Has there ever been a more fun position player to watch that can’t hit than Billy Hamilton? Every time Hamilton gets on base, he completely wrecks the opposing pitcher’s psyche. His speed changes the game in a way few ever have in the past. And no one can stop him. Hamilton will likely steal over 70 bases this year and may not have an on base percentage over .270. That’s insane.

Hamilton may also patrol centerfield better than anyone. Fangraphs rates Hamilton as the fourth best defender in all of baseball. Not just centerfielders. Everybody. While his arm isn’t stellar, he seemingly runs down every ball hit from foul pole to foul pole. Again, Hamilton’s speed changes the game both on the bases and in the field. He is an elite baseball player in both of those areas. But after a year and half of watching him play, we can still legitimately wonder whether that is enough to make Hamilton a successful everyday player in the future.

The reason is Hamilton is among the worst hitters in baseball this season and was just as dreadful during the second half last season. He currently has a .226/.272/.294 slash line. An average player records a 100 runs created score or wRC+. Every number above or below 100 is one percentage point better or worse than the average player. Hamilton has a 55 wRC+ this season. He is 45% worse than the average baseball player at the plate. Only five qualified batters have been worse. So the question arises: is Hamilton an everyday player in the future?

Hamilton needs to get quite a bit better at the plate to realize his potential. At 24, he has some time to improve though his speed won’t remain elite forever. Here are some areas in which Hamilton has struggled thus far this season.

Walk Rate

To this point, Hamilton has a career 5.8% walk rate, which is pretty bad. He had some strong walk rates in the minors, so the ability is there. He also doesn’t strikeout that much and swings and misses an impressively small amount. So why doesn’t he walk more? Well, we’ll get there shortly. An effective Hamilton gets on base more often, and more walks would go a long way toward improving his offensive game.

Batted Ball Profile

First, let’s take a look at Hamilton’s batted ball types compared to the league average this season.


These numbers aren’t completely out of whack. Hamilton could definitely benefit from hitting more groundballs with his speed, but his results when hitting groundballs might surprise you. As I studied Hamilton’s batted ball profile, I noticed some interesting things.


We would expect the speedy Hamilton to have a much better batting average on groundballs, but his career mark (.278) is much better than his numbers this season. Still, .234 is only about league average on groundballs. Even when Hamilton has put the ball on the ground, he hasn’t reap the benefits of his blazing speed. I’d expect him to hit closer to his career mark going forward.

A fly ball from Hamilton is almost a guaranteed out. His career mark (.118) is actually worse than his numbers this season. Hamilton isn’t likely to gain much power from this point forward, so he needs to avoid fly balls like the plague. If Hamilton could reduce his fly ball rate to around 30%, his offense would likely improve quite a bit.

Hamilton’s line drive numbers look great until you realize that batters usually hit between .650 and .700 on line drives. But not all line drives, groundballs, and fly balls are created equal, which brings us to Hamilton’s greatest offensive weakness.

Hard Hit Rate

Hamilton’s struggles at the plate are directly related to his hard hit rate. The average player hits the ball hard around 29% of the time. This season, Hamilton has hit the ball hard around 17% of the time. He only hits line drives hard 20.8% of the time. For reference, Jay Bruce hits line drives hard at more than double that (50%). We don’t expect Hamilton to hit the ball as hard as Bruce, but the gap shouldn’t be that large.

Hamilton’s inability to hit the ball hard is the reason he doesn’t get walked much. Pitchers challenge Hamilton in the strike zone freely because he hasn’t shown the ability to make them pay for it. He has 12 extra base hits all season, and two of those came last night. He doesn’t need to hit homeruns to be effective, but he does need to show pitchers he can rip a ball down the line or in the gap when they make a mistake. If Hamilton could do that, his walk rate might rise a bit and a walk to Billy Hamilton often turns into a two or three base mistake.

A Good Hitting Billy Hamilton

Hamilton only needs to get on base at around a league average rate to become a major headache for opposing teams. If he’d hit for a little more power that would help too, but the reality is that singles and walks for Hamilton often turn into more bases. His slugging percentage will never impress and yet, Hamilton doesn’t spend a lot of time at first base.

Hamilton has suggested that he might forsake switch hitting in order to hit from his dominate (right) side, and his swing definitely looks more natural from that side. If that would help him hit the ball with more authority, I’m all for it. Regardless of the adjustments he makes, Hamilton needs to start hitting the ball with more authority, or the Reds need to find a new centerfielder in the coming years. Hamilton’s talent in other areas allots him some time to figure it out, but he better not wait too long.

