One of the hottest topics around the Reds is Billy Hamilton. There are many who believe that Hamilton’s defense is great enough to keep him in the lineup despite his lack of productivity offensively. There are also many that believe the Reds need to move on from starting Hamilton, and some that believe they need to move on altogether. It is a great debate because there are valid reasons on both sides, and no clear cut answer. Many of the Redleg Nation writers got to sit down with the Reds front office last month. Without giving away too many company secrets, it is clear there is some civil divide among even the front office on what to do with Hamilton.
Billy Hamilton’s offense is not improving, and at this point it is what it is.
Hamilton is not improving, and with over 2,500 plate appearances, that probably is not changing. Reds president Dick Williams said just as much in an interview earlier this year. Hamilton is the 4th worst qualifying hitter (out of 150) in the MLB in wRC+ this season. One of the most frustrating aspects of Hamilton is that the Reds have always just settled with Hamilton’s offensive woes. Hamilton has made 411 of his 613 starts in the leadoff or #2 spot in the lineup. Hamilton only had a .308 OBP in a full season at AAA the year before he was called up. Hamilton has never been sent down despite not improving his on-base percentage. There is something to be said about earning your spot in a big league lineup. Billy Hamilton for some reason has been entitled to a spot despite no improvements in his offensive game.
How much value is Hamlton’s defense and how much does it make up for his offense?
This is the major question and there is no perfect answer to this. The best data point to look at this would be to examine how many runs a player is creating, and how many runs are they saving. If you look at weight runs created (not wRC+) which gives you an actual total number of runs a player is worth, Hamilton is worth 42. Hamilton has 5 defensive runs saved this year. Here is how he compares with rest of the National League Central in total runs saved + created:
Lorenzo Cain 102 (16/86)
Starling Marte 68 (0/68)
Harrison Bader 61 (13/48)
Albert Almora Jr. 57 (7/50)
Billy Hamilton 47 (5/42)
It is also worth nothing that Bader and Almora have a lot fewer plate appearances and innings. Hamilton only having 5 defensive runs saved does feel a little off, but there have certainly been some instances where his defense has taken a minor step back while still making spectacular plays this season. Even if it is off, which certainly is possible, Hamilton’s career high is 15 defensive runs saved. He would still be below the rest of the NL Central CF given everyone had the same amount of playing time. You can certainly conclude that it is significantly easier to produce runs offensively than save runs defensively.
How much value could Hamilton be as a pinch-runner/late inning defensive replacement?
Hamilton was electric in 2013 when he was called up in September. I found an old post from our friend Doug Gray in 2013 which will refresh your memory and give you some context of just how value he was in that role. The Reds could have quite the weapon if they used him this way over a full-season. Hamilton would easily be worth the $7 million or so he will cost in 2019 if used this way, but there is certainly an argument that the Reds should allocate money elsewhere.
The Reds right now should be using Hamilton as pinch-runner/late inning defensive replacement to get a better data sample of the value of that, and giving guys like Scott Schebler and Phillip Ervin a shot to play CF. Both players probably can’t play good enough defensively to play there everyday, but the Reds should at least be making sure of that now while there is nothing to lose. It is a shame that Nick Senzel is hurt right now because he would be another potential candidate (similar to what the Cubs have done with Ian Happ). Most likely the Reds will have to look for a replacement this off-season. Hamilton certainly is not the only problem the Reds have, but him starting is not a solution to improving the Reds in 2019. The Reds need to start planning and figuring out what they will do without him starting everyday next season.
All stats are used courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and ESPN Stats & Info, and include games played through 9/8/18.
Nick is a lifelong Reds fan who was born and raised in Cincinnati. He acquired his love of baseball from his late grandfather. Nick moved to the Cleveland area in 2014 with his wife, and his currently fighting to convert his beautiful baby daughter Emma to Reds fandom. Nick has been writing for Redleg Nation since 2013. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicholaspkirby.