Billy Is Ozzie

Let’s engage in a thought exercise. Imagine, if you will, a baseball player. He’s so thin he looks like a stiff breeze could take him down. He hits for absolutely zero power and doesn’t really get on base that much either. He can steal a base, however, and is a wonder in the field. He’s 25 and it’s easy to wonder how useful he’ll be at 30.

Now what if I told you that player is in the Hall of Fame now?

That’s right, I just described Ozzie Smith, not Billy Hamilton.

But my description was accurate. In his first three seasons, Ozzie Smith “hit” .233/.296/.283. His OPS+ was 67 (that’s 33% worse than average). He also generated 7.4 WAR, which is not bad at all. Base running and defense. They matter.

Hamilton? In his first three years, he’s got a line of .248/.297/.334. Good for an OPS+ of 73. And he has generated 9.3 WAR.

And yes, before you ask, both players were the same age for their first three seasons.

Oh, and after Smith scuffled with the bat for one more season, he figured out how to be a decent hitter. After his first three years, he was only 8% below average with the bat for the rest of his career. That’s not bad when you’re an all-time defender or an all-time baserunner. Turns out, that can get you to the Hall of Fame.

One of the difficult things about watching an unconventional player is accepting his unconventionality. If Hamilton were a little less blistering and maybe hit .270/.350/.400 the comparisons would flow pretty easily, but as is, there aren’t many good Hamilton comps. In fact, as I was getting ready to write this piece, Jeff Sullivan published an article on FanGraphs that shows just how unique Hamilton is (Ozzie Smith comes up over there, too).

Now, of course, I am not saying that Hamilton is going to the Hall of Fame. That would be a foolish prediction, but over the last few years, many, many, many people have been ready to give up on Hamilton because of his bat. After four years, the Padres shipped Ozzie and his weak bat to the Cardinals for Garry Templeton.

Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.

Join the conversation! 55 Comments

  1. One of my favorite non-Cincinnati team..Whitey Herzog and his 1982 Cardinals and their small ball strategy,they were an exciting team to watch.And Billy Hamilton is about my favorite Cincy player and (IMHO) has the potential to be biggest game changer on team……just gotta get that guy on base at a higher clip.And second half of 2016 he was definitely showing signs of improvement right up to his season ending injury.But please Billy…no back flips as you run out to center field,that worked for Ozzie but maybe not so much for you 🙂

  2. Bill Hamlington sux! But so did Ozwald Smythe. The Reds have had some amazing, unconventional outlier players over the years, and this makes me wonder if maybe they’ve had more than most teams. If so, one more cool reason to love the Reds. I’m thinking of Hamilton, Chapman, Adam Dunn (Mr. All or Nothing or a Nice Little Something with the HR / K / BB “pure” outcomes), Eric Davis and his incredible, talented, fragile, thoroughbred body, Peter Edward Rose who got more results from a less gifted body than any hitter probably ever, and even Corky Miller and his wise man on the mountain / best mustache in a face mask vibe. It’s so easy to like Billy Hamilton and his gifts for changing a game – chasing down improbable extra base hits, you’re welcome Dan Straily, or racing around the bases on singles, passed balls, and pitcher sneezes – that I love this comparison. If the School of Votto turns BHam into an on base machine then he’s an all star. And more importantly, he and the Reds are dangerous again. By the way, that’s my prediction for another BHam and baseball first in 2017. First player to steal hime on a sneeze. Can’t wait for 2017.

    • Oops. *steal home. No stealing of hime whatsoever.

      • any player that can score from second base on a passed ball….gets kudos from me…

    • Corky Miller and his wise man on the mountain / best mustache in a face mask vibe

      Just wanted to copy this awesome statement. You left out the Red’s biggest fashion icon, Chris Sabo and his Rec Specs.

  3. His post all star break splits were really good. A .369 on base and he was on pace to get himself up to .330 for the season. It wasn’t a hit streak, he has good pitch recognition, just needed to foul more pitches off and hit fly balls less. He has mostly worked out his left-handed swing, hitting .281/.340 on base for the year but is still new to hitting left handed. Like every reds prospect he was called up a year to soon. He is attached at the hip to votto and it shows. Will he ever stay healthy the way he plays? That’s a super legit question. But he really has turned it around at the plate and isn’t getting alot of notice for that.

    • not the first one to suggest it….but might take some kind of outfield rotation with 4th outfielder to help get BH thru a full season.And an alarm to let him know when he’s approaching CF wall at full speed…guy does abuse himself and that wall is unforgiving.And honestly…jamming fingers and wrist and hurting knees and bruises and aches and pains just part of stealing bases,there’s no way around it.That was true with Vince Coleman,Omar Moreno,Henderson,Raines…all those guys,just goes with the territory..