57 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    All this begs the question—-why is he on the major league roster? Supporters will point to the runs he saves on defense, but as we examined years ago with Drew Stubbs, at most there are only a couple balls per week that an average defender would have trouble getting to. For me, the tradeoff is too much.

    A top notch CF prospect at AA or higher would be my first ask for Cueto.

    • tct

      But you could do that “couple balls per week” argument on offense, too. The difference between a .250 hitting everyday player and a .300 everyday player is about one hit per week. The difference between an 18 homer guy and a 30 homer guy is about one homer every two weeks.

      The differences between above average players and below average players in pretty small statistically. And that’s why the vast majority of teams win between 40-60 percent of their games. The difference between the good teams and the mediocre teams is in the margins.

      As for Billy, I think the Reds actually made a decent decision bringing him up before he was completely ready to hit because his value is so tied up in a skill that declines pretty quickly. They want to get their 6 years in while he still has elite speed.

    • Tom Gray

      And you would not get that. Cueto will bring MiLB prospects, not Ready Right Now players. He’s a 3 month FA rental.

      • sultanofswaff

        Take a look at the reports on what the Astros gave up for Kazmir. One guy was rated #6 in their midseason report, plus another with significant upside. Do your homework before issuing such sweeping proclamations.

      • Chris Miller

        Tom responded to the previous suggestion, saying that we wouldn’t get “Ready Right Now players”. The two kids the A’s got, while talented, are nowhere near MLB ready, and in fact are starting out in high A ball.

        So yes, Tom is right. Cueto isn’t going to bring major league ready players.

      • Ken Goldsberry

        “A top notch CF prospect at AA or higher would be my first ask for Cueto.”

        Where did you read ‘Ready Right Now’? He said prospect.

  2. David

    Billy’s fWAR last year was 3.7 with a 79 wRC+, which was 0.6 fWAR/PA. This year, his fWAR is 1.7 with a 55 wRC+, which is a 0.5fWAR/PA. It amazes me how much value he has without hitting. He’s one of the top 75 players this year by fWAR. Given his bat, think about how staggering that is for a minute. I’d love to see him develop more as a hitter, but he’s a great value. If he was a league average hitter, I’d imagine he’d likely be one of the top ten to twenty players in the game. As long as he has his speed, he is a very good, high floor player.

    • gaffer

      While I tend to agree that defense can be nearly as valuable as offense, this is an example of the opposite case for THIS team. If you were in Coors or Petco and you had great hitting/slow footed other outfielders then maybe it works. When you have NO ONE who can set the table, in a tiny ballpark, and decent defensive OF’s it is not worth it.

  3. charlottencredsfan

    Fortunately for young Billy, his issues are fixable – he possesses the raw skills. It’s not about dropping switch-hitting, it is all about hitting the ball hard. Simple and straight to the point. Nick, that part of your analysis is dead on.

    Sultan is correct, he is too weak a hitter to play everyday in the NL. The AL? Maybe but the kid is wasting his talent. He made a serious adjustment yesterday, let’s see if it bears fruit.

    Timely piece, Mr. C.

  4. WVRedlegs

    A good offensive team can withstand BHam’s shortfalls fairly easily. A middling offense or worse, and those weaknesses glare out. Increase the offensive production from LF, 2B, C, and SS and the lineup can absorb BHam. SS and C positions will come back from injuries. The LF and 2B situations, along with the leadoff spot in the batting order need addressed. Maybe get a backup CF that can push BHam a little bit too might be in order.

    • lwblogger2

      I was so disappointed when the Brewers got Parra last year at the deadline. I really thought he would have looked good in a Reds’ uniform. He’s the kind of guy they need. He could well have been the starting LF this year and can cover CF defensively as well. I think the $$$ was too much to take on though. The scuttlebutt is that the Reds are cash-strapped and need to shed more salary. I don’t get it.

      • Matt WI

        The notion of being cash strapped and the post you had about Bruce going for salary dump worries me a lot. If true, what the heck were they playing at this season if that was the case? Would being five games over .500 make a difference in their bottom line? Do you think they really feel the need to put on a facade for the sake of All-Star game? Bizarre management strategy all the way around.

