Run Billy Run

Does Billy Make the Reds Go?

[This post was submitted by loyal Nation member Matt Habel. Thanks, Matt!]

This post came about from a commenter who posed the question, “Does the Reds winning coincide with Billy getting on base?” It is certainly an intriguing question which anecdotally would seem to have a very obvious answer and has even been brought up by his teammates.

The idea that any single player can directly impact a team’s win/loss results more often than not doesn’t really seem intuitive in baseball. At least to me. A quarterback in the NFL or a dominant basketball player (see James, LeBron) makes much more sense than a position player in the MLB. If a baseball player were to stake that claim, it would seem most likely to be a starting pitcher, such as Madison Bumgarner or Jake Arrieta, who have both been key parts of their respective team’s championships. Can a below average center fielder really have that much of an impact?

If we take the game vs the Giants which I am currently watching, Billy reached base in his first three at-bats, the Reds scored runs in each of those innings and have been in complete control the entire game. Not to mention this came against Matt Cain who had been pitching very well recently. Watching Billy get on base, effortlessly glide around the bases and get driven home by a Votto base hit seems like the most organic sequence in baseball history.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see what we find. Keep in mind this is for each player’s Reds career only.

Source: FanGraphs

Before we go too far into the numbers, I do want to acknowledge that there is an inherent problem taking splits for wins and losses. If a team wins then they generally score runs which means there has to be better offense. The easiest way for me to think about it was not single players splits, but rather the splits of different players compared against each other. There are more ways to look into this particular question, but this was the first question that I asked so I wanted to see it all the way through. The results did surprise me a bit.

Since the title of the article refers to Billy Hamilton, we will start there. The number that pops out immediately is the variance in Billy’s Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) between Reds wins and losses. That is very substantial as we can compare that with the rest of the Red’s lineup. I added in some former players to get a little bit more to look at. It definitely wasn’t nostalgia. Why would I ever get nostalgic while the Reds are playing the Giants?

Nobody else’s variance is even close to Billy’s and five players actually perform worse on average when the Reds win, including Joey Votto. If the Reds win a game, there is a very good chance that Billy had a good game for his standards. Unfortunately, that only is only barely above the average MLB performance, according to wRC+. Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is also included and presents a similar story, though not as dramatic as wRC+. In Red’s victories, Hamilton is still producing an average wOBA that is 44% higher than that in Reds losses. The downside, again, is that this is still considered below average. Another way of saying that is that in Reds losses, Billy Hamilton is one of the worst players in the league (a .210 wOBA for 2017 would be 3rd worst among qualified players). This is just more encouraging/frustrating evidence that if Billy ever can perform at an average or even just slightly below average level consistently, the Reds stand to benefit. Pretty amazing.

The other callout from the chart is the huge increase in ISO from EVERYONE during Reds’ wins. I am sure this is a trend that would hold true across the league as well. If a team wins a game, they are more than likely going to have more extra base hits than the opposition. There are endless different ways to build a team, but as many of the writers here have been expressing for years, power is the safest bet there is.

The three former Reds are all extremely similar, which is interesting but not sure if it means anything at all. Those teams had much more stability compared to the constant changes the current roster has endured. Maybe that plays into it, maybe not. For what it’s worth, Todd Frazier (.505) and Jay Bruce (.502) are the only players listed with winning percentages above .500. Brandon Phillips barely missed at .499. Votto sits at .486 after the blood bath last year.

I was surprised when I saw how much higher Billy’s variance is compared to everyone else. I pretty much assumed that everyone would play better, on average, in wins compared to losses. Going back to what I said earlier, that’s just a super intuitive observation. Also thinking again about the nuances of baseball, it takes much more than one or two strong players to win games. Just ask Mike Trout. That said, the connection between the Reds going and Billy going is enough to make you wish Billy was able to go a bit more often.

Matt Habel

When Matt is not in a kayak or a tent (yes, that is a Reds bucket hat), Matt is watching the Redlegs from the land without baseball, Portland OR. He grew up in Cincinnati but lived in Pittsburgh during the Pirates return to the postseason and survived the 2013 Wild Card game. He’s been a diehard fan ever since. 

