2014, and he un-earned it in 2015. I have no idea why a player, any player should be above something he has not earned. OK, he has half earned it or two thirds earned it with his performance, but my point remains.

      He needs to get confidence. I think one of the worst things for Billy might be GABP. He had a few balls go out in 2014 and that was fun, then everything started going up in the air. Maybe if he played at Petco, his bad habit would not have developed. but it did.

      So I might not even think about AAA, but that hitting experience that Winker had this year in a park that destroys power. Might sound funny, but I might start him in AA as a rehab, and to gain confidence, and to understand that you are not a homerun hitter. then after he tears up that league, move him to AAA and have him tear up that league and have him come back to us when he has grown up as a hitter. I would also make sure that he steals only when he is 100% sure he will make it (save wear and tear, but also continue to improve his skill at stealing).

      We know that he can do the other things.

      and as for the service time, that is a very good point as well. but I want him to be a complete ballplayer

    • Honestly, I agree with you on the switch hitting. If the guy flat says he’s not comfortable doing it, then why continue to make him do it?

      • Because they have already decided he’s never going to cut it at the MLB level from the RH side of the plate that his only hope for offensive success lies with putting the ball on the ground and legging hits which makes eliminating that that step across the plate crucial???

    • With Aroldis gone, we’re down to one half of the dazzling Thunder ‘n Lightning sideshow that made the Redlegs one of the most dazzling teams in The Show. When Billy came up at the end of 2013 as the freakiest baserunning trickster, it was full-tilt show-biz. All of which adds up to zilch in the long haul of beisbol.

      The Willie Mays Hayes reference has been living in Billy’s kitchen from jump street, and my wife and I often spout “Gimme ten” when he launches yet another pop up. And these are not “homerun in a phone booth” pop ups; they’re more like wimpy humpbacks launched in the annual pre-game Sons and Daughters game.

      So he’s not likely to bulk up enough to matter unless he travels to PED-friendly clubs like Texas, Miami, St. Louis, Baltimore, Oakland, San Francisco, Yankees, Toronto, Milwaukee, etc.

      But IMHO, I’d keep him and hold him to the “Major League” remedy of put it on the ground or ‘gimme ten’. Only ONE known way will make him successful, and if he achieves it, he can be a fabulous star.

      There is already one “Sliding Billy” Hamilton in the HoF. And there’s already one Willie Mays Hayes in the movies.

      I hope that the Reds stick with him and that he pays attention to history.

  5. Very nice research. I, too, am encouraged by the comps to Gordon and Revere. Last off-season the Reds had BHam working with Delino DeShields on his bunting. Huge, huge mistake as it showed in the results. This off-season BHam has a different, much better tutor. I am looking for an improved BHam at the plate this year.
    That comment by Bill Bavasi you had at the beginning about BHam’s “pounding style of play” has continued in CF. The Reds noticed it back then, but still had no viable backup CF in 2014 and 2015. At least this year there is Cave and YorRod as capable backups when BHam gets his dings.

    • Let’s not forget the 2nd best fielding CF on the roster. The one with the minor league career 12% walk rate and minor league career .367 OBP. The one with the 12% walk rate .304 AVG and .398 OBP in AAA IL league the over the last two years. The one an 82% SB success rate and and averaged 28 SB per 500 PA at the AA and AAA levels the last few years. Meet the invisible man on the Reds roster, Tyler Holt, he’ll be 27 years old next season and has a very small sample size of 110 PA over 50 games (.216/.266/.235/.501) in the majors the last two years. I can’t imagine why a team like the Reds, who are in dire need of a leadoff hitter, and have a current CF who bats 9th, wouldn’t send their current CF to AAA to learn to hit like Tyler Holt and give Tyler Holt a real shot (half a season) in CF to see if numbers will translate in what amounts to a lost season.

      • agreed Tom

        1) see if he is the same player at the big league level

        2) allow Billy to learn how to hit again and then come back to the bigs

      • I think Holt has somehow been forgotten in this or that the Reds just don’t see him as a starting MLB OF. It’s too bad, because as you said, he’s always had a solid OBP, he plays good defense, and he can run a little.

  6. Nice article Grant. Pretty much agree and I think the Reds front office does as well. I still think that maybe he shouldn’t be a switch hitter anymore. He is hitting 241 from the right side and 220 from the left. Using the eye test, he also looks much more comfortable from the right. The numbers do not support this, if his walk rate from the right was significantly better, there would be a better chance the Reds would be ok with it. Go Reds!

  7. If Cozart and Mesoraco can come back healthy for 2016 and BHam shows some improvement at the plate, this team may actually surprise this season. They won’t make the playoffs but 70+ wins could be doable.

  8. This doesn’t pertain to BHam, but Doug Gray has a good article on Stephenson, Reed and Garrett. He says MLB Pipeline has named Robert Stephenson a Top-10 RH Pitching prospect in baseball at #7. Cody Reed and Amir Garrett made the Top-10 LH Pitching prospect list in baseball with Reed at #7 and Garrett at #9. Not exactly 3 of the Top-20 pitching prospects, but very, very close. (A Top-20 pitching list wouldn’t necessarily be a 50/50 list of RH and LH).
    Stephenson and Reed both will be in the rotation at some point in 2016. And I am looking forward to seeing Amir Garrett at the Reds Caravan next week.
    Very good work by these 3 players and all 3 are deserving of the recognition.

  9. Fantastic, Grant. I really like that you call out so plainly the importance of a players batted ball distribution.

    I have a question, though. Were you able to tease out the effect of official scorers in some way for the bunting stats? More specifically, it seems to me that a scorer will often give a player a sacrifice if he’s trying to bunt for a hit when a man is on base, but of course if the bunter reaches base it is a base hit. So I’ve always had a hard time believing bunting stats, but I’ve not been able to find a reliable way to measure such a thing without a lot of manual labor!

    Thanks again!

    • Astute observation, JDX19–the bunting stats issue had not occurred to me before.

    • Once upon a time the official scorers were supposed to make their best call whether the hitter’s primary intent was to sacrifice or reach base himself. I agree however that any more they just automatically hand out a sac in situations when a sac is possible.

  10. Often in the past few years we had nobody on this team that was battling for a job because their was nobody to challenge them.If Rodriquez is going to be on the roster then he needs to play some in center field just to see what he can do.As stated this is the year to evaluate everybody just to see who we can count on going forward.I love Billy and all he brings.Just think what could happen if he hit 250.

  11. Great article, and thanks for giving us something to discuss during this cold spell.

    To change the subject slightly, one concern this article increases for me are the potential similarities between Hamilton and Peraza. I think it is clear now that Hamilton could have used some more AAA time, but need pushed him into the MLB lineup too quickly. I fear Peraza could end up in the situation, although he at least has one full AAA season behind him.

  12. Nice statistical analysis. Could you isolate numbers based on his RHB and LHB? I think it was a bad move for the Reds to make him a switch hitter when he looks much better and more comfortable from the Right side of the plate.

    • 2015 vs R as L: .220/.276/.257
      2015 vs L as R: .241/.270/.371

      Career vs R as L: .239/.289/.316
      Career vs L as R: .253/.284/.370

      So, he hits for more power from the right side but walks a bit less. What remains to be seen is how he would hit righties as a righty.

      • Not always, but in general, platoon splits tend to be less dramatic for RH hitters against RHP than they are for LH hitters against LHP. There are some exceptions and maybe Hamilton was one. I would love to see what he splits were against RHP and LHP before he starting switch-hitting.

  13. Great article Grant. I”m still very high on Hamilton, because elite defensive center fielders don’t grow on trees, and he can put up 2 WAR with his legs pretty consistently.

    The only minor point I would quibble with is that I really don’t think that the place in the batting order affects a hitter that much. To me, picking where a hitter hits in the order should be about where their skills can best help the batting order, not the other way around. If Hamilton is a bad hitter, he should get the fewest ABs, even if in his first few hundred ABs in the 9 hole he looks a little worse.

