“It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits in baseball. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course.” — Henry Aaron

The notion that speed matters only so much is a well-known truism in baseball. And yet, every time baseball people catch a glimpse of human beings running at an exceptionally quick pace, it once again becomes the drug they can’t quit.

The Kansas City Royals reintroduced speed to a national baseball audience last fall. It was hard not to swoon over the sight of road runners Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore tearing up the base paths…except when you remember that the impact of Dyson and Gore’s speed on the base paths was relatively minimal in a statistical sense. (Whether Dyson and Gore messed with pitcher’s minds while dancing off a base is another story.) Though he went 3-for-3 in stolen base chances, Gore had zero plate appearances last postseason. Dyson recorded two hits and two walks in 19 playoff plate appearances, and was caught stealing in two of his three attempts at base thievery. To begin the 2015 season, Gore was sent back to the minors and Dyson went back to being a part-time player.

The Reds are encountering a similar problem — except on a larger scale — with their resident speed merchant, Billy Hamilton.

Through 23 games and 106 plate appearances, Hamilton is slashing .215/.267/.337. By itself, that line is a cause for alarm, but not a cause for panic. Hamilton started slow last March/April (.245/.280/.330) before improving in May and then recording a slash of .327/.348/.500 last June, his best month of the season. Furthermore, Hamilton is walking more this season — his walk rate is up to 6.6 percent from 5.6 percent in 2014 — he’s hitting the ball on the ground more often, and he’s suffering through some miserable BABIP luck (.250), considering he hit .304 on balls in play last season and owns a .301 BABIP for his entire minor league and major league career.

But, the cold, hard truth is this: Hamilton isn’t getting on base enough, and it’s time the Reds bumped their young center fielder to the latter half of the lineup.

On-base percentage isn’t the be-all, end-all number for a leadoff hitter, but it is one of the most important components for a good hitter, especially one that racks up as many plate appearances as Hamilton.

A quick recap on Hamilton’s 2014: he was the worst-hitting National League outfielder not named B.J. Upton with at least 550 plate appearances, which especially stings considering Hamilton’s 2014 on-base percentage (.292) was 20 points below league average. Those numbers should not have have been that surprising. While his pre-Triple-A numbers indicated he could reach base at a proficient clip, Hamilton’s .256/.308/.343 slash in 547 plate appearances during his 2013 stint at Louisville is a more accurate reflection of his ceiling as a hitter, and there were plenty of scouting reports like this one that added a dose of temperance to the prodigious hype that surrounded Hamilton before and after he chased down the single-season minor-league stolen base record in 2012.

I was flabbergasted prior to last season that Reds not only handed Hamilton the starting center field job without a legitimate backup to push the then-23-year-old, but also presented Hamilton with the keys to the leadoff spot with all of 22 big-league plate appearances.

I am in no way advocating for Hamilton’s removal from the everyday lineup. (Especially since the options behind Hamilton are unsavory.) Despite his offensive woes and inefficiency stealing bases in 2014 — Hamilton was successful in 56 of his 79 stolen-base attempts (71 percent), a success rate that was below league average — he was nearly a four-win player thanks to his exceptional defense in center field and being one of the top base runners in the game.

I already noted that Hamilton has made some strides at the plate this season. Also, he is the majors best base runner; he remains a savant in center field; and he has upped his base-stealing smarts, resulting in a 93 percent (13-of-14) success rate.

But the fact remains we’re nearing 2008 Corey Patterson, 2009 Willy Taveras and 2012 Drew Stubbs territory in regards to Hamilton’s place atop/near the top of the Reds lineup.

I think Hamilton — who appears to be a level-headed dude — would handle the “demotion” well, too. I imagine a potential conversation with Hamilton and manager Bryan Price in Price’s office would go something like this:

Price: “Billy, I’m going to drop you to the bottom half of the lineup for awhile. This decision in no way means myself or the organization has given up on you as a leadoff hitter; we just want to take some pressure off of you and give a few of the other guys that are going pretty well right now the chance to get more at-bats. You’re still going to be out there in center field every day.”

Hamilton: “Sure, skip. Whatever helps the team. I know I haven’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball.”

Price: “Thanks for understanding. You’ve already made some big improvements to your game, and with some time, I think we’ll get that batting stroke of yours figured out, too. You still have the green light on the bases, and once you show some improvement in the batter’s box, I’ll bump you back up to the front half of the lineup.”

Hamilton: “Sounds good, skip. I’ll keep working at it.”

Price: “You’re the man, Billy. Just do one thing for me: take it easy on the Mountain Dew. Walt’s busting my chops about having to order two cases of Dew for you before every homestand.”

Hamilton: “[Smiles]. We’ll see about that.”

The problem is, of course, is that the Reds have limited options to replace Hamilton. (Price isn’t doing Hamilton any favors by batting Zack Cozart second, nullifying the good early chemistry Hamilton and Joey Votto seemed have batting first and second, respectively.)

Aside from re-inserting Votto in the No. 2 hole, the easy choice to replace Hamilton in the leadoff slot would be to ride the hot start of Cozart after he returns from his finger and wrist ailments. Cozart’s slash of .304/.343/.533 is aided by a BABIP of .319, but it can’t hurt to bat Cozart first until he levels out.

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but Brandon Phillips may not be a bad option to lead-off either. Yes, Phillips’ current .298/.327/.340 slash is influenced by a high BABIP (.329), but the second baseman’s contact numbers indicate a slightiy more disciplined approach this season. Phillips’ career slash in the leadoff spot is .266/.325/.431 — a line that doesn’t scream Rickey Henderson — but is nonetheless a respectable slash.