    • VaRedsFan

      I agree with WV here. the 6 players ahead of him in the lineup are counted on for offense. You can hide Billy’s offense if only the guys ahead of him are doing their job. His offense, single handedly, wins several games per year.
      There has to be something said for WAR per salary dollar paid too.

  5. Vanessa Galagnara

    My shih tzu can hit the ball harder than Billy.
    Billy Needs to gain some serious wait. Possibly he could room mate with Jumbo Diaz and figure out how he is doing it.

    • gaffer

      So then he would not steal any bases, now that would be a waste.

      • CP

        Ignoring the Jumbo comment altogether…Google what Olympic sprinters look like, then compare Billy Hamilton’s physique to them.

        Billy needs to gain some muscle, and with it, some weight. Putting on some weight should not hinder his speed, and should also benefit him in many other ways (strength, power, durability, etc.),

        I suspect this is baseball’s standard old-fashioned “don’t fix what ain’t broke” approach to strength and conditioning. It’s improved dramatically over the years, but it appears entirely player-driven.

      • jazzmanbbfan

        Mike Trout is pretty fast and weighs over 200 lbs. I think even 10 lbs of muscle would benefit him quite a bit.

      • greenmtred

        Billy may have an entirely different body type than Olympic Sprinters. Plus, he couldn’t run that fast if he weren’t strong. I have no idea what his conditioning regimen is, but wouldn’t assume that it doesn’t include strength training.

  6. Evan armstrong

    We knew going in he would never be a great hitter. We also know he has on been on this level for a season and a half. Let’s take a deep breath, relax and allow the kid a chance to learn and grow and after say the 2017 season reevaluate him.

  7. jamesgarrett

    He made some obvious changes at the plate yesterday and he drove the ball.Both were good things and shows me he is trying to work on his hitting.I am with Evan lets give another year or so.

  8. Jeremy Conley

    I don’t understand this idea that Billy would be good on a different team but not the Reds. Value is value, that’s why it’s called value. It really doesn’t matter how a player contributes, as long as he does. Scoring runs = saving runs.

    Look at Adam Dunn. He would have been a borderline hall of famer if he had been average in the field, but he only had 25 WAR in 14 seasons because his defense was so terrible. That’s 1.8 per year, or a borderline bench player, for someone who walked all the time and hit for a ton of power

    It’s just simple logic. Runs for the other team count as much as runs for your team. If you save runs, that’s as good as producing runs. There is no argument for why that would not be the case.

    If you don’t think that the defensive statistics accurately measure the amount of runs saved above average in the field, then you can make that argument. But that’s a totally different argument than Billy’s defense isn’t as good for the Reds as offense would be. People say that the Reds need offense now more than defense, but think of how much MORE offense they would need if Billy hadn’t saved all those runs. That’s why run scoring and run prevention are fungible.

    Billy is having a down year, for sure, but he’s still a 3 win player at least. That is good. In fact, it’s probably going to be 3rd or 4th best on the team. That’s why sentences like “Hamilton needs to start hitting the ball with more authority, or the Reds need to find a new centerfielder in the coming years. Hamilton’s talent in other areas allots him some time to figure it out, but he better not wait too long,” don’t make sense to me.

    • CP

      I agree with much of what you say, however, I think there may be something to several of the Billy criticisms.

      1) A run saved may not actually equal run scored. The bottom limit of runs scored is capped at 0. The top limit is unlimited. Teams have to score runs to win games.

      Add to that, the fact that Runs Created is relatively easy to measure, and DRS is complex and based on subjective analysis, Until we get objective measures of defense, can we realistically say runs created=runs saved?

      2) Player mix. I think there is something to be said for having a mix of players that complement each other. Basketball is the best example, but I believe it occurs when baseball as well. I remember Fangraphs had a funny simulation that they did where they pitted 4 teams full of clones comprised solely of 1 player versus each other, (i.e. 1 team comprised solely of Adam Dunn, 1 team of Dee Gordon, 1 team of Bartolo Colon, 1 team of Koji Ueharas). The results are hilarious.

      Clearly, real life results will never approach that level of absurdity, but the Reds player mix has some clear issues, most notably OBP. The Reds simply have too many low-OBP players on their roster. Since OBP is most directly correlated with team scoring, if I was building a roster with Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart, ideally you would build around their weaknesses and offset Billy’s poor OBP, with players with higher than average skills. The Reds have failed to do that.