  14. Unfortunately, the major part of Billy’s game is the quickest to decline, that being speed. Couple that with the injury rate he seems to be showing, if he doesn’t show marked improvement this season in his ability to hit line drives or ground balls I think he’s doomed to be a PR or late inning defensive specialist. I cannot see how the Reds can be successful with a position player who hits worse than many pitchers. If the Reds can field 3 outfielders with good but not elite range, that can compensate for Billy’s range in the field without the expense of a black hole in the lineup on a daily basis.

    • What I was going to say about the injuries. Even if he can get to replacement level OBP – how valuable can he be if he misses games and there after a diving catch, jamming his wrist stealing a base, I seem to remember several games missed due to running into an umpire

  15. Dave Concepcion hit .260, .205, .209 in his first 3 years. Obviously, the team he played for didn’t need him to hit and the current Reds can’t afford to have a gapping hole in the lineup….but he did improve…dramatically. Same for Ozzie Smith.

    The next 2 seasons are just an elongated Spring Training with higher ticket prices and no cactus. Hamilton will figure it out or he won’t. At this point they have the gift of time. If he hits they win 75 games….if he doesn’t they win 72. It’s ok to suck if you’re building for something better and the next 2 years are the time to determine if he can be an every day player or a really fast extra.

    • I do not disagree about this year but they are going to be wasting a heck of a lot of very good pitching in 2017 if they stay in full evaluation mode for that season.

      As noted by others, they have guys like Holt, Cave, and YRod who might turn out to do almost as well defensively as Hamilton and enough better than him offensively to more than offset the defensive advantage Hamilton gives them.

    • Geronimo also started slowly at the plate- and he was definitely an elite outfielder.
      “How about a Fresca?”

  16. It seems like a tendency to bunt – which is basically the opposite of trying to hit the ball hard – is partly responsible for why such players have such low exit velocities, which seems like a flaw in the metric (at least in showing people how good a hitter is). I mean, the guy with the lowest values are also have the most bunt hits, is that supposed to be unrelated? Billy could choose to focus on hitting the ball harder and not bunting to increase his exit velocity… but that’s probably not a good idea for him. The Hard Hit % is silly for similar reasons. Dee Gordon is a perfect example of how irrelevant those measures are, they’re part of an approach that won him a batting title. Not everyone is a power hitter, and those are measures of power.

    Obviously Billy Hamilton has some flaws (particularly he needs to hit the ball on the ground more, as the article showed), but low exit velocities and a low Hard Hit & aren’t among them… they’re part of an approach that has worked for Dee Gordon and many other speedsters.

    • I am as excited as you are at the idea that BHam becomes Dee Gordon and steals a batting title here soon. However, there’s a chance Dee Gordon’s BABIP regresses to the mean (or worse) and he never comes close to hitting .300 again the rest of his career. I think we need more data points on ole Dee before using him as the model of every single trade or FA piece, as seems to have been their plan this off-season (all sass was directed at the front office).

    • I wondered if the “exit velocity” stat deleted bunt attempts, but couldn’t find anything. If not, it should.

      Billy is a lousy bunter, and probably always will be. If he could bunt like Brett Butler, he should bunt a lot, but he is asked to bunt too often. When he misses or fouls the first attempt, he is down 0-1, and everybody’s stats go down when they start at a 0-1 count. Joey Votto, for example, had a OPS of .837 after an 0-1 count last year, versus 1.067 after a 1-0 count. Billy doesn’t have the skills to overcome a lot of 0-1 counts.

      • Good point about the bunt putting him behind in the count. If anything, he should probably try less often. Plus, everyone in baseball knows he’s going to try to bunt or he’s going to do that fake bunt thing, which is even more annoying (and ends up putting him in a lot of 0-1 counts). Maybe if he tried less often, he’d be more effective when he actually did lay one down?