27 thoughts on “Does Billy Make the Reds Go?

  1. The issue you have identified (at least intuitively for the Old Cossack) is how Hamilton is used in the lineup. Because Hamilton has extraordinary speed and can steal a base virtually at willm the BOOK says he must hit leadoff. This inherently makes Hamilton more critical to the success or failure of the team by giving him more chances to succeed or fail. In addition, when he fails, he inherently handicaps the rest of the lineup by giving away one of those invaluable outs and when he succeeds he benefits the rest of the lineup by conserving one of those invaluable outs for the big hitters following him.

    While Hamilton’s speed has a real impact once he gets on base, I contend the real impact is simply Hamilton getting on base and creating a run-scoring environment when he is on base in front of the big hitters. This same impact would probably be attained by a base-clogger hitting leadoff.

    • I think you’re on to something, Cossack! If Billy were batting 9th, I bet the delta would be lower.

      Alas, I doubt we’ll ever see that again. Price tried it, and I guess he decided he didn’t like it.

      • Patrick: On average, how many more at bats per season does a leadoff hitter get than, say, the 8th batter?

        • My data is old but when I studied that in 2010 it was about 120 PA difference between 1st and 8th in the NL.

  2. Nice write-up, Matt! That delta for Billy is pretty astounding.

    I wonder if his historically high scoring rate (runs scored/times on base) has to do with this. Last time I saw something about it (at FG, I think), Billy scored more often per TOB than anyone in history.

    It’s almost like a .300 OBP for Billy would have the same effect as a .350 OBP for an average scorer.

    Good food for thought, and congrats on your first post!

    • Thanks Partrick. Definitely not perfect but I will keep investigating as I keep getting more comfortable with the stats

    • Let alone the stolen bases, but how much does he affect the pitcher’s concentration thus giving his teammates and advantage in their AB’s?

  3. A couple thoughts. What % of the time does Billy score once on base versus league average? The eyeball test suggests it’s much higher. So he converts OBP to R more efficiently than others. It doesn’t hurt to bat before Votto. Secondly, if we were to consider his SB’s as his version of SLG%, it seems to me it would raise his OPS considerably. Meaning, he converts a walk or base hit into a double or triple frequently – especially if he does so before the next out. Ultimately, what that means to me is that he can have a lower OBP than other lead off batters because he converts his OBP more efficiently to runs. And I think it’s because he’s slightly faster than the speed of normal MLB baseball. Again, this is all anecdotal observation – so some data would be interesting to see if what my eye picks up is actually happening.

    • All of these ‘anecdotal’ observations have been documented and are supported. Unfortunately, the Old Cossack’s old computer and browser are no longer supported to retrieve that documentation without intensive manual calculations to regenerate the documentation.

      There is no question that Hamilton is more effective offensively in scoring runs than his OBP would allow. The issue becomes whether the Reds offense is more productive with Hamilton hitting leadoff or with Hamilton hitting down in the order with a higher OBP hitting leadoff.

    • He currently has 19 SBs and has been on base 40 times this year. His SB% is 95%. If we added take ratio of SB/times on base and multiply that by 95%, we could argue adding .450 points onto his OPS to give an estimate for what the stolen bases are worth. That would put him around .645 with league average at .729

  4. The delta between wRC+ in wins and losses is very real. I would contend that Billy’s playing style and frail frame could explain this….”when’s he’s good he’s really good and when he’s bad he’s hurting the team” dichotomy. In other words “Good Billy and Bad Billy”.

    He’s broken down the last 2 years. 120 games.
    Perhaps the answer is to give Billy frequent rest and start him 120 games and use him strategically in late inning situations in 35 more. Baseball is a 162 game grind. He’s not your 30 carry running back to grind out 3 yards and a first down in the 4 th quarter. Keep him fresh and rested and sharp and see if that delta lessens.