      3) In addition, I think there is this: the Reds play in a bandbox. Is Billy’s speed even optimized in this stadium. (Of course, offensively, it doesn’t really matter because Billy is so godawful that he isn’t losing any triples/homeruns, but still).

      Neither of these are “complete” thoughts.

      • CP

        *meant to say None of these are complete thoughts, in that I don’t have statistical support to provide. These are essentially just rambling thoughts.

      • Jeremy Conley

        1a) You could use the first point you make to aruge that a player that scores a lot of runs is just adding to blowouts and that those runs aren’t that valuable. Runs = runs. The value of a run has to do with the context, not the upper and lower limits.

        1b) The defensive measures are not subjective. They use computers to track where balls are caught for every play that is ever played. In my post I said that some people don’t think the current measures are good. I think they are, but at least I can see that as an argument. It’s not an argument against Billy’s defense though, it’s an argument that the current measures give him too much credit for his defense. As you say, you provide no evidence that this is the case.

        2) Again, this is not an argument against Billy’s skillset, it’s an argument for higher OBPs. Higher OBPs would be better, there is no doubt about that, all else equal. But if Billy had a higher OBP but gave up more runs in the field, his OBP could be cancelled out. Runs = runs.

        Imagine your perfect mix of players. In the skillsets you’ve imagined, is stinking at defense one of them?

        3) If the Reds played in a larger park, maybe he could get to one or two more balls that are GABP homeruns. For the most part, I don’t think this is an issue. And if it is, all that it would be saying is that Billy is actually BETTER than his current stats suggest.

      • CP

        DRS is not simply using “computers to track where balls are caught for every play that is ever played.” That is not accurate. I wish it was, but it’s not. Fangraphs and SABR both have writeups that explain where part of the underlying data occurs.

        In addition, there lots of subjective assumptions in the formulation of the DRS stats itself. I work in the financial services industry and quant hedge funds often tell you how their “objective” proprietary formula tells them to buy/sell. But there are lots of subjective points all along the spectrum they used to arrive where they did..

        DRS is the best system out there, but it’s not nearly so objective or precise as you’ve stated.

        This is an overly simplified argument obviously, but you can’t win games 0-0.

        2) Not sure I follow. It is easy to say “we need guys with higher OBPs” but its not possible on finite resources. I think it’ll be very interesting what ends up happening later on in arbitration for Billy Hamilton.

        3) No, it would be saying he is more valuable for that team.

      • Jeremy Conley

        1) There is no such thing as a purely objective measure of defensive runs saved, because runs are the result of a million different variables, so you can never exactly say how many runs one player saved. DRS is an estimate, as are all offensive summary stats like runs created. Many current defensive metrics are based primarily on computer generated zones in the field and tracking of players.

        Again, if the argument is that the defensive stats aren’t accurate, that’s fine. As I said, I have no problem if people don’t like the defensive metrics available. My issue is with the idea that a run saved in the field is somehow not worth as much as a run produced at the plate, and specifically for this Reds team.

        In response to the 0-0 argument, if a defender keeps the other team at 0, the other team can never win. It cuts both ways because runs = runs.

        2) My point in response to your argument about having a mix of players is basically that it’s beside the point. Maybe it helps to score runs to have a mix of different types of hitters. But you would obviously want the best defenders possible whatever the mix of hitters was. Saying that you want a mix of players and Billy doesn’t fit it because he gets his value on defense would be like saying Cueto doesn’t fit it because he gets his value on the mound. Again, runs are runs. No one is talking about cutting Cueto because he’s a terrible hitter. Why? Because he saves runs. Same with Billy.

        3) No, my point is that if there are some balls that Billy could get to, but that in GABP they go for home runs, that he isn’t getting credit for that in the defensive statistics. So he is actually a better defender than he is getting credit for in the defensive stats because (maybe) GABP is robbing him of some of the ability to run down balls.

      • CP

        1) I think in the abstract we agree on most everything(1 run created = 1 run saved), but the problem is we’re measuring runs saved in a clunky & complicated manner. Way better than the eye test, but when you see DRS=15 or 20, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. 1 run created may mean 0.75 DRS, or 1.25 DRS, it’s a black box. DRS gives you a good general idea of how good a player is defensively, but it lacks the definitiveness of the offensive stats.

        Someone will score a run eventually. Offensive players can bypass defenders various ways in baseball.