        • I agree LW. He should not fake bunt in 2016. It does not set him up for success in bunting, and he takes often a very good strike and the count is 0-1

          If he is going to bunt, bunt. if not, swing away. It will make him more effective at both

  17. I wonder if Doug or someone with the info can speak to the chances of a player of BHam’s obvious physical talent re-tooling his swing some at his age to not pop it up so much. The more I think about his tools and his age, the more I’m intrigued at his All-Star/WAR potential if he can flip those FB and GB numbers a bit. Can he make a drastic change?

  18. Give BH spring training to show any improvement at bunting and ground ball hitting. If there is none as I expect, then open the season with Peraza in CF and hitting leadoff. Bring Hamilton into the games late as a PR for someone and then shift Peraza to the vacated position to bring the game home. Billy will have a chance to steal a base nearly every game, score a run and make a defensive gem. Nearly all his value is still imparted into the game without nearly so many weak outs!

    • The only problem is that it limits Billy’s ability to improve. I think I’m with the camp that if he can’t cut it at the plate, give him 4 ABs a night with the Bats and see if he responds. … He could always become a late-inning ‘specialist’ in a year or two if he just cannot compete with major league pitching.

    • I’m not ready to start Peraza’s service time clock. I’m especially not ready for them to start it at a position he’s never played before. Peraza, if not at SS or 2B, should probably be down at AAA getting work at SS. Or, if the Reds really would like him to work in CF, they should have him get started on it at AAA.

  19. Isn’t there a place for an elite fielding center fielder who can run like the wind, but hits his weight, on a winning team? I always think of the old Orioles, with Paul Blair in center field and Mark Belanger at shortstop, who simply conceded offense from primarily defensive positions, and it seemed to work for them.

    • The right team could get away with something like that. Those O’s teams are exactly the kind of team that could.

  20. Billy needs more bat speed, and IMHO the best way to get it is to get a lot (a LOT) more upper body strength. If he was stronger, it would be much easier to improve his mechanics, because it is easier for a strong guy to groove his swing than a weak guy. Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson are strong as mules for a reason.

    Also, lack of strength/slow bat speed effectively gives a hitter a much smaller sweet spot on his bat. Billy has to hit the ball almost perfectly to hit it hard, whereas a much stronger guy like Todd Frazier (admittedly, a freak) can hit a homer without even centering the ball all that well.

    A related issue for Billy is that he is fairly easy to defend: play the corners way in. They do that because he almost never hits the ball hard to the third baseman. He needs to hit a few bullets by the third baseman’s ear, and it would open up the bunt much more, covering for his mediocre bunting ability. Getting stronger would help him do that.

    Plus, Billy should choke up on the bat about 2-3 inches, which would effectively shorten his swing. Don’t get me started on why guys don’t choke up more. If Barry Bonds can choke the bat, then it boggles my mind that other guys don’t try it. Votto does it a lot, depending on the pticher and count. It worked a bit for Pete Rose, too.

    • I’m not an expert on the physiology of hitting, but it seems–by observation and comments from sources I can’t remember–that core strength and wrist strength are more important for generating power than is upper body strength. Consider how skinny Ted Williams was. Not saying that Billy couldn’t benefit from the weight room–I don’t know that he couldn’t, and also don’t know that he doesn’t lift already–but I’m pretty certain that big arms and shoulders don’t necessarily generate screaming line drives.

      • Forearms and core are where the power comes from for the most part. George Foster was downright skinny but generated so much bat-speed because of his incredibly strong forearms.

      • You are right–we don’t know what Billy is already doing. When I used “upper body strength,” I meant everything, from forearms to core to upper back, all of which he could improve upon. Being thicker in the chest and back would help his durability, if nothing else. Much of the swing, frankly, comes from the hips and legs, and if Billy went to a world class trainer, he would be even faster and less susceptible to injury by working his lower body, as well. Baseball fans, though, tend to think that being stronger means more muscle pulls, which isn’t true, but people can’t be convinced otherwise.