    • Matt, good article. It is the kind of fresh perspective on a Reds issue that Redleg Nation is known for.

      Old School, to your point of resting Hamilton, maybe a beginning point is to not start him against left-handed pitchers?

      I have Hamilton in all my dynasty fantasy leagues. The stolen bases alone justify him getting starts. But, he won’t be in my lineups tonight because he is 2 for 22, 1 SB for this season vs. LHP. He wasn’t much better last season, either.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats.cgi?full=1&params=plato%7Cvs%20LHP%7Chamilbi02%7Cbat%7CAB%7C

      Sitting him vs LHP still allows for an appearance later, if needed, vs. RH relievers. It also helps with breaking in others in CF or the outfield in general down the road {Wink(er), Wink(er)}.

      • Certainly leveraging SP matchups and late inning situational baseball is part of the formula. The other part is strategic rest. I would sit him against the Yankees- Tanaka and Sabathia. Pair it with the scheduled Wednesday travel off day. Work with the trainers, stretch, take a physical and mental break ,hit in the tunnels with Joey Votto and the hitting coaches…..be ready for late inning appearances….but then he is rejuvenated and 100% ready for the 7 game road trip against the Giants and Cubs. He is a special talent but needs a better plan to be more consistent.

      • Seems like a few years ago people were saying he should be an exclusive RH hitter, he probably is listening to Votto too much and needs some guidance from the other side

  5. Not sure how feasible an investigation could be made into determining if Billy getting a hot streak shows more of a correlation with winning than other players. For example…
    pick a criteria- 6 game or more stretch with obp over .330 or under .250
    determine Reds winning % during those stretches
    would trends be similar to other players like Votto?
    not sure if you would have to take it out more like 9 games to find any trend, I just recall Billy looking great from May to ASB in 2014 and pretty good last year in the 2nd half and that coincided with the best Reds have looked in the Price era.

    • This just in. The Nationals did an intensive study and determined that their likelihood of winning was increased when Anthony Rendon went 6-6 with 3 HR and 10 RBI.
      They are doing secondary analysis to make sure the correlation is correct.

      The issue isn’t if Billy is 0-4 with 2 popups and 2 k’s lead and a wRC+ of 41 do the Reds lose more often????
      Its- how do you get Billy to be “Good Billy” more often and walk twice and single and score more runs?

  6. I don’t know if Billy makes the Reds go or not but I do know if he gets his OBP up in the 320-330 range he will score a bunch of runs.He is what is I would call an old school lead -off guys because of his speed.Most teams go with a guy with on bases skills and gap power because well most teams don’t have a guy that will steal 50 bases a year but Billy can turn a walk or a single into a double or triple really quickly.He just has to get on base.

  7. A year ago I did a rough eyeball test and noticed a similar thing whenever Billy got on base twice the Reds had a winning record.

  8. OK, going to be a bit of a contrarian here.
    Perhaps we have reversed causation and correlation here.
    Historically, Billy Hamilton has really not been a very good hitter.
    Perhaps his “good Billy” nights are indicative of mediocre to poor pitching from the opposition, and thus, everybody will hit. Anecdotally, I can recall nights where Billy was very overpowered by the starting pitching the Reds faced, and surprise, so was a lot of the line-up.
    I like Billy and he is great fun to watch when he contributes. Maybe he really is getting better. That seems to be what I see when I watch the games.

    • Interesting question you raise. I understand that this excellent article and the thoughtful comments are focussing on BH’s hitting. Good to keep in mind, though, that as we saw last night, his glove is where triples go to die. Doubles and homers, too. I can’t claim authorship of that phrase, which was originally written about Willie Mays by, maybe, Grantland Rice.

  9. Does the same hold true historically if you did this based on lead off hitter, rather than specific players? Just looking at the number of times Cozart, Stubbs, Phillips, etc led off combined over the years, and do the same analysis.

  10. Good stuff here… Love Herpyderp’s question though. Might need to look at some pre-Billy years to figure that one out.

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