      • Worth noting that there is another Reds CF who also used to run through walls until his body broke down. Junior Griffey. Many on this site called him a bum, but it was who he was early in his career. By the way, he was pretty good too.

  4. Both have a first name with 5 letters ending in a phonetic “E” and a last name that is among the few most common English/American surnames.


  5. I was terribly bummed to see CHW OF Adam Eaton go to the Nats to play CF. He could heave been a great fit in RF for the Reds. But no way the Reds could have matched or exceeded what the Nats gave up for Eaton. Just glad Eaton didn’t go to STL.

    • They did sign Fowler though. Lots of $$$ but I think for at least the first 2-3 years he’ll be worth that and more.

  6. The Reds selected 2 catchers in the Rule V draft this morning. Then turned around and traded the #2 overall selection to SD. Very odd use of the Rule V draft this year by the Reds. SD had the #3 overall selection and also traded with the Twins who had the 31 overall selection. So SD ended up with the #1, #2, and #3 overall selections this morning.
    The White Sox are showing smaller market teams how to do a Re-build. Walt Jocketty had no clue as how to manage a Re-build. Jocketty has set this franchise back nearly a decade. Castellini giving Jocketty that last 2 year extension after the 2014 season was a disaster. Jocketty waited too long to make many of the trades he did finally make. Jocketty made this bed, and Reds fans have to sleep in it. And the sad part is the new GM, Dick Williams, is no better. After Stand Pat Dick Williams is fired in 2018, another Re-build will have to occur. The sad state of affairs in the Reds front office.

    • Unfortunately I think you may be correct. Just the eyeball test, but for me I see a lot of “slightly above average” talented players in the system right now. It seems like the Reds FO may have overvalued players they have gotten in return for players such as Cueto, Frazier, Chapman, etc. I hope I’m wrong and I hope they are competitive in 2018 like they are shooting for, but I’m just not seeing it for the long term. The pitching scares me, I think Peraza will be ok (although I was very skeptical about him until late last season).

      • I’m real big on Peraza….watched him at Louisville and he appears to be a pretty slick infielder.And I think a batting order of Hamilton,Peraza JV could pay big dividends…

    • Wasn’t just a few years ago San Diego had a new GM and he made deals and made a big noise at Winter Meetings and all of baseball stood back and watched….only to see Pads auger into the ground in regular season.But I believe you’ve hit nail on the head about Walt,guy has been the worst thing to happen to Red’s franchise in a long time….now we know why Cardinals ran him out of town 🙂 .IMHO Walt is a gambler…he threw all Reds resources at 2010-2013 Reds hoping to hit pay dirt and in the end all he did was give away Reds future.And now here we are…but I haven’t gave up on Dick Williams yet,takes a long time to turn a team around so I’m in wait and see mode now.Theo Epstein had a huge fan base and money and good draft choices years of experience going his way to turn Cubs around….and it took him years.And Dick Williams has none of that…DW has a big,big tree and a small axe…

    • I agree the FO didn’t do great, but its not like the Reds had Chris Sale and Adam Eaton to deal.

      Sale is better than Cueto (very slightly) and under team control for far, far longer than 1/2 a season, which is what Cueto was on when he was traded.

      Frazier, while having a few good years, probably didn’t profile to be as good as Eaton, either. Also, Eaton is on a fantastic contract and Frazier was coming up to free agency.

      Honestly, I think we all overestimated what we should have received back for our assets, but that isn’t to say the FO couldn’t have done better.

      • A lot of that was financially driven….yeah,maybe return wasn’t so great but you got to take a lot of money and future debt off the books.If Reds turn around and reinvest,I’m good with it.And hope they learned from all this…

        • Yeah, that’s the hope. As long as they learn something every time they act, it’s worthwhile, at least at some level.

      • Based upon what the Yankees gave for Chapman and what they received for Chapman, I don’t think it’s a case of fans overestimating the value of the asset. It’s more of a timing issue by the FO. They held on too long and then deciding to dump him when the question of suspension was hanging over his head.

        Maybe the FO didn’t overestimate the value of the players they received in return for other trades so much as accepting lower upside potential for players being near ready for the majors. It looks like this could turn out to be a blunder in the FO’s judgement of how long it would take to rebuild the team.

        • In the Chapman case, the Reds exercised risk aversion by moving him before the league laid out its DV policy. Can’t blame them for that. They thought getting him off the books and getting smoething in return was better than waiting and having the chance to get nothing.

        • However, there were no indications at that time that Chapman would receive a long suspension. It would have been the first case where MLB’s DV policy was implemented and there were no criminal charges being pressed. Would have been tough to suspend him for long. And, as I recall, if Chapman did get suspended long enough, it would have resulting in him not accumulating enough service time to become a free agent the following season. So, the Reds might actually have benefited by waiting things out in that situation.

      • I don’t think it was a matter of overvaluing the assets, it was a matter of timing when the assets were controlled. If the Reds knew they weren’t going to/be able to re-sign Chapman, Cueto, Leake, Frazier -> trade SOONER, when they had more value.

      • The trade FOR Marlon Byrd before the 2015 season showed just how much the Reds front office didn’t know what they were doing when it came to re-builds. They traded 2 starting pitchers prior to this trade that starts the re-build. Then the front office decides they are in on 2015, well maybe, by an ill-conceived trade for Byrd. This decision to put off a re-build in progress and take another lame shot at this window was a bad one. To pick Byrd as a trade target and what they gave up for Byrd just compounded it from bad to worse. And then going for it with the likes of Jason Marquis and Kevin Gregg in major roles. A shot to the crotch for the organization. Byrd starts out very slow, Marquis and Gregg are released, then Bailey blows out his elbow after the start of the season and Mesoraco is hurt. Then 2 more starting pitchers are traded at the deadline, probably a little too late. Its a full-fledge re-build now.
        Other prior moves hurt too. Ignoring the warnings and then not trading BP before his 5/10 rights kicked in.
        Last winter, Chapman traded too late. The highly discounted return on Chapman once he was traded was abysmal. Frazier still had 2 years of control so no issue there.
        Then just this past season, Bruce traded too late. Not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time at this years trade deadline was the Reds front office theme. They focused mostly on Bruce and did not focus on a Cozart deal that ends up collapsing at last minute by not meeting the deadline. The rumored return for Cozart was a nice player. And now no market at all for Cozart.
        Some moves have worked, and some could have been better. But many haven’t.
        Cozart and BP still on the 25 man roster post-winter meetings, the Reds front office cluster- continues to roll.

        • Yup

          I agree

          Give you a virtual hug

          then head toward the liquor cabinet

  7. It’s possible … certainly would love to see Billy trend that way.

  8. Another connection between Ozzie Smith and Reds….Oz is in HOF and Davey Concepcion isn’t.That was a pretty hot topic at one time…

  9. Forbes projects the Reds as having $9 million in operating income in 2016.

    $9 million in profit before taxes, interest, etc. means the Reds are basically running a break-even business. Maybe the shareholders get a nice end-of-year earnings check in their stockings, but nothing significant to re-invest in the team.

    All of the other NL Central teams are projected to be much, much more profitable:
    CHI-$51M (maybe higher with WS title)

    Bob’s analogy of a big, big tree and a small axe is a great summation of Dick Williams’ situation.

    The Reds are almost forced financially to listen on any player in the hopes that they can get back a youthful haul like Atlanta did for Shelby Miller.

    • You can thank Bob Marley 🙂 …but I am glad to see somebody throw the numbers out there.Reds are a business and a business has to remain solvent….or it may soon become the San Bernardino Reds ….

    • Before we get too concerned about resources the Reds have available, remember that Bob Castellini bought the Reds in 2006 when the franchise was valued at $260 million. Now, according to Forbes, it is worth $905 million. So even if the Reds are breaking even or losing a bit of money on an annual basis, the ownership group is getting wealthier by $70 million/year.

      So while the Reds may not be as valuable or making as much money as other organizations, its ridiculous to think the team is cash strapped. They are only tight on money to the extent that the ownership group sets a certain budget under which they operate. They are plenty well off to make moves if they wanted to. The “break even” construct by the ownership group is just that, a construct, not dictated by the outside.

      • Unfortunately, not all of that value is actual cash. BC woudl have to sell the team to make that cash real. Year-to-year cash flow is still the prime driver for what this team, or any team in MLB can spend. Some teams might decide to go into the red over a short term, but its wouldn’t be sustainable over a longer term.

        • It would be sustainable if you think at some point in the future the team would be sold. If Castellini, et al. die off before its sold, then yes, it is unsustainable. But all that money can be recouped on the eventual sale or partial sale that buys out Castellini or any other minority owner.

      • The ownership group is getting wealthier…on paper. The owners may or may not choose to put that wealth into the operating of the team, be it out of their pockets or from loans against the actual future sale price of the team (turning that perceived valuation into physical dollars).

        The Reds attendance is falling, their TV ratings dropped more than 20% in a year and they could be a loser for 1,2 or 3 more years (who knows). Most investors wouldn’t invest another penny until the team’s management slashes and/or markets its way back to profitability. Or, until the team wins enough to draw fans back.

        The team might be losing money at $9 million EBITDA, depending on various factors, including tax structure. They had operating income of $-2 million and $-12 million the 2 years before that.

        The Reds are very likely cash-strapped of their accord. And, for good reason.

        We all want the Reds to win and do well. However, I would hardly use the word “ridiculous” in describing their current tough business and competitive situations.

        • Sorry. The Reds operating income was $2.2 million in 2015, and $-11.6 million in 2014, so still likely losing money in both years.

        • If the Reds are cash-strapped as you suggest, then they should have slashed payroll up front early, instead of waiting to trade players in stages. They only devalued their assets and devalued the expected returns by waiting too long before trading them. More front office blunders. Just a bad re-build plan executed by the Reds front office.

        • On the other hand, the Reds just signed a new local TV contract. Baseball revenues are soaring industry-wide, many of which get shared among the teams. Revenue sharing is an important source of money for teams like the Reds.

          Owners are making money like crazy with mobile platform technology. MLB BAM is new wealth, valued around $4 billion, and shared among all owners. Disney may buy a third of it at over a $1 billion.

          Baseball owners are getting really rich off the game. There’s a reason they aren’t selling teams. It’s a crock to think owners are cash strapped by baseball. Teams may be cash-strapped by their owners, but owners are gaining lots of wealth, and it’s not all illiquid.

          It is ridiculous to think baseball owners are genuinely squeezed by losing a few million dollars from attendance over a couple of years. That’s PR baloney put out by teams to the fans to justify not spending more, dutifully reported and unchallenged by local beat writers.

      • In a privately held and operated business, “operating profit” really means nothing because context is lacking; and, there are myriad ways to legally “launder” funds within and out of the business as “expenses”.

        • Right.

          The idea that Bob Castellini and the Reds ownership group would feel it financially if the Reds spent an extra $20 million on payroll is dubious. Don’t get me wrong, the Castellini ownership group has been generous compared to previous ownership. They’ve improved the stadium and spent money to improve the fan experience. The major league payroll was in the $115 million range for a couple of years. They’ve also spent money on draft picks and international signings recently. Castellini is not cheap. And Reds fans have experience with cheap.

          But the “breakeven” structure of the organization is his choosing and does cash-strap the front office. Castellini could just as easily say “I’m going to run the Reds at a $20 million operating loss every year” knowing that his wealth increases by multiples of that annually from the value of a major league franchise increasing outside of attendance revenues.

        • You guys know more about this than I do, certainly, but isn’t it the case that most owners have other, more important (financially) businesses than baseball teams? If ownership of a team is a bit of a hobby, it could lead to reluctance to invest a lot of money in it, I would suppose.

      • I have been stating this exact fact over and over on multiple boards,only to be ridiculed for not knowing anything about business.The concept of the Reds not having the assets to compete is bs.Its there accounting system that makes them show to the uneducated believers.They are making plenty.Just imagine when the new tv contract kicks in and they possibly get butts in the seats again how much they will be making yearly.9 figures for sure .
        Come on man,put some of that dough to work and get some players to contend.

        • Perhaps you could explain to us how the Reds “accounting system” is different than anyone else’s. Do you think the Reds have a bunch of secret revenue streams? It’s not that difficult to determine a revenue range for the Reds and it is certainly less than almost any other team. You literally have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • Chuck this is the typical response that I get,though yours is a tad harsher.The fact that the value of the team is increasing every year by 8 figures is not taken into account when the ownership cries “small market,not making $,blah blah”.
          The team could operate with a yearly loss and still be increasing in value by a far greater amount than the loss.The gains are obviously on paper only but still very real.The ownership will eventually sell the franchise for a far greater dollar value than what they bought it for.This my friend is called PROFIT and they will make quite a bit of it in the near future.
          I may have used the wrong term by saying “accounting system”.I have owned a company for 36 years that has never made a profit on a yearly basis but the value of the company has increased by about 1000% over that time frame.No trick accounting,just a different way of looking at the overall picture.A far more realistic one.
          Sorry for the misstatement but your reply was a little over the top.
          I will pay closer attention to your posts in the future to reciprocate

      • This is a point that is rarely mentioned. The team could actually sustain a significant loss each year, if they were willing to. I’m not saying that’s the way I’d run the club…I’d probably try to run it as a break-even proposition, too.

        But they could.

        • How could they sustain a significant loss every year? What business could actually do that? Do you think the team or the individual owners have some Apple like cash hoard to make up the difference? At a certain point the IRS doesn’t think your on-going losses are funny and begins to examine if you’re a business or just someone’s hobby or tax shelter. ….and making money becomes a little more important.