        Billy isn’t just slender, he’s downright scrawny; he’s not even as big as Pokey Reese. There are a lot of guys who were sleek who could hit, with Eric Davis being a good example, but he had wide shoulders and lightning bad speed.

        Ted Williams was not “skinny,” by the way. He didn’t have Matt Holiday’s build, but nobody other than Klu did in those days. He was 6’3″ and plenty strong, and certainly no Roy McMillan. He is probably compares to Daryl Strawberry, who was taller in a taller generation.

        The mega-slow motion camera that shows the bat hitting the ball is pretty clear, though, that Billy isn’t strong enough. That camera shows that even Votto’s bat is jarred a lot when he hits a pitch, but Billy’s bat is knocked senseless.

        • I wasn’t implying that Ted was weak–he couldn’t have been, obviously–but he certainly, from pictures I’ve seen and one live view at a double-header in Cleveland (Minnie Minoso getting picked off first with Colavito at the plate to end the second game and send me back to Southern Ohio in deep childish frustration), he had skinny arms. I don’t think that we’re really disagreeing, by the way.

  21. Billy Hamilton has been told and shown so many different approaches in such a short time in the league that his head is probably spinning by now.

    Billy was a decent hitter in the minors, certainly capable. Forget hitting the ball on the ground, forget hitting it in the air, forget trying to beat out bunts. Go up there and just hit the ball with the same solid stroke you showed in the minors.

  22. The buzz Thursday from no less than commissioner Manfred was that the DH is likely just over the horizon for the National League. The wags seem to think it will feature in the CBA negotiations and could happen as soon as 2017. Such an event would pretty change the entire context of Hamilton’s situation.

  23. First, let me say I am NOT a stats guy … and I’m not looking to be either. I do appreciate them and track with much of what y’all say. Given what I’ll call my “blended approach” I see a mixed bag with BHam.

    Definitely has taken to CF like nobody else. And he’s fast and pretty adept on the base paths. I don’t think anybody can question that.

    I don’t think a lot more bunting is the answer, but I do think a little more bat speed and a leveled out swing will help drive the ball and give him more chances. And then there’s that impatience later in the count that seems to lead to some ugly K’s …

    He’s a project and I think we’re in a good position to work with him this year. If it doesn’t happen now, I’m guessing it won’t. There is the question of durability, but some of that comes from how hard he plays. And we do love our hustle, don’t we Reds fans?

    Not ready to extend him just yet … but a little OBP improvement could sway me.

  24. I loved the article. I have been a big supporter of Billy here at RLN. That being said, I think 2016 is a make or break year as far as being the starting CF is concerned. He needs to show improvement (hitting and OBP) this year.

    On bunting. I don’t understand the comments here about NOT wanting Billy to bunt…

    2014: 17/52 (bunt hits/attempts) .326 AVG
    2015: 12/38 .316 AVG

    • I’m not against him bunting per se, but think he could perhaps keep defenses more honest if he did it a bit less and I’m totally against Hamilton doing the fake bunt thing.

    • Those numbers are likely tainted by the official scorer. Even if Hamilton was trying for a hit, if a man was on base and safely was advanced it likely goes as a sacrifice and wouldn’t count against his average.

      Bunting stats are hard to trust! Also, he is slugging .326 or .316 on those bunts. A .326/.326/.326 batting line is still pretty terrible.

  25. I don’t mean to be “flip” by saying this but – history is not exactly rife with speed/defense guys who’ve “turned it around” and become offensive assets.

    What we’ve seen is what we’re gonna get.

    • Not rife, perhaps, but neither is it devoid. Someone above cited Conception and Geronimo. Is it really so uncommon for young players to learn and improve?

      • Well – his trajectory has to reverse itself – he’s getting worse as a hitter – not better. He has to work to get BACK to being only as bad as he was when he was first called up.