        This actually gives me an idea: I wonder if we could run a simulation with the best defenders/worst offensive players at each position, and then compare them against an “average offense/average defense” team, holding pitching constant. My hypothesis would be that the team composed of Billy Hamilton-type players would finish with a below average record.

        2) Cueto’s only job is to save runs, Billy’s job is a balance between the two. I think if it was that simple, defensive players are being severely undervalued by the market.

        3) I’m not sure we’re in disagreement here. I believe we’re talking about measuring stats versus value. If the Reds played in MIami, would Billy Hamilton’s ability to get to more deep fly balls make him more valuable to the Marlins than the Reds? I think the answer is yes, GABP removes those measuring stats from him. I think the opposite is probably true too: perhaps a less skilled defender who with moderate power is more valuable to a team like the Reds than teams like the Marlins.

      • Jeremy Conley

        Well CP, it’s certainly a good discussion. I agree that in the absolute most extreme cases, like a team of all Hamilton’s, or in a ballpark that was 200 feet deep through the whole outfield, his skillset would be less valuable. I don’t think the Reds are anywhere close to that, and so I’m perfectly happy with his contribution.

        BUt defense will always be an interesting topic because it’s so hard to isolate.

    • old-school

      BHam is a great 4th outfielder,,,,start twice a week, pinch run every game and be a late inning replacement every game. The single greatest issue with Hamilton is his exit velocity, or lack thereof. He has been fast forwarded to the big leagues because of his blazing speed, and his glaring hitting deficiencies have been overlooked. If he ran 0.2 seconds slower in a 60 yard dash, he wouldn’t even be in baseball. He’s a one trick pony. The only way he can become an every day player is to become a Brett Butler bunter and Joey Votto walker….and he’s shown no inclination to do either. His exit velocity is pathetic…… for a college player…….but Walt overlooked because of his 1 in a million speed and marketing potential…..You can’t steal first base.

    • greenmtred

      Jeremy: Well said, well said, well said.

    • jdx19

      I think the statement you quote at the end has to do with the fact that Billy’s speed has already peaked. Speed peaks early. He will only get less and less valuable in the field and on the bases as the years go on. Hence, they need to find a new CF in the coming years. Billy losing 2-tenths down the line as a 28-yr old who still can’t hit is probably a replacement-level player.

  9. charlottencredsfan

    “He doesn’t need to hit homeruns to be effective, but he does need to show pitchers he can rip a ball down the line or in the gap when they make a mistake.”

    More so, corner infielders that if they play that far in, they could get hurt by a screaming line drive. Infielders playing that far in negate most of the value his speed offers on groundballs. There is a ton of upside here.

    • lwblogger2

      Not just the corner guys but the whole infield plays shallow against him. The outfield also plays shallow. They don’t worry too much about hard hit balls in the gaps and because they play so shallow, they don’t allow Hamilton to get too many flairs. If Billy hit the ball harder, on the ground or liners, those outfielders would have to cover the gaps or risk giving up a lot of triples and maybe even an inside the park HR or two. It would force them to play deeper. He’d probably get a few Texas-leaguers that he never gets now too.

  10. jamesgarrett

    Good stuff Jeremy.I am a big Billy fan and to be honest I hope he does get on base more the second half but I would take a repeat of the first half.Eighty steals and great defense works for me.He is a game changer.

  11. vared

    Unrelated – need a trade banter post: Astros acquire Kazmir from A’s. One pitching need filled. Every day closer to the deadline ratchets up the pressure on Walt.

    • Jeremy Conley

      Kazmir has a 2.38 ERA and 3.09 FIP in 109 IP with 101 Ks. He brought back a possible starter in high A and a power hitting catcher in high A. Cueto has a 2.79 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 123 innings with 115 Ks.

      • Vicferrari

        I think agree with you if you saying Cueto is a little bit better and it woudl be disappointing to only get that for him

    • PARedsfan

      Walt’s busy relaxing at home…..you know, less distractions there…lmao. God help this franchise on his watch…*sigh*

      • RedAlert

        Be sure to tune into next episode of “Hoarders” starring Walt Jockerty ….

      • Vicferrari

        I hope he starts hoarding top 100 prospects in the Louisville soon

  12. jamesgarrett

    No doubt Kazmir helps the Astros rotation and I believe he is under contract through 2016 but I would rather give the ball to Hamels,Cueto or Price in a playoff game.You are right though one potential trade partner fills a need.

      • i71_Exile

        And there is no way Luhnow would deal with Jocