Four games into the 2017 season and it looks like the top of the Reds lineup is set with Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza batting 1-2. With the speed of both players, this could have the potential to be very exciting to watch, especially with Joey Votto and Adam Duvall hitting behind them. But it will only be exciting if Hamilton and Peraza do what they are supposed to do: get on base.
(Very) early returns for 2017 have been slow. Through the first four games, Peraza is 3-for-17, with one run scored, zero walks and one strikeout. Hamilton is better, going 4-for-16, with two runs scored, one strikeout and one walk. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but both still need to work to get better at being patient and making contact.
Peraza is still young (23 on April 30), but last season he showed the Reds what he can be capable of at second base. He hit .324/.352/.411 with 78 hits and 25 runs scored. His OPS was .762. It wasn’t bad for a utility player.
His weakness, however, is that he draws very few walks. In 256 plate appearances last season, his BB% was just 2.7%. That’s not good for someone batting second. If he wants to be better at getting on-base, he needs to be more patient and not swing at every pitch he sees. Normally it would be a bad idea to bat someone who doesn’t walk a lot in the second spot (and it still might not work out), but something Peraza does that helps him is that he does not strike out. He struck out just 33 times in 2016.
Plus, Peraza has been consistent throughout his career. His K% has never been higher than 15% as a professional. Though his BB% is low, his OBP in 2016 was .352 (albeit in a small sample), proving he can make contact. When he puts the ball in play, with his speed, good things can happen, as evidenced by his .361 BABIP in 2016.
As for Hamilton, I think he is just now starting to become the player everyone thinks he can be. He still has a lot of upside at the age of 26. Taking away his abysmal 2014 and 2015 seasons (OBP of .292 and .274, respectively), it leaves an OBP of .321 last season. While it’s not Peraza’s .352 OBP or even Votto’s eye-popping .434, it is right on target with the 2016 league average of .322, according to Fangraphs.
Hamilton does strike out more (K% is 20.2%) than Peraza, which is why his OBP in 2016 was lower. But Hamilton’s BABIP was .326 in 2016, up from .264 in 2015 and .304 in 2014. He is improving at getting hits when he puts balls in play. Speed obviously plays a factor in this, especially when Hamilton has hit more ground balls than fly balls (2016: 144 GBs and 92 FBs).
Based on last season, it is promising to think Hamilton and Peraza can be the table setters for the middle of the lineup. There is still work to be done though, particularly with Peraza’s free-swinging approach. But if both of them can get on base in front of Votto and Duvall? It should be fun.