        • Agree. Looking back, Hamilton has been in regression since his first half season. Once the teams took a deep breath, reminded themselves that just like everyone else Hamilton could not steal 1B, and set about solving how to get him out, he has been pretty much neutralized as an offensive threat.

        • Billy Hamilton has been in regression the last three seasons. He hasn’t hit a lick since 2012.

  26. Irrespective of spring training performance, Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza need to start the season in AAA. Hamilton needs to work on pitch recognition and leveling his swing to produce more ground balls and line drives. Peraza needs to be reaquainted with SS. Neither player, who factors into the near and long-term future success for the Reds, needs his service time increased until the Reds know what they have and what to expect from these two players.

    Peraza should play every game, with occasional rest as needed, at SS and hit in the #1 or #2 hole. Hamilton has nothing to prove on the base paths or defensively in CF. Hamilton should play every game, playing DH whenever possible, and be absolutely restricted from stealing bases, sliding head first, diving for defensive catches and running into the outfield wall. The Reds need Hamilton healthy, if and when he gets his hitting straightened out.

    For the major league club, Tyler Holt and Jake Cave should platoon in CF and hit in the #1 or #2 hole (with Phillips hitting in the other top-of-the-order position). Y-Rod and Scott Schebler should platoon in LF and hit in the bottom third (#7 hole?) of the lineup. The CF platoon should be reasonably effective since both players have a significant platoon split at the plate and play solid CF defense. The LF platoon would be less effective since Y-Rod lacks a platoon split at the plate, but the defense should also be pretty good in LF. The real objective is not superior offensive or defensive production from CF and LF, but determining if any of those 4 players can be counted on to contribute at the major league level going forward. This requires regular, consistent playing time for all 4 OF, irrespective of their performance. Hopefully the Reds can find a gem or two in the rough from among those 4 players. Votto, Mesoraco, Bruce and Suarez should provide the punch in the middle of the lineup. Ivan De Jesus and Adam Duvall should fill in as utility IF with Tucker Barnhart rounding out the 25-man roster as the backup catcher.

    Down the road in Louisville, Jesse Winker and Kyle Waldrop should man the corner OF spots as bookends for Billy when he’s playing CF with Steve Selsky getting significant OF playing time. Donald Lutz should hold down 1B with Seth Mejias-Brean, rather than Eic Jagielo, across the diamond at 3B. M-B provides much better hot-corner defense and better plate discipline than Jagielo. Alex Blandino may get a shot at 2B for the Bats, but more by default than being ready for the move to AAA. Ramon Cabrera will work behind the dish as he awaits the call to join the big league club if a catcher is needed.

    In a refreshing change of pace, Juan Duran and Kyle Skipworth, are the only minor league players representing nothing but baggage on the 40-man roster.

    • I was researching waivers for a comment on different site and came across something that could impact on the calls to send Hamilton to AAA this season.

      According to this article, http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Waivers

      “When a team wishes to send a player who has options to the minor leagues, there is a catch if the player’s debut date is over two years ago. In those cases, the team needs to place his name on the waiver list and wait 48 hours for a claim”.

      These rarely encountered waivers are known as “option waivers”. Billy Hamilton first appeared in the major leagues on September 3, 2013. Thus if the cited article is correct, despite the fact Hamilton has option(s) remaining, he must clear waivers at this point to prior to being optioned.

    • Lots of good ideas here. I too see Peraza as a SS, and I’m fine with him making his Reds debut as soon as Cozart proves healthy and is traded.

      Looks like a pretty good plan for the OF. The Reds can add a good piece to that mix if they are smart enough to claim just DFA’d Rymer Liraiano, who only the Phillies can before us. He’s a former top 100 prospect, only 24 years old, can play RF or LF, The RH hitter hit .292/.383/.460/.843 last year at AAA in the PCL.

      I’m a little torn about giving Mejias-Brean AAA 3B time over Jagielo. If Jagielo can’t play there, what’s he going to do for us unless they are grooming him for the DH spot when it comes to the NL in 2017. Plus Jagielo’s bat looks pretty promising. I think I’d have to give him a long look at 3B still to see if he can play it adequately.

