It was just over two months ago I penned an article for Redleg Nation expressing what my future handling of the talented Mr. Hamilton would be; in which I argued that the Reds would be best served maximizing his talent, hiding his weaknesses and thus turning Hamilton into a weapon to enter late in games off the bench. My rationale was simple; even with his elite defense that he will play for nine innings every game, I felt giving Hamilton 4-5 plate appearances per game were too detrimental to the Reds to justify being an everyday player. Rather I argued that Hamilton and the Reds would be best served saving Billy for late game situations, similar to when he was initially called up to the big leagues. By using him in this capacity, they would turn Hamilton into a weapon, one which could be used to lay down a bunt when needed, steal a base when needed or make a late-inning substitution.
Flash forward about 75 days.
Billy Hamilton, almost more so than any other player on the roster has a way of driving me insane, especially considering the stance I took on him two months ago. If I go with my gut, solely based on his play the last few months, I want to think, and feel, that he has begun to make strides at the plate and is becoming the everyday weapon we all hoped he would be. He makes an impact on the game; almost daily in the field, and with frequency at the plate. He has this incredible ability to make you think when a ball is hit anywhere between Right Center and Left Center Field, that he is going to catch it…and even under that strong assumption, he still manages to amaze with highlight reel catches and the amount of real estate he covers. You just want to feel that Hamilton is an everyday player in the big leagues. You look for ways to support what you as a fan want to materialize. After an incredibly slow start which was the impetus behind my piece in April, he has started to come to life in many ways; hitting .259 in May, .286 in June and .311 over his last 17 games played. If you follow this trend, my idea of Hamilton as a super-sub is bunk.
However, as much as I want Billy to be patrolling Center Field 150 games per year, there are other indicators that still serve as roadblocks, even during his “hot” streak. His OBP in the last 90 days is still sub .300 at .287. He also hasn’t been as aggressive on the base paths, attempting only 20 steal so far this year. Contrast that to the last two seasons; in 2014 he attempted 79 stolen bases in 152 games played, or about .52 steal attempts per game. In 2015 he attempted 65 stolen bases in only 114 games played, or about .57 steal attempts per game. This year, he is only averaging about .34 steal attempts per game.
Additionally, and Joey, if you are by chance reading this, please close your eyes…Hamilton’s OBP suffers from what can only be described as an almost incomprehensibly low walk rate, something that I take as a strong indicator of a players ability to recognize pitches, situations and exercise patience. Hamilton has walked eight…that’s 8 times this season. Including only two walks in his last 23 games and ZERO…ZERO walks drawn in the month of June. I can only imagine that if you played on an everyday basis in the big leagues…and went to the plate with the intention of never swinging at a single pitch…literally, going up and accepting your fate as a strike out looking or a walk…that somehow, someway, in the last month, some pitcher you would have faced would have thrown you four balls before they throw you three strikes! That said, this single statistic alone will remain as a drag on Hamilton’s ability to justify an everyday role on this team, as well as any chance of solidifying a position in the leadoff spot in the order.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, in my heart, and for the long term success of this team, I want Hamilton to be playing as the everyday starting Center Fielder and hitting leadoff…but if he cannot get on base at an acceptable rate to justify hitting him in the leadoff spot, as well as become more aggressive on the base paths, it is difficult to argue he is an everyday player. When I sat down to write this follow up on Hamilton, I did so wanting to write a piece that two months ago I was wrong and that Hamilton should absolutely be the starting center fielder…I was trying to prove myself wrong. But as I dug deeper into the numbers I couldn’t let the eye-test supersede the reality of what is happening. While I hope he keeps hitting at a .300 clip he is going to have to do more in developing his game to earn the starting spot in the future.
The second half of the season is going to be an audition for 2017 for many players in this organization, and I believe Hamilton falls into the same category as many of the other younger players on the roster. He should be given every chance to prove he can play every day in center field for this team, but if he finishes the season with an OBP of below .300 I think the Reds need to think long and hard about their plans for the centerfield position in 2017.