          If they’re losing actual cash then they need to accumulate debt or raise capital…..2 things you can’t do forever. This ownership group is comprised of very wealthy people…but they don’t have hundreds of millions in cash to “donate’ to players.

          They bought the team 10 years ago. Most of the amortization of goodwill and depreciation of assets (players) has already occurred. The county owns the stadium so the team doesn’t get to depreciate any huge capital expenditures. Yes, the team has increased in “estimated” value by a significant margin….but that isn’t actual cash. MLB isn’t going to allow a team to run up huge amounts of debt…collateralized by the franchise….to cover operating losses. The owners aren’t going to subside operating losses forever. They can’t.

          The Cardinals built and own their own stadium. They have huge depreciation expenses they can use to enhance their cash flow. The Wrigley “re-hab” will do the same for the Cubs. They both have huge operating profits that turn into very modest amounts of taxable income when the non-cash expenses come into play. Lots of money…little to no taxes….not a bad deal. The Reds simply don’t have that.

        • The other element that must be mentioned here is that any appreciated value in the franchise is being matched and eclipsed by just about every other team. So, however you slice it, the Reds’ spending power is eroded on a relative basis. And without a salary cap, the Reds can’t win the money printing battle. They’ve got to be smart with their allocation of resources.

        • “If they’re losing actual cash then they need to accumulate debt or raise capital…..2 things you can’t do forever. This ownership group is comprised of very wealthy people…but they don’t have hundreds of millions in cash to “donate’ to players”

          This ownership group has a tremendous amount of money and the ability to raise capital at the drop of a hat.They also dont need to do it forever.The actual value of the team far exceeds the small operating loss,if there even would be one,if they chose to go in a direction of signing a more competitive team at a higher payroll.The increase in attendance would probably cover the difference in the higher payroll.This of course is presuming that the money was spent wisely. .

          your accounting skills are what the ownership is basing there blah,blah blah,bs
          to the fan base.Its basically very simple however without looking at your tax structure,depreciation etc etc jargon.Buy something for x sell for y.Y becomes greater when you increase the quality of what you bought with x.The fans are being played .Ownership will make huge $ and Reds fans will be tortured while they do.

  10. Just gotta shake my head sometimes….Reds don’t wanta win…..Reds trading players to increase profits….Reds gutting team so they can sell… I have seen ’em all.But here is the end-all beat-all truth….. “Winning fixes everything” .Winning puts butts in seats…increases day to day profit….increases value of club….up goes your TV revenues…and gives your club and it’s fans pride in itself.What kind of business model preaches withholding money,building a losing club to make more profit?? That is back asswards logic,no business would think of doing that if they wanted a future. So (IMHO) Reds are doing all they can to be successful….simply because success makes them more profitable.But…Reds are the trout swimming upstream,they operate in a system (Free Agency) where talent is sold by the pound,the more you want the more it cost.So they gotta get real good real fast at 1. judging young talent 2. signing young talent 3.developing young talent if they want to thrive.And looks to me like Dick Williams is on board with this….how well he does this remains to be seen.But I’m good with this..it’s gonna be interesting watching all this unfold.And make my time watching Louisville Bats more enjoyable too (hopefully) ….

  11. WV,

    I think the Reds deep down know their chances of making the playoffs in either 2017 or 2018 are slim.

    Look at this list of teams “all in” on being a NL contender in the next two years:

    Plus….COL is spending, PIT (?), MIA has offensive talent, ARI (some talent, who knows)

    A lot of expiring contracts and free agency filings changes things after 2018.

    Better to not put more money down a sinkhole until 2019, when the competitive landscape changes, the Reds’ young talent matures and the contracts of Phillips/Cozart (and Mesoraco?) are off the books. Might even find a buyer for Homer Bailey’s last year and get some of his $23 million ’19 salary off the books.

    Just a thought on how the Reds are thinking. That’s why I enjoy RLN. Everyone comes from all different angles on things.

  12. On a side note: As I recall, Garry Templeton was a wonderful talent, but he had some problems with the organization and the fans in St. Louis. They had to think at the time that they were selling low on Templeton, but my oh my what they ended up with in return !!

  13. Comparing to Ozzie is too soon.

    • Actually, if only comparing the first 3 years of each player’s career, as Jason just did, you’re right on time.

  14. Might be Ozzie Smith, might be Willy Taveras.

    • Probably a better chance at being the equivalent of the latter, however, if you’re gonna dream, may as well dream big.

Comments are closed.

About Jason Linden

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.


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