      I think Tony Renda is likely to man 2B at Louisville this year.

  27. I’d give Hamilton one more season as the regular Major League starter. After that, if he doesn’t show he can perform, use him as an everyday pinch runner or defensive replacement in 2017, or trade him if you find a taker.

  28. Reds make another Minor League FA signing. They signed 31 year old LH hitting 2B/3B/LF Alden Carrithers. He has a minor league slash line of .294/.397/.361/.759 and has slashed .289/.382/.364/.746 over the last 3 years in AAA. He has not had a season in the minors where he has had more SO (10.2 K%) than BB (13.7 BB%). Below is an interesting article on him at Fangraphs from 04/22/14.


    • He’s the kind of player that people where you look the slash line and you look at the K/BB ratio and you have to wonder why the heck the guy is 31 and hasn’t been a contributor at the MLB level yet. What is holding him back? Is he just terrible at all those positions? I’m guessing it has to do with his lack of power and perhaps a lack of speed. Sometimes people see a high OBP but no speed and they think that the OBP is “empty” and that the player isn’t a Major Leaguer. What I see is a guy who walks and makes a lot of contact. I’d love to see him in person and try to figure out what the scouts are seeing that is holding him back. It has to be something.

        • Hah! True.

          But to be fair, Votto with no power and worse OBP isn’t really a very good player.

    • This does not even account for Carrither’s platoon split against RHP, which is significant:

      2015 => .333/.426/.419
      2014 => .304/.394/.389
      2013 => .295/.397/.401

      and includes ALL of his XBH. His ISO against RHP of .090 looks much more manageable and productive.

      As a LH IF pinch hitter or a LH IF platoon option in case of injury, Carrither could be invaluable to the Reds. The Reds have no other realistic LH IF utility/pinch hitter option available or a LH IF platoon option in case of an injury around the IF. The alternative would be burning Peraza’s service time if an injury occurs around the IF. If Phillips goes down with an injury, De Jesus and Carrither could form a viable 2B platoon. If Suarez goes down with an injury, De Jesus and Carrither could form a viable 3B platoon. If Cozart goes down with an injury, Suarez can slide over to SS and De Jesus and Carrither could form a viable 3B platoon. The Reds have multiple possible options to fill in at 1B if Votto goes down with an injury. Quite frankly, Carrither might even be viable as a platoon option with Phillips.

      Any long-term prospect for Carrither as a 31-year-old IF are nonexistent, but 3-4 years at league minimum cost might serve the Reds very nicely. I like such an option much better than spending $5MM for 2 years for a washed up and negatively productive veteran. Just look at those splits against RHP! Isn’t that exactly what a LH pinch hitter or LH platoon partner should provide?

      And it took the Old Cossack a while, but I finally found a confirmation of the signing…


  29. An excellent discussion. I was hoping that Reds could have picked up Denard Span this off-season. I think he would have been an excellent teacher for Hamilton…they could have even platooned a little…since I’m afraid Billy might hurt himself or run out of gas as he tries to make things happen. I know Denard finished injured last year and the Reds probably could not afford the contract Span ended up getting. But it didn’t sound like they even made a play for him.

  30. Here is an interesting article on the Dodgers possible new trade startegy and how it might affect the Reds. Though, I don’t see the Reds trading their #1 Competitive Balance pick (#35 overall right now) in 2016 as part of a package to trade Jay Bruce, BP, or Cozart and unload their salaries.
    But maybe it is a tactic the Reds could make some adjustments to, or maybe reverse, and trade salary, instead of taking on salary, for a CB pick. (Competitive Balance picks are the only draft picks that are tradeable.) There are only about 10-12 CB picks per draft, so options are limited. CB draft slots can only be traded once, too.


    • I do not see giving up our draft picks. we are lousy at free agency, we do OK in Cuba, but other that that, we need all these picks we can get.

      I would not pay anything to trade Jay Bruce

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