Readers, I am running out of steam. This season is drawing to a close and I am tired. I’m also running out of players who’ve played anything like a full season (hooray injuries!). I do still have Billy Hamilton, though.

First, let’s start with this, if you don’t think this has been a successful rookie season for Hamilton, then we disagree strongly. His fantastic fielding combined with his adequate hitting have made him worth (so far) 3.6 fWAR. That puts him as the 8th most valuable center fielder in baseball. That’s good.

But I’m not here to talk about the whole player. I’m here to talk about the bat.

The bat has been okay. An 88 wRC+ isn’t great, but it’s not a disgrace either.

A lot of things look good about Hamilton. His BABIP is around where it should be. His power has been, over the course of the season, a bit better than we might have expected. The problem is his walk rate. His 4.8% walk rate is well below the league of average of 7.6% and lightyears away from his Double-A peak number of 16.9%.

Put simply, he needs to walk more. The best way, it seems, to do that, is for him to stop bunting. Hamilton has bunted 48 times this year. If you remove those 48 plate appearances, his walk rate is 5.3%. So, while bunting less might make some difference, it’s not solving the whole problem.

Much of Hamilton’s plate discipline is around the league average. The only place he deviates significantly is in the number of pitches he makes contact with.

Looking at all the numbers, I have a hard time putting my finger on what Hamilton needs to do. As far as I can tell, it seems he needs to swing less. This because he seems to be good at putting the bat on the ball (he does strikeout less often than the league average). If he does swing less, he may find himself swinging at more favorable pitches and he may also find himself walking down to first base a bit more.

38 Responses

  1. User1022

    Billy Hamilton definitely hasn’t embarrassed himself, he is an excellent fielder with a pretty decent arm. He has made some bad throws this year, but I imagine he’s still learning the position, still building arm strength and accuracy, so I believe he will improve defensively. He may be a Gold Glove winner someday.

    Offensively, yes, he definitely needs to walk more. But here’s the thing: In his first full season, he has shown he belongs. He only looked overmatched in a few instances, but he was going up there every game and hitting like an MLB player. He IS an MLB player, and only (about to be) 24 years old at that. At the start of the season, there was a lot of hand wringing on whether or not he could handle himself on the big stage (and there were a lot of “Told you so!”s after his terrible start), but he has put up solid if slightly below average numbers. If you were to take a quick glance at all offensive stats on this Reds team and knew nothing about the players, I would wager no one could guess Billy was a rookie this year.

    Theoretically speaking, he’s 4 years away from reaching his full potential, so as long as he keeps building on what he did this season, I am very comfortable with Billy Hamilton holding down centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds for the forseeable future.

  2. droomac

    I could not agree more about the bunting, with one caveat. I would not be at all averse to seeing Billy taking a first pitch as a matter of policy by using a fake drag bunt about 75% of the time. This would allow him to see a pitch, play with the defense a bit (drawing them in earlier in the year and making them less reactive once the ruse has been discovered, meaning that he could, in fact, bunt with the defense back a bit more).

    The most encouraging thing about Hamilton is his bat. He is 23 years old and seems to be a quick study. He may well be a .270 hitter, which is just fine considering his defense and baserunning. Now, if he could get on base at a .330 clip, that would be gravy

    • tct

      I don’t think he should be bunting more than a couple times per week. But he is 16-48 this year on bunts, so his obp when he gets the bunt down is slightly above that 330 clip you’re talking about.

      I don’t think bunting is the issue. Billy is not a hacker so I really don’t think being over aggressive is the issue either. The bottom line is that you can’t walk if the pitcher doesn’t throw balls, and pitchers really don’t want to walk Billy. Only two players in the NL have seen a higher % of pitches in the strike zone than Hamilton and they are Ben Revere and BJ Upton. See the pattern there? Speedy guys who don’t scare pitcher with their power.

      So if pitchers are pounding the zone with him, I’m not sure that swinging less will help. Billy has to get pitchers to respect his bat so that they will throw more balls. He does that by hitting balls in the gap with the occasional HR. If Billy can keep his ISO over 100 like he has this year I think he will start to get pitched to differently and draw some more walks. Right now pitchers respect his legs way more than his bat and its not hard to blame them. But if he keeps driving balls in the gap on a consistent basis, I think that will change.

      • Vicferrari

        I am confused about the bunting- I would think that getting om base 33% is phenomenal if your stats are correct. It seems pretty backward to want him to decrease this so he can increase the walks he draws…is it the fouls that maybe put him in a hole? If he is only bunting strikes what is the difference and if he is down 2 strikes early I almost feel he should bunt if he is that good- very unlikely he draws a walk being down 0-2

      • tct

        Yeah, that was my point. It seems silly to say he needs to stop bunting altogether so he can walk more when he’s getting on base at a 333 clip when he gets the bunt down. The reason I wouldn’t want him to bunt more than a couple times per week is that I think his success rate would go down if he does if too much and he needs to be able to do more than beat out a grounder or a bunt if he’s going to reach his offensive potential. But, yeah I think you could make the point, based on these numbers, that he maybe should bunt a little more. I wouldn’t agree with that, but that seems to be more supported by the numbers than the idea for him to quit bunting altogether.

  3. lwblogger2

    I’d love for him to walk more but like Jason, I’m not really sure how he does that. I think if he swings less he’s going to end up behind in a lot of counts. If I’m a pitcher, I don’t fuss around with Hamilton. You have to go right after him because you sure as heck don’t want to walk him. I’m sure Jason looked at his plate-discipline stuff on Fangraphs and already checked if pitchers seemed to be giving him more than the average number of pitches in the zone.

    • tct

      Only 5 players in baseball, all speedy, low power types, have seen a higher % of pitches in the strike zone. Only two players, Span and Revere, have seen a higher % of fastballs. Only two players, Gomez and BJ Upton, have a higher first strike % than Billy and both of those players swing a lot more than Hamilton. It seems pretty clear that pitchers are just challenging him with fastballs in the zone to avoid walking him.

      • VaRedsFan

        Thanks for that great information. My eyes weren’t deceiving me.

      • lwblogger2

        Thanks for doing the lookup on that… I hadn’t had a chance.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I think we can make too much of this point. Yes, Hamilton sees more strikes than average. But the overall spread isn’t great.

        The average NL hitter sees 45 strikes out of 100 pitches. Billy Hamilton sees 48 strikes out of 100 pitches.

        If Hamilton sees 16 pitches in a game, that means over six games (24 at bats) Hamilton sees 3 more strikes than average – so one every eight at bats or so.

        There are lots of factors contributing to Hamilton not walking as much as he should, but I don’t think we should overstate the role that “pitchers don’t want to walk him” plays.

      • lwblogger2

        I figured about 1 extra strike a game but it was an off-the-cuff estimate. What may bear looking into further is the strike% when the pitcher is behind in the count. I wonder if he’s challenged more there. I don’t think he sees too many 3-1 or 3-2 off-speed pitches… I don’t think I could find that on Fangraphs. May need to go to pitch-by-pitch data. Probably won’t amount to a ton more and as you said, we may be over playing the “pitchers don’t want to walk him” card.

      • tct

        You make a valid point, although you could make the same point about just about every statistic in baseball. I mean, the difference between Frazier’s OBP of 340 something(didn’t look it up) and Hamilton’s OBP of 305 is 3-4 extra times on base for every 100 pa. Somewhere around 20 extra times on base after 600 pa, or maybe one extra time per week. Doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but the difference between above average and below average in baseball is very small, statistically speaking.

        But more importantly, I think you are ignoring something critical: Hamilton’s first strike % which is 64% and fifth highest in the NL. Pitchers are pounding the zone to get ahead of Hamilton. Once they get ahead, they often throw pitches out of the zone to try to get him to strikeout, bringing down the overall zone %.

        It’s not the only reason for the low walk rate, but I think it’s the biggest reason.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Again, Hamilton’s first strike rate is 64% and the league average is 61%.

        I’m not saying this plays zero role in Hamilton not walking, it does. But it’s only three pitches out of 100.

        Some people (not you) say “It’s not Billy Hamilton’s fault he doesn’t walk because pitchers don’t throw him balls. He can’t walk when the pitcher just throws strikes.” And that’s too extreme of a reading. Out of 100 pitches, Billy Hamilton sees 52 balls and he’s walked 5.0% of the time. The average hitter faces 55 balls out of 100 and walks 7.7% of the time. Billy Hamilton faces first pitch strikes 64% of the time. The average hitter faces first pitch strikes 61% of the time. It’s just not that big of a difference to explain his walk rate being half of what it should be.

        I’ve said from the start of this season, I think there’s a good chance Hamilton will improve his walk rate, maybe by a lot, as he develops as a hitter. He walked a lot at some levels in the minor leagues. He walked about 15% of the time in 2012. And I’m pretty sure the pitchers were aware of his stolen base potential, he was stealing 165 bases that year.

