When Billy Hamilton first arrived in Cincinnati back in late 2013 he was a game changer. The Reds called up the 22-year-old speedster and used him off of the bench in September as they fought to make the playoffs.

The presence of Billy Hamilton’s speed was felt immediately. In a pitchers duel between Michael Wacha and Homer Bailey, the game was scoreless in the bottom of the 7th inning. The two teams were separated in the standings by 2.5 games in the standings. Ryan Ludwick led off the inning with a single and on came Billy Hamilton to pinch run. The entire world knew that he would be trying to take second base. And sure enough, that’s exactly what he did. Hamilton scored on the next play. It was the only run of the game.

The rest of the month was more of the same from the Cincinnati Reds and Billy Hamilton. He played in 13 total games, and only had three starts in the month. He would steal 13 bases and score 9 runs. In six games he entered as a pinch runner and in all six games he stole a base. That was his role. Come into a close game when someone else got on, steal a base, and hope someone could come through with a hit of any kind because he was going to score if that happened.

Despite just 22 total plate appearances in 2013, Billy Hamilton posted a 0.6 WAR (Fangraphs). The reason was rather simple: He had a baserunning value of 3.2 runs. That ranked 54th best in baseball. Out of the 717 players who had at least 10 plate appearances. His baserunning was THAT impactful.

But following the 2013 season Shin-Soo Choo left in free agency and Billy Hamilton took over the role in center field as the every day option. What he did in that role was provide some of the best defense in baseball. And he continued to be outstanding on the base paths. But he also was among the absolute worst hitters in baseball. Much of the value his glove and speed on the bases brought was negated by the fact that he was so poor with the bat. His 6-year stretch with the Reds led to a .245/.298/.333 line – good for a 70 OPS+ (100 is league average).

After the 2018 season the Reds chose to non-tender Hamilton, allowing him to become a free agent. The Royals picked him up on a big league deal and brought him on as their starting center fielder. He proceeded to have the worst offensive year of his career, hitting just .211/.275/.269. Kansas City placed him on waivers and on Monday he was claimed by the Braves.

Atlanta is currently 74-52 and 5.5 games up on the Nationals and 9 games up on “being out of the playoffs”. While it’s not impossible that they would miss out on making the playoffs, Fangraphs has their chances of making the playoffs at 99.6%. The risk of missing out is very small. So they decided to take a chance on Billy Hamilton as the 25th player on their bench.

Their plan is simple, and it’s one that has been talked about for years when it comes to Billy Hamilton: They are only going to use him as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. They have no plans to give him at-bats. This plan is to utilize his strengths and to minimize his weakness.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. We got a glimpse of it seven years ago in Cincinnati. Now the Braves are going to give it a shot.

17 Responses

  1. Sabo-metrics

    Hamilton could have been an everyday player if the Reds staff hadn’t asked him to bunt and hit groundballs. He never had the encouragement to develop as an actual hitter. Best defensive CF I’ve ever seen.

    • ToBeDetermined

      Sabo
      Would have been interesting if he had been coached differently.
      In addition to the two items you mentioned.
      I thought he should have just batted from the right-side the entire time instead of switch hitting.
      His swing from the left-side had a major loop in it (I think it was Paul O’Neil who pointed out the loop in his swing) which caused a lot of swings and misses, weak contact and pop outs.

      • Ed

        I’m not smart but why ask someone that isn’t a strong hitter to learn how to hit from both sides of the plate?

  2. Aaron B.

    Funny enough the Royals already had a guy that provided what Billy does, his name is Terrance Gore… lol… I wouldn’t mind the Reds signing a guy like this, a speedster in a pinch that could play CF prob slips under the radar since he is listed as LF.

  3. doofus

    Good luck to Billy Hamilton! He is a good guy.

  4. CI3J

    Billy Hamilton is a weapon, but he’s also a luxury. Most teams cannot afford to have a bench player who cannot hit. But as the article states, Billy is such a special player on the basepaths that he can make up for it, PROVIDED there are other decent hitters that he can be swapped for once they get on base.

    All of this is to say, there are only a few teams in all of baseball that can afford to have Billy Hamilton on their roster. The Braves seem like a great fit, and I hope Billy finally gets to showcase his special talents when the lights shine brightest on him.

    • ToBeDetermined

      CI3J
      Exactly “Most teams cannot afford to have a bench player who cannot hit”
      When you say afford it goes from a positional stand point AND also they fact that isn’t he making like $10 million + this year ?

  5. docproc

    I remember a lot of us begging for Hamilton to be used this way. Management ran him out there every day anyway.
    Reminds me a bit of the Jose Peraza situation now. Most of us agree he’s a decent bench piece. Management runs him out there every day anyway.
    The only way to deal with Peraza is how we dealt with Hamilton–cut him loose.

    • ToBeDetermined

      doc
      I agree, Peraza is a precarious situation on this club.
      It wouldn’t totally surprise me to see him as part of a trade or DFA’d at some point.

  6. wutinthehail

    I never understood his usage with the Reds other than they overvalued his glove. You have this guy that was the biggest threat in baseball when he is on base but he can’t get on base. However, you can put him on your bench and make sure he gets on base at least once in every game in which you need him to get on base (which could be every game if you choose) in the best situation determined by you (Reds field management). When it gets to the point of the game where you need a good glove you can put him in the game as well.

    His very specific set of skills were valuable in late game high leverage situations which the Reds could fully exploit but Billy Hamilton could not exploit on his own.

    That being said, his base running skills are on the decline (every year since 2015) so he is not long for the league anyway.

    • RojoBenjy

      Castellini loved him.

      Nuff said.

  7. Redgoggles

    He is another cautionary tale of bringing up a prospect too soon, triggering his arbitration years that outpaced his development. Or perhaps they determined he was a one trick pony early on, and maxed out his speed years?

    • RojoBenjy

      I always suspected that they were always in fear that the year they traded him would be the year he “figured it out” and set the world on fire.

      I get a similar impression about the love for Peraza.

  8. Earl

    Billy should help out, Braves have been playing without a true center fielder all season.