The point here is to save Hamilton from himself and to save him from making far too many outs ahead of the Reds best hitters. I think Hamilton has a better idea of what he wants to do at the plate this season, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that most times, Hamilton looks a little overwhelmed. The Reds should slot Hamilton in the latter half of the lineup for awhile, see what happens, and then evaluate whether it’s best for the team that Hamilton bats leadoff again in 2015.

113 Responses

  1. IndyRedMan

    How is he going to run w/the pitcher at the plate? Billy has like 18 runs on 21 hits or something? Let him keep working at leadoff….his .280 obp is like .330 for a normal leadoff (which the Reds don’t have anyway) and .300 obp would be like .350

    • Grant Freking

      Not sure I understand your logic behind .280 OPB=.330 OBP…at all. Also, I’m not sure there’s any harm is trying something new especially since the Reds offense is below league-average in weight runs created plus (wRC+) and OPS+.

      • gaffer

        Ultimately this whole conversation is asking which hole to plug in a leaky boat, when its going down no matter what you do.

      • Nick Carrington

        .280 OBP does not equal .330. Not even close. Hamilton does turn a lot of singles and walks into doubles and triple by stealing bases, but that would in theory improve his slugging percentage and not his OBP. There is definite value in that (A lot of value so far), so you have a point. But stealing bases does not make a poor OBP better.

      • Big56dog

        Exactly, sometimes getting a slow guy on 1st 33% of the time is more valuable than a fast guy 28% when Votto, Frazier and Bruce are knocking them out. The answer is real simple, bat Hamilton 9th, Votto 2nd- crap shoot at lead-off- you are no worse off than now except you have increased your chances of letting your least likely guy to get on base 1 less chance to make the predictable out

      • beelicker

        Piling on with Big56 below, Cozart can hit strikes & pitchers have to be absolutely loathe to free pass ANYONE batting directly in front of Votto, so the concept of that guy actually drawing very many BB by whomever may be a complete pipe dream … at least Cozart can hit his way on there & would see far more strikes than when hitting 8th

      • Chris Miller

        My guess is that Indy is equating the value of BH’s .280 obp with a normal guy’s .330 obp, because unlike the normal guy who gets on at the .330 clip, he doesn’t move around and score at the same rate BH does. There probably is quite a bit of validity to that. Tough to know for sure without looking up the actual numbers. Point is per time on base, how often does BH score versus the average .330 obp guy?

      • jdx19

        I think you’re correct in surmising what the OP stated.

        I read something last year about Hamilton’s scoring percentage and it was off-the-charts. So, in that regards, it’s somewhat true, but saying .280 is .330 is a pure guess. I’m trying to find the article to link.

      • Jeremy Conley

        Scoring rates have way more to do with slugging (extra bases) and the people behind you. When you say average .330 OBP guy, what do you mean? Average slugging? Average speed? Where they hit in the order?

    • jdx19

      Here are the numbers for 2014-2015 for run scoring %, which I simply got by the following: (R-HR)/(H+BB-HR). Basically, how often did you score when you got on base.

      Hamilton – 42.05%
      Heisey – 38.23%
      Jay Bruce – 37.1%
      Todd Frazier – 32.7%
      Zack Cozart – 32.5%
      Brandon Phillips – 26.0%
      Devin mesoraco – 24.4%
      Joey Votto – 24.3%
      Brayan Pena – 15.7%

      Now, there is a lot of noise in these numbers. Batting leadoff, Hamilton always had good hitters coming up with him on base, whereas Brayan Pena usually had the pitcher or Zack Cozart hitting behind him.

      So is this data useful? Who knows. But, I’d suspect that it is completely accurate to say that Billy Hamilton at .280 is more valuable as a hitter than an average player at maybe .290 or .295. But I think .330 is a stretch.

      • Jeremy Conley

        So your point is that stealing bases makes you more likely to score? That seems fairly obvious, no?

        Why not just use base running runs above average if you want to see the impact Billy’s speed has on scoring?

      • jdx19

        I don’t have a point. I was amplifying what I thought INDYREDMAN was trying to get at. Namely, that Hamilton’s increased rate of scoring when on base make his .280 OBP more ‘valuable’ than an average player’s .280 OBP, which is mathematically accurate; just not to the tune of a .330 OBP.

        Of all the folks on the site, you don’t need to lecture me on what stats I should and shouldn’t be using.

      • Jeremy Conley

        I’m not lecturing, I’m asking.

        The idea of trying to equate different levels of OBP is confusing to me I guess. OBP is just one piece of the puzzle, we know this. If a guy hits all doubles, he will be more valuable than a guy that hits all singles, even if they have the same OBP. But I wouldn’t say that the first guys OBP was more valuable, or try to come up with an equivalent inflated OBP to compare him to the second guy, I would say that the first player was more valuable because of his SLG.

        I was asking, instead of trying to make different levels of OBP equivalent, why not just look at what you really want to know (the impact of the base running)? To me that seems like a simpler approach than looking at the rates that different guys score (which is way more dependent on the guys behind them and their slugging than their baserunning), and then trying to guess at what OBP it’s like Billy has, if he didn’t steal, but had the same slugging, but got on base more.

        That just seems convoluted.

      • jdx19

        Fair enough. I got a bit defense, so I apologize. And, yes, it’s quite convoluted, I agree.

      • Redneck'ed

        There are a lot of numbers in baseball that mean different things. People can make a player look like a superstar but referencing to a specific stat or they can make them look bad by looking at a different one. The bottle line is when Billy gets on base he scores. He goes 1st to 3rd better than anyone else in the game. When he is on base the batter behind him gets to look at a majority of fastballs. Baseball is not won by people getting on base although in most cases it helps, baseball is won by scoring runs. Billy Hamilton scores runs.

  2. ProspectCincy

    I can’t believe the replacement suggestions are Phillips or Cozart. Absolutely ridiculous.

    If you want to move Hamilton from the leadoff spot; OK; but seeing as there are absolutely zero viable options, he’s the best the Reds have. Nothing to see here.

    • BigRedMachine

      Sadly I think this is spot on. It comes down to the concerns about depth that almost everyone had about the Reds roster. Is Hamilton’s OBP a concern for a lead off hitter? Absolutely. But they don’t have any other options so he shouldn’t (and likely isn’t) going anywhere.

      As I’ve posted in the past, I love watching Billy play. I hope he can learn to adjust his approach–maybe Pete can get the ban lifted and come be the Reds batting instructor. He’s going to have to learn to do that batting leadoff though.

    • Grant Freking

      What’s the harm is trying something new? Billy’s been the full-time leadoff hitter for 7 months and shown he can’t get on base consistently ahead of the Reds best hitters.

      • ProspectCincy

        The Reds have scored as many runs as the Cubs so far this season; their offensive numbers are average. Billy may not get on base as much as we’d like (and again, he does need to improve, no doubt about it), but when he gets on, he scores. That won’t be the case if you have him hitting in front of Barnhart, the pitchers spot and then Cozart in the one spot.

        You lose runs moving Billy anywhere else. Not to mention that with Billy on base, guys like Marlon Byrd are getting grooved fastballs. Did you see the pitches he had last night with Billy on base twice?

        Billy makes the hitters behind him better when on base. A fact that is not taken into consideration when moving him down the order …

      • Jeremy Forbes

        The Reds have scored as many runs as the Cubs, but it’s a less sustainable scoring. The Reds are 12th in the NL in both AVG and OBP. The Cubs are 5th and 3rd. By no means is 12th out of 15 average.

        The only reason the Reds are tied in scoring is because they’ve hit 36 HRs (2nd in NL, 3rd in MLB) compared to the Cubs’ 20. Frazier won’t hit over 50 HR this year, Votto probably won’t hit over 40 HR. It’s also doubtful Cozart hits 30. So it’s fairly safe to say that the current pace of HR won’t be sustained.

    • Big56dog

      Agree about Cozart he probably could be more efficient than BP hitting 6th or 7th, but why not Phillips- make the most sense of any candidate. His worst year was last season obp-wise and with his power declining might boost his ego if he is taking walks to help the team now that he is not needed to be the “RBI man”.
      He is 3rd on the team if you do not count Pena- seems like a no-brainer with the current list and desire to have Votto bat lower

      • Jeremy Conley

        Phillips has a .329 BABIP and a .327 OBP. Bruce has a .204 BABIP and a .301 OBP. Why? Because Bruce takes walks and Phillips doesn’t. It’s exactly the same with Frazier.

        Bruce and Frazier will have much higher BABIP by season’s end, and at that point their OBP’s will dwarf Phillips. So going forward, either is the better option to lead off.

      • Vicferrari

        Votto is the best option, but they are not going to put a guy with a better ability to drive in runs batting lower. Bruce and Frazier are not options becuase if they were even considered you put Votto there. Phillips should be able to maintain close to .320 if he actually is trying to get on base instead be the RBI guy

    • D Ray White

      The best option in the 1 hole is: Joey Votto
      The best option in the 2 hole is: Joey Votto
      The best option in the 3 hole is: Joey Votto
      The best option …… Well, you get the point. If the Reds want to move Hamilton down, why not just move Votto up. Maximize the AB’s for the team’s best hitter, by far. Batting a hack and flailer in front of Votto is the strategy the Reds used prior to acquiring Choo. It was stupefying.

      • beelicker

        Given Votto’s LH batting excellence, I would think just about any pitcher would practically go broke MAKING any hitter directly in front of Votto actually HIT his way on base, i.e. they’re not going to be throwing many balls outside the strike zone in any case, so what good is a really ‘good eye’ there anyway? Hack away! The more discriminately the better, of course

  3. ProspectCincy

    I should add; Dee Gordon is hitting .420, and has an OBP of .500 right now … and has scored a total of 16 runs this season.

    Hamilton has scored 18. And before I hear about Joey Votto; Gordon hits ahead of Prado and a guy named Stanton, so it’s not as if Hamilton is benefiting greatly from his protection. I understand why Hamilton needs to improve, and he most definitely does; but isn’t the ultimate job of a lead-off hitter to score runs?

    Of all lead-off hitters in the NL, Hamilton is 3rd in runs scored (Myers, Carpenter ahead).

    • Grant Freking

      It’s not Dee Gordon’s fault no one is driving him in. The point is to get yourself on base as much as possible.

      • ProspectCincy

        But it is Dee Gordon’s fault for being eliminated from the base-paths an MLB high 13 times this season. Leads baseball in caught stealings, pickoffs, and air double plays (plus thrown out twice trying to stretch hits).

        Whether you want to admit it or not, Hamilton has been more efficient than Gordon through month #1, and Gordon is absolutely killing it w/ getting on base.

      • jdx19

        Gordon leads MLB in WAR. So, now, Hamilton has not been more “efficient.” Or, if he has, who cares? Gordan has outclassed Hamilton.

        Go read this: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dee-gordon-has-been-going-full-ichiro/

        The GIFs make it look like Gordon is faster than Hamilton. Hamilton doesn’t beat out those ground balls. He’s been thrown out by a hair so many times this year. Something I truly do not understand, because in fact Hamilton IS faster than Gordon. People have measured it continually.

        Kiley McDaniel, lead prospect analyst at FG, recently stated Hamilton is a 90-95 speed on the 20-80 scale and Dee Gordon is an 85-90. So, I wonder, why doesn’t Hamilton ever seem to beat anything out? 3 IFH this year. Hopefully that increases a lot.

      • D Ray White

        Because the infielders cheat WAY in on Hamilton. If Hamilton could drag bunt, chop the ball, or practice the butcher boy he’d get more hits.

      • charlottencredsfan

        D Ray: excellent point, you are right on the money. If Billy can get the fielders to play at normal depth, he becomes a great bunter and those weak dribblers become hits. He can’t do it with the infielders playing that far in and he proves it nearly every game. Talk about a change from the outhouse to penthouse, oh boy.

        In the short term, I’m big on him learning the butcher boy. The guy absolutely has the bat control to do it. Just my opinion.

      • greenmtred

        We probably all understand that it’s important to get on base, but this mini-debate does bring up a critical(to my mind) point: If the issue is winning games, as it should be, then OBP only matters to the degree that it contributes to runs. OBP is clearly an important tool for talent evaluation: In that context, it is a stand-alone, independent stat. But it isn’t in a game. It doesn’t matter unless it results in runs scoring. Yes, it’s a great predictor of scoring, but that is, again, general and not specific. Billy gets a lot of runs out of otherwise pedestrian stats. I don’t really care how the engine moves the car as long as it moves the car.

    • Big56dog

      Billy could still do all these things hitting 9th

    • Jeremy Forbes

      First off, Hamilton has driven himself in twice. So there’s a different of 2 right there. That aside, I am sure Dee Gordon would have scored a lot more runs if he were also batting ahead of the players with the 11th, 3rd, and most HR in the NL.

      -The Reds have gotten 19 HR from their #2-4 spots this year.
      -The Marlins have gotten 8 HR from their #2-4 spots this year.

      Maybe, just maybe that has something to do with it? Those HR are automatic runs scored if he’s on base. If Hamilton was a better leadoff hitter, he’d be far and away running away with league lead in runs scored.

    • Jeremy Conley

      Using an individual’s runs scored as a measure of their impact on the team is just as bad as using RBI. It is a team dependent stat.

  4. IndyRedMan

    Grant….quit while you’re behind sir! The Reds have nobody else. Hamilton’s .280 equals your avg leadoff guy who steals 25 with a .330 obp because he scores more runs per hit and can outrun most of these guys going backwards

    • Big56dog

      So why could Billy not do this batting ninth, while some with a 4t o 5% more chance of getting on base gets one more PA? Grant is right his speed may account for boost his slugging but not his obp- if anything it significantly reduces it because of all the CS (last season)

    • jdx19

      Go check my analysis on your first post above. You are on to something, but it’s nowhere near .330. More like .290 to .295 in my estimation.

  5. gaffer

    Its tough to say Billy should not bat leadoff when some games he is the only offensive spark we have. That being said, his OBP is terrible so of course he cannot stay there longterm. But right now? Who else? It is only worth a conversation when we have a better 1-8 lineup. Personnally, I think 9 or 1 are the only options.

    • Big56dog

      Exact point I tried to make above

    • whereruklu

      At this point for now, I wouldn’t mind seeing BH in the 9 hole. The Reds have a couple of P that can hit the ball and are pretty athletic. Those are the games I’d like to see BH in #9. Question?? Who to the #1 and #2 slot? I don’t see Votto leading off, but maybe Cozart at this time, with Joey in #2. Not sure about Phillips in the leadoff, but who knows? I think BH needs a break, but then again, being BH and his reputation, no matter where he bats the pressure will be on to produce.

  6. IndyRedMan

    Last night…Hamilton was dancing off first and got Byrd a nice juicy meatball that he drove out of the park. What is Hamilton going to do at first w/Cueto at the plate? Price will go pure Dusty just like he’s done so far and bunt away an out that Ham could’ve stolen anyway….just like Toothpick did w/Stubbs in the 8 hole

    • ProspectCincy

      And that’s why Hamilton needs to bat 1.

      The adjustment that needs to be made immediately is to have Hamilton get rid of bunting (for non-sacrifice situations). He gives up outs there because he just sucks at the running bunt. Remove it for the short-term, and that should increase his OBP by 20 points on it’s own.

      If you bat Hamilton on this team, you have to hit him leadoff. There’s just no two ways about it.

      • Jeremy Conley

        There are many ways about it actually. Steals are better at the bottom of the order. Guys who hit HRs don’t need people to steal bases for them. No way I would bat Hamilton first.

      • lwblogger2

        I was just thinking about this some last night and came to that same conclusion.

      • jdx19

        Exactly right. I think 3 of Votto’s HR have come after a Billy steal.

    • Big56dog

      Again, why could he not do this batting 9th? Cueto or whatever pitcher would be batting before him

      • beelicker

        P’s spot also makes the most final outs of an inning, so this would help to maximize BH’s ‘leadoff’ ABs hitting 9th … plus Cozart’s single best career situational split is when he leads off an inning (again, my theory being that’s when Ps are most likely to throw more strikes – to avoid walking him – which he CAN hit)

        & if BH steal a base with ZC up, that pitcher is not really wanting to then just pitch around Zack like he would with Votto … another win/win

  7. Nick Carrington

    Grant, very reasonable idea. Good work. I think the argument can be made either way. Hamilton isn’t doing well as a leadoff hitter, but the alternatives aren’t good either. Price is in a bad spot. The Reds lack of depth is already showing up. Hamilton could certainly still be effective down in the order. I don’t know what I would do. Glad I don’t need to make that decision.

    • Big56dog

      So why would Phillips be worse of a choice if Hamilton bats 9th?

      • Jeremy Conley

        because that means of everyone on the Reds, you’re choosing to give the most ABs to Brandon Phillips. In no world does that make sense.

        Over the course of the season, you get about 20 extra plate appearances per lineup spot. So there’s about a 120 PA difference between hitting Phillips 1st and 7th.

      • Big56dog

        Who are you comparing him to that would be the better choice? If you are not going to hit Votto lead off for the reason you want him driving in the guy who does, who is a better choice? (there would not be the same amount of argument against putting that batter in the lead-off) BP is the guy most likely to get on base who is least likely to drive in runs. He is not ideal, but I truly believe he would manage his current pace .320 -.330 all year if he knew he was not the “RBI man”.
        If you do not like my suggestion give an alternative that makes sense

  8. Jeremy Conley

    I have to agree with the comments above, I can’t get behind any suggestion to move Hamilton out of leadoff if you’re going back to the Dusty Days with Phillips and Cozart.

    Grant, I think you’re falling into the trap of trying to find a “leadoff hitter.” There’s a three step process that is really simple and always works:

    1) see if you have a true leadoff hitter on your team (high OBP, at least decent speed), if you do, bat him first.
    2) if you don’t, bat your best hitters at the top of the order so they hit the most.
    3) make small adjustments if someone has an extreme ISO.

    For the Reds, I would agree, that Hamilton is not a true leadoff hitter, so that takes care of #1. I would list the Reds top 4 hitters, in order, as Votto, Frazier, Bruce, and Cozart, so I’m batting them at the top. Because of Frazier’s extreme ISO, I’d hit him 4th.

    Votto
    Bruce
    Cozart
    Frazier
    Catcher
    Phillips
    Hamilton
    Byrd

    That’s my order against right handed starters. Against lefties I’d move Byrd up and Bruce down.

    Votto
    Byrd
    Cozart
    Frazier
    Phillips
    Bruce
    Hamilton
    Catcher

    • Big56dog

      It makes little sense to me to bat your most productive hitter before the easy out 9th hole and in make no sense to waste Billy’s speed so close to that spot. Maybe it makes sense to have Votto lead off- but that never would happen, no reason to not have Hamilton bat 9th

      • Jeremy Conley

        I agree, Hamilton at 9 is fine. Or any position player, especially if Votto is leading off. All it takes is a manager with some brains and guts and any lineup could happen. Adam Dunn lead off.

      • Big56dog

        Are there arguments against Votto leading off other than old- school ways of line-up construction? I just feel this will not happen with the current Mgmt, who else has their most complete hit lead-off?

      • Steve Mancuso

        The one argument – and I’m not saying it’s decisive – is that he has too much power that is wasted relatively speaking batting behind the pitcher and #8 hitter. When Votto looked like a 20-home run hitter, that’s one thing. But with his quick start this year, full of power, suggests the possibility he could return to his 30+ homer days of yore.

        But yeah, he’d be an awesome leadoff hitter. It’s not like at #2 he’s hitting with a lot of runners on base batting behind Billy Hamilton and the pitcher.

  9. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Do we have the “Stubbs Syndrome”? Possible. Hamilton needs to get his average up, period. Like we all said about Stubbs, “You can’t steal first.”

    But, then, if not Hamilton, then who? That’s why I would have gone after someone like Aoki during the offseason. He can set up at leadoff. For everyone else, though, none fit well there, few fit in the 2 hole well.

    • lwblogger2

      I wouldn’t have minded that at all. I think his starting price was too high, Jocketty got impatient, and made the trade for Byrd. Just a theory. Also possible that Aoki wouldn’t have signed with the Reds for the same $4-million he did with SF.

  10. IndyRedMan

    Votto is the perfect #2 man for Hamilton imo. He can take a few pitches and get down in the count and still produce. Byrd in the 2 hole vs lefties might have some merit but Cozart has always been too much of a hacker imo for the 2 hole. Leave him at 8

    • Big56dog

      Agree Cozart should never hit higher than 6th

  11. Art Wayne Austin

    I agree with you on bunting, Procincy. He doesn’t have a feel for it yet. I don’t think MLB teams do pepper anymore, that would help or close-proximate, under-handed, keep-the-ball-in-the-air exercise until he his comfortable with the bunting position.

  12. Steve Mancuso

    First, Billy Hamilton hasn’t proven he’s capable of being a passable major league hitter. He had a brilliant four-week stretch last year. Otherwise, he hit just like the guy we’re seeing this year. If the Reds had a replacement for him in CF and the leadoff spot, Hamilton would be in AAA Louisville and there wouldn’t be a serious debate about it.

    The second point is this situation is a devastating indictment of Walt Jocketty and whatever other forces led the Reds roster to be in this situation. Grant, reluctantly, had to propose the deeply flawed candidates of Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips as possible leadoff hitters because there isn’t a single credible one on the roster.

    Notice the number of comments in this thread attacking Cozart and Phillips as alternatives compared to the number of comments actually defending Hamilton’s ability to be the leadoff hitter.

    Given the way Hamilton struggled the last three months of 2014, how could the team have not found an outfielder who could take his place both on defense and leading off? It was absolutely imperative that the Reds find a good-OBP player who could play LF or CF last offseason. Jocketty said as much, until he didn’t get one. Whether Marlon Byrd salvages his stats this season or not, the overall lineup would have been better with a different addition to the roster.

    Someone in the front office needed to ask this question *and* come up with a viable answer: Suppose Billy Hamilton doesn’t pan out as a major league hitter?

    The fact that he’s been the leadoff for the Reds last year and this year is simply mind boggling. At this point, there is simply no reason not to try an alternative. Hamilton is the rock bottom.

    • Jeremy Conley

      This assessment is way too harsh in my opinion. Fangraphs has Hamilton as the 9th most valuable CF in the game, which means 20 teams would be better off with him than their guy. And you think he should go to AAA?

      It seems like you think finding someone as good in CF and on the bases is easy or something. If Hamilton was hitting well he’d be an all-star. The fact that he isn’t an all-star doesn’t mean that he’s not a good player.

      I agree that Marlon Byrd was a bad choice for left, but that’s not to say that I think they should have tried to replace Hamilton. In fact, of anyone on the team, I would try to lock up Hamilton right now for cheap. He’s always going to be a 2+ win player because of his glove and speed. If he ever learns to hit more, he’ll be a 5+ win player.

      • Steve Mancuso

        I didn’t say they needed to find someone as good in CF as Hamilton. Nor did I say they should have tried to replace Hamilton in the offseason. Please don’t mischaracterize my statements. I said they should have planned for the possibility that Hamilton wouldn’t come around as a hitter and found someone who could play LF and also hit leadoff if necessary. I’m not ready to give up on Hamilton. But how long should the Reds put up with his production in the leadoff spot?

        Regarding the FG rating, it’s important to break that down. His WAR value comes entirely from defense and base running, both of which are pretty unstable this early in the season. Right now, Hamilton ranks ahead of Carlos Gomez and Andrew McCutchen. You might think major league teams should ditch those two players for Billy Hamilton, but I don’t. The early season WAR rankings are practically useless. But looking strictly at offense, 33 center fielders rank higher than Hamilton does in offensive output (wRC+).

        Seems like all you really disagree with is my statement about him being in AAA. Lots of young major league-capable players get sent back to work on things. The main points are that he shouldn’t be hitting lead off for the Reds and that the Reds have boxed themselves in. Do you disagree with either of those statements that I did actually make?

      • Jeremy Conley

        Dang. Nobody is trying to mischaracterize your statements.

        You said “If the Reds had a replacement for him in CF and the leadoff spot, Hamilton would be in AAA Louisville.” My point is that finding a replacement for him in CF is not easy, he’s one of the best.

        And you did say that the Reds should have found someone who could play LF OR CF, implying that they could have been looking to replace Hamilton. No one in the Reds front office ever said word one about finding a new CF this offseason. The talk was always about finding a LF. You introduced the idea of getting a new CF. What did you mean by saying that if not that maybe they should have considered replacing Hamilton this offseason?

        As for Billy’s value, it looks exactly like it did last year, so I’m not worried about it being early season. He is clearly a valuable player because he can get it in CF as well as anyone, and because he’s one of the games best baserunners. Gomez (hurt) and McCutchen (likely hurt) have obviously been less valuable than Hamilton so far this season. Not sure what the point of mentioning them was.

        I don’t know what you mean by saying the Reds have boxed themselves in. I totally agree that Hamilton should not be leading off, as I detailed in my post above. I think the Reds should give their best players the most plate appearances, and Hamilton is clearly not one of the Reds best hitters. Also, speed is more valuable lower in the order where you have fewer HR hitters.

      • Steve Mancuso

        >What did you mean by saying that if not that maybe they should have considered replacing Hamilton this offseason?

        Back him up.

        >Not sure what the point of mentioning them was.

        To show how meaningless the fWAR stats are right now in judging which CF a team would want.

        >I don’t know what you mean by saying the Reds have boxed themselves in.

        Their terrible offseason means they have to keep Billy Hamilton in the leadoff spot.

      • Jeremy Conley

        I don’t think anyone they could have gotten to back up Billy Hamilton would be capable of putting up 1 WAR in a month.

        WAR isn’t meaningless now, it’s a counting stat. Right now those players you mentioned are hurt, so obviously they wouldn’t have put up much value. The point of what I said is that if you are saying you would send BIlly down for what he’s done so far in this year, that’s weird because he’s actually been pretty valuable so far.

        They could bat any of their better hitters first, so they aren’t boxed in.

    • jessecuster44

      But Steve, what about Bourgeois in CF? We’ve got Bourgeois for that. Oh, right. He hurt his shoulder. When’s he coming back? August?

  13. RedFuture

    Grant, your are freaking right! It’s been obvious from the get-go that BH should bat at the backend. How people can be rightfully appalled by Taveras, Hamilton & Stubbs at leadoff and NOT bothered by BH there is amazing. Phillips is fine at the leadoff spot.

  14. Chris Miller

    I think the move to make is putting Votto back to the #2 hole. That would help Billy see better pitches, and quite frankly it helped Votto. I think it’s tough to deny that they were both quite successful when batting 1 & 2. The reality is, BH is 3rd in the league in runs scored, so really, he’s not the problem here. We have a team that is below average in runs scored, yet our leadoff guy is 3rd in the league. I have a better solution for you. Start platooning Boesch and Byrd. If you want to try something, try that.

    • jdx19

      As was stated above, the 1st, 3rd, and 11th guy in the NL in home runs bat behind Hamilton. The fact that he’s scored a lot of runs does not mean he isn’t a problem. He’s a problem.

      • Chris Miller

        Sure he’s a problem, but nowhere near the biggest problem. I just don’t believe in making moves just to make moves. Nobody on this team is going to provide any better option at the top of the lineup, so I’ll stick with the guy that every now and again, will win a game for you from the top of the lineup. You also cannot quantify the benefit that he gives to his teammates when he’s on base at the top of the lineup.

    • jdx19

      These are just for fun. Not to state any sort of argument one way or the other.

  15. Frogger

    Well articulated and thought out. However, even if Price was a baseball genius unparalleled in the history of the game he could not find a true lead-off hitter with this personnel. I understand Reds fan seeking answers, but it also gets old when the management team has been unable to address this catastrophe in the lineup since the days when a relatively young Adam Dunn was inserted during the Boone era. Hopefully Billy can get better, because there ain’t anyone else. This team doesn’t develop or care about the obp thing. Doesn’t draft for it or develop it. Traded for one year of it and it worked so lets go back to low obp leadoff guys. Oops, that didn’t work so well in 2014 for the offense. But hey healthy Joey will come back and save us. Miguel Cabrera could replace Joey Votto and bat third in the batting order and probably not crack 90 RBI.

    • Jeremy Conley

      There are many better options than Hamilton on the roster. I don’t get the “ain’t anyone else” thing.

      • Frogger

        Who else??? Choose from a group of bad choices. You may be right theoretically but the difference is so marginal it doesn’t make a difference. Same as almost every year with the Reds. Only hope is for Hamilton to figure it out.

      • Jeremy Conley

        You think giving a guy with a .435 OBP the most ABs, while taking away 100+ ABs from a guy with a .267 OBP is only a theoretical difference? I don’t get that. Votto, Frazier, and Bruce all have the walk rate to be a good leadoff guy. They also can actually hit for power, so why not give them the most ABs?

        Yes, the difference is marginal, but so are all differences in baseball. Hamilton increasing his OBP to .325 would also only be a marginal increase in total runs scored.

      • Frogger

        I agree that Votto is the only legitimate lead-off option. He is also the only legitimate option to hit 2 or 3 as well. My point is he is one player and can’t magically switch bodies to bat for whoever is at the plate. The team is filled with batters who at best should bat 4th and worst 9th. You have one legitimate top of the order guy. That ain’t good management or a strategy for success. Votto batting one fixes that. Who then bats second and third. I like Frazier but he is turning into an all or nothing guy real quick. If someone doesn’t happen to be on base when he runs into one that limits his production to last year, and from what I’ve seen this year he will not likely match his OBP or AVG numbers. So you can count on his RC+ to decline unless he hits 50 long balls. When Billy Beanne makes a team you can see the design. Whether it works or not. This team has no design offensively, but hope the long ball will be hit at the right time to win games. .

      • Jeremy Conley

        Hey, you won’t get any argument from me that this is a flawed team. What I see is Votto, who is amazing, and Bruce and Frazier, who are both walking at a good clip, and both have absurdly low BABIP. Those 3 guys seem like the obvious choices to bat at or near the top of the order.

        I think the Cozart turn around is going to be sustainable because I see that he’s really changed his approach (hitting the ball hard to the pull side, rather than weakly all over). He would go up there somewhere too.

        My point isn’t that this is a well constructed team, it’s that the statement the “only hope is for hamilton to figure it out” doesn’t make sense to me. Hamilton is a valuable player because of his defense and baserunning. He doesn’t need to figure it out to help the team any more than he already is. He just shouldn’t get the most ABs, because hitting is not where his value comes from.

  16. jdx19

    Just for fun, a pure L/R-split, OBP-stacked lineup looks like this: (Reds data from 2013-now, Byrd career stats since FG won’t include him on a Reds’ search for that time period)

    Against L
    Votto
    Byrd
    Frazier
    Phillips
    Cozart
    Hamilton
    Bruce
    Pena

    Against R
    Votto
    Byrd
    Frazier
    Bruce
    Pena
    Phillips
    Hamilton
    Cozart

    So, if you don’t want Votto batting leadoff, I give you your leadoff hitter, Cincinnati…. MARLON BYRD!! 🙂

      • jdx19

        That’s why I preface the entire post with “just for fun.” Was checking it while I was only my way out the door from work, so I didn’t have time to do a robust search.

      • jdx19

        * on my way out the door from work…

  17. Jeremy Conley

    I don’t understand why fans here seem to not want a leadoff hitter that hits home runs too. The Reds have three everyday players with walk rates above 10%. Any one of them would be better than the options of Phillips, Cozart, and Hamilton.

    Yes, those players happen to be Votto, Bruce, and Frazier. So what? Give those three guys the most ABs on the team and see what happens. More guys on base, more HRs, more runs generally.

    • Steve Mancuso

      This is right. The best hitters should bat highest in the lineup. Period. As Grant said in the article, falling in love with speed at the top of the lineup is an old-school addiction the Reds need to break.

  18. brmreturns

    I wonder how Bruce would fare in the lead-off spot for an extended period? In relatively limited sample size (112 AB); his BA, SLG, OPS, and ISO are the highest in that spot in the order.

    Bruce
    Byrd
    Votto
    Frazier
    Phillips
    Cozart
    Catcher
    Pitcher
    Hamilton

    When BHam gets on, the shifts on Bruce may be minimized. If BHam steals 2B, then a pull groundout into the shift is still a productive out (getting BHam to 3rd), when it is the 1st out. Then you have 2 solid chances at getting the runner in….. all while keeping the 2 lefties split in the lineup.

    • whereruklu

      Interesting idea, especially about the Hamilton/Bruce suggestion.

      • lwblogger2

        With the big shift on, I could see Hamilton doing what a young BP did. In 2007, BP stole 2B and 3B on the same pitch one game. It was fantastic. If I had more time, I’d try to dig up a video. In the meantime, here’s the story.

        http://m.reds.mlb.com/news/article/2124299/

      • jdx19

        Mookie Betts did it for Boston on opening day, I believe. Might have been the 2nd or 3rd game.

    • Jeremy Conley

      112 ABs isn’t enough to say that he hits better there. Besides, there’s really no evidence that players hit better anywhere in a lineup.

      I don’t hate Bruce leading off though, mostly because he has a 14% walk rate and his batting average is artificially low because of a .201 BABIP.

    • Frogger

      Your preface is when BHam get on. If BHam get on is the entire issue to begin with. At least in this article. BHam is an asset to this team. If he gets on base at a good rate he is an all-star and makes everyone behind him better period. If he gets on.

  19. Grant Freking

    As for as people the Reds could have gotten to replace Hamilton atop the lineup this offseason, Dexter Fowler was clearly available. The Cubs nabbed him for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily — and Chicago will also get the comp draft pick when Fowler inevitably leaves as a free agent this offseason. Fowler was third-year arbitration-eligible this offseason, and he and the Cubs settled on $9.5 million for this year.

    I’m convinced the Reds could have gotten Fowler, who walks, runs the bases well and gets on base. Wrote about it here. http://www.ohioansports.com/?p=646

    Fair to wonder if the rumored bad blood between Jocketty and Jeff Luhnow (Astros chief decision-maker) from their days in St. Louis may have prevented an Astros-Reds deal.

    The Reds could have made a nice package for Fowler. Instead they got Byrd for $4 million this year, most likely $8 million next year, and no draft pick. Fowler isn’t in Hamilton’s neighborhood as a CF defensively, but he’s certainly not Choo-esque. Fowler could’ve spelled Hamilton in CF, but played mostly in LF. The Reds could’ve also gotten another legit OF as a fourth guy instead of Boesch.

    • lwblogger2

      I think it really came down to $$, I really do. I don’t think the extra $5-million was there. I think the Reds could have made the trade but they were at their budget cap. I mean they basically moved Heisey to save what comes down to about $2-million. Paying guys $6-million in buyouts is, in my mind, the reason the Reds don’t have a guy like Fowler in LF every day.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Can always offset $$$ with an extra minor league player.

    • Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

      The irritating thing here is that it’s seemingly a foregone conclusion that Byrd’ option will get picked up because they have done next to nothing in order to stop him form getting do many plate appearances.

  20. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    I love Billy Hamilton. He’s one of the most exciting players in baseball when he gets on base. The thing is though is that he rarely gets on base. His OBP is really terrible once you think about it. He probably needed at least 1 more of seasoning before being brought up which lies solely on management for not recognizing that. He is currently not a very good hitter. I understand the argument for a d against him batting leadoff and there really aren’t great options except for Votto and we all know that’s not happening. This is something that Walt could have easily identified and fixed in the offseason when he was looking for a left fielder and went out and got Marlon Byrd instead. Every time I see the Cubs play and see Dexter Fowler leading off it makes me mad just knowing the Reds could have had him or someone similar had they wanted. Instead we are left settling for mediocrity yet again. This management team is seemingly so okay with not taking risks and being completely mediocre. It’s sickening to think about. I really hope Hamilton develops into a great player but as of now he’s really not helping the team succeed imo.

    • lwblogger2

      In a trade, I loved the idea of Fowler. I thought he would be pretty much ideal and would probably be an above-average LF defensively. Going the free-agent route, I wanted Rasmus or Aoki. The Reds landed on Byrd and gave up a decent (not great) prospect to do it. I hope Byrd hits the cover off the ball and declared that he’d be an upgrade over what they ran out there in 2014. That said, he wasn’t among my choices.

  21. Jeremy Conley

    A lot of this reminds me of when people were calling for Cozart’s head when he was leading off or hitting second, and I feel about the same: it’s not Hamilton’s fault that the team is misusing him, and the fact that they are misusing him does not mean that he’s not valuable.

    If a guy provides most of his value in the field, the natural thing to do would be to bury him in the lineup so he gets as few ABs as possible. That way you get all of the good D, with as little of the subpar offense as possible.

    The Reds are giving Hamilton the most ABs on the team, and he’s one of the worst hitters. That is on Price, not Hamilton.

  22. Vanessa Galagnara

    fans want to see Billy Hamilton play. Fans want to see Billy Hamilton get as many at bats as possible. Blame the fans for Billy Hamilton leading off because he is exciting to see. I have a huge crush on Joey V but if I am honest I stand up in my chair when Billy hits and takes to the bases…. can’t say the same for Joey.
    Seeing as how the fans are the ones paying for the contracts of the players pretty sure we will continue to see Billy leading off.

    • jessecuster44

      If Bob and Walt actually think like this, then this team has no hope whatsoever.

  23. Delta-X-Ray468

    I think this year is about two things – 1) getting as many butts into seats as possible and 2) either winning or selling Cueto, Leake, and maybe Chapman for an amazing set of near ready prospects.

  24. Indy Red Man

    If I’m not mistaken Hamilton went to atleast 2-2 in every atbat last night. He is trying to take some pitches. Cozart and BP are hackers….hackers with no real speed. Give Hamilton a chance. He led off the game w/a hit off a guy throwing 97 and had atleast 1 other lineout. Some stat nerd could prove me wrong but I see improvement w/Hamilton other than he absolutely never gets a bunt hit. Not to mention he runs down nearly everything in CF. BP is one of the few guys on this team that can get a man in from 3rd and 1 out. He needs to be in rbi situations. Cozart is the other name being floated around but he was absolutely the worst hitter in the NL last year? Leave him in the 8 hole where they can overlook him. Its working. I wouldn’t take Votto out of the 2 hole either….maybe Byrd vs lefties. I guess Price will ride Byrd in the 2 hole as long as he is hot. Why not?

  25. Scot Lykins

    This is a tough call. Hamilton has done nothing consistently on the offensive side. Moving him down the lineup is a solid move but who replaces him in the leadoff spot? Votto would be my call. At least he gets on base.