      • tct

        Interesting discussion. To try and make my point a little better, Steve: if you are going to dismiss his zone pct. because it’s only 3 extra strikes out of 100 pitches compared to average, then you might as well dismiss the entire premise of this article, which is that Hamilton needs to walk more. After all, the difference between his OBP, 305, and the NL average, 312, is only about 2 extra times on base for every 300 pa or 4 extra times on base after 600 pa. Less than once a month. The difference between his walk rate, 5%, and the NL average, 7.6%, is 2 or 3 extra walks every 100 pa, or 15 extra walks over 600 pa. Something like one extra walk every 12 days. I think it’s possible that 3 or 4 extra strikes per 100 pitches could cause Billy to get 2 fewer walks per month. I don’t think that’s a stretch at all.

        Completely off topic, but good gracious, offense is disappearing in baseball. The NL average OBP is .312? Yuck. DH anyone?

  4. ProspectCincy

    You have to love what Hamilton has brought to the Reds this season. Oddly enough, one of the most questionable assets the Reds had going into the season turned out to be one of the most stable after the first few weeks of the season.

    Hamilton is not perfect, he still makes a bad throw to the wrong base every so often; swings at hooks in the dirt and doesn’t walk as much as he needs to (although August walk totals were very encouraging).

    The other negative for Hamilton this season has been his initial base-running. 21 caught stealings break down a very odd way (9 pick-offs, 4 should be safe calls, 8 caught stealings from the catcher). The caught stealing number is about where it should be, the pick-offs are just bad bad decisions by Billy. Seeing all of these pitchers for the first time will cause of some that, inexperience and immaturity likely caused the rest and hope to see him steal the world next season.

    The good positive about his baserunning is that I can’t seem to remember a single time he was thrown out on the base-paths on a non-steal situation. He takes the extra base so many times, I have to think he’s been near perfect on that side of the speed equation. And this kids glove … man o man what a positive. ROY and GG without a doubt.

    If you told me Hamilton would be hitting where he’s hitting, followed by Frazier the way he’s hit this year; I’d tell you the Reds are 7 games up at this point.

    What a strange season.

    • VaRedsFan

      This is the best post, with the breakdowns of Billy’s stealing numbers.
      I’d like to know where you found them.
      The pickoffs are admittedly bad. There haven’t been many lately. LEARNING!!
      I also remember 2 pickoffs being blatant Balks not called.

      My guess is that we are looking at his FLOOR in SB success. Only 8 CS’s by the catcher….that is tremendous.

      Any stats on overthrows by catchers attempting to nab Billy? Those are bonus bases collected, outside the realm of the SB.

      He has noticeably been more selective in the 2nd half of the season…not just running at will and his success rate has risen. Joe Morgan wants him to get a larger lead. He seems to be stretching out a bit.

      I echo your account of his overall running on the base paths. Minimal (if any) TOOTBLANS. I recall one time when he tried to tag up on a popup to 2nd, and got thrown out at home. Maybe not the best choice, but at worst, he established a boundary for such a play.

  5. sultanofswaff

    As imperfect as his offensive game is, he’s still the best hitting rookie in the league based on a bunch of different stats.

    Can anyone think of a NL rookie who has been better?

    • tct

      You’re right that it’s been a pretty poor rookie class, especially for position players. Polanco and Taveras have been very underwhelming and they’re only a year younger than Hamilton.

  6. wvredlegs

    I know you are talking about his bat, but look what BHam has added up the middle to the defense. That middle defense of Mesoraco, Cozart, BP and BHam is pretty tight. Just think, Cozart, BP and BHam all Gold Glove caliber and Mes not far behind. Cozart, BP and BHam should all win a GG this year. BP has missed a few games, but he has only 1 error this year. That’s golden.
    With BHam’s bat, I think they really drilled into his mind in the off-season last year to make contact and run out alot of ground balls. Thus alot of swinging. This winter I believe they will work on his pitch selection and recognition much more. I look for an improved BHam next year.

    • VaRedsFan

      Agree with everything but Mes being a good defensive catcher. He excels at hardly anything defensively. He drops an inordinate amount of pitches, not a great blocker of in the dirt balls, his pitch framing is horrible. Last year Bailey, this year Cueto, would rather pitch to Pena.

      • lwblogger2

        Mes’ defense is improving in every aspect. He has been better at both blocking balls in the dirt and at preventing the dreaded passed ball this season. His pitch framing also doesn’t seem too bad to me. His arm and release are decent. I haven’t looked at the metrics but my eyes as a former catcher tell me that he’s in the “average” range defensively at this point. He is on the lower-end of average at this point but I’d still say average. I think he has the potential to be a plus defender. The tools are there for the most part.

      • lwblogger2

        Of course I say that and find that he actually has more passed balls this year but has fewer wild-pitches… Innings are close to the same.

      • VaRedsFan

        I’ll give you that…”he’s on the lower end of average” and agree about the tools.

  7. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    In my opinion if Hamilton can walk more and get those caught stealing numbers down he’s a borderline all star. He’s a very smart base runner and an excellent fielder. I would think the bat would also get better. He may never be a 300 hitter but he could easily be a perennial 280-290 hitter.

  8. VaRedsFan

    With regards to his hitting.
    Billy is 14 for 40 bunting (.350 avg) he has 8 sacrifice bunts. That was with the defenses stacked to take away the bunts.
    I don’t think he should stop bunting. I would like to see him bunt more with 2 strikes, when the defense moves back a little.

    He has done very well in those “clutchy” we like to talk about. betting .309 with men on base and .299 with RISP.

    He had twice as many walks in the month of August than he had in any other month, so it seems like he’s learning. For those watching every night, we can all see that he is getting better at fouling off pitches and extending AB’s. This might be the reason for the higher walk rate.

    As I have been saying for the entire year, pitchers don’t want to walk Billy, so that is the chief reason for his low walk rate. He sees more strikes than Frazier/Mes…ect for the simple fact that pitchers don’t want to walk Billy for the fear of it turning into a double/triple. There is very little to debate here.

    For the money, he is top 3 on this team, for the value he has provided.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Hamilton’s walk rate was 7.1% in August, which was a nice uptick from earlier months. Double earlier months. That’s a good start. With the rest of his hitting profile, he really needs to get it above league average (7.7%), even has high as 9-10%.

  9. NCMountie1

    Certainly Billy answered the huge question mark about Leadoff/ CF with loss of Choo. Now if Reds could ONLY (how many years now have Reds fans been saying this?) find a Leftfielder of equal/better quality!

  10. Redgoggles

    I would be curious to see his splits with runners on base (no stealing potential) versus when the bases are empty as I think that may show the difference in pitchers approach towards Billy.

  11. reaganspad

    Great post and good discussion. I would like to add to the Mesoraco debate that he should begin playing in LF in spring training. The guy has a bat that is required to be in the lineup. If he catches twice a week, I am fine with that. Tucker will be ready one day and then we have a lot of flexibility in late innings any game that Meso has started in the outfield.

    He plays hard and is a good runner. I would suggest that he would be a very good left fielder.

    His catching is good, his bat is great

    • lwblogger2

      There has been talk of him working out at a different position in the off-season and spring training. I think he’d be a good LF. My only question really is that I’m not sure that is enough of a break for his legs if he’s still the primary catcher. Also his bat is excellent for a catcher but only good for a LF.

      • GOREDS

        Could not disagree more. Mes’s value is as a catcher. If we cant get a LF that is a bigger problem. Tucker is not even Cozert at the plate! Mes can be a good DH, PH, or 1B backup.

      • lwblogger2

        Um, that’s basically what I said. His bat is only good for a LF, it is excellent for a catcher. He’s worth a lot more as a catcher than any other position really and I still believe his primary position should be catcher. Perhaps my post didn’t make that last part clear.

  12. Zach K

    I do not consider Billy’s rookie season a success or a failure. His defense is a great surprise but his offensive numbers show he is not a run creator (-5 rBat which factors in ‘speed stats) he is also an out machine. Let’s not forget the ZIPs projection for him was a .319 on base and 85 percent steal success rate. He is no where near either of those. A SB seems like a unneeded risk with his speed. He can score off a double from first base so why risk an out for him to take second in the first place? I don’t see him ever being a run creator in the future unfortunately.

    • User1022

      So you think he has no room for improvement?

  13. Steve Schoenbaechler

    “Put simply, he needs to walk more. The best way, it seems, to do that, is for him to stop bunting. Hamilton has bunted 48 times this year. If you remove those 48 plate appearances, his walk rate is 5.3%. So, while bunting less might make some difference, it’s not solving the whole problem.”

    You have to do something with those 48 AB’s. You just can’t take them out like they don’t exist. Unless/until you do, this is a flawed analysis.

  14. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Hamilton has done very well, I believe, especially for what many expected from him, including myself. I didn’t think he would be this good overall.

    The trick now is sophomore year. Does he still learn, progress, etc.? For, right now, I would only consider him a serviceable CF, especially for the money we are paying him. But, ones the money increases, will he still be affordable? Also, remember, Frazier’s sophomore year, he failed to the point people were even talking of letting him go. You don’t think other teams are going to be reviewing tapes on Hamilton to see how best to attack him, take care of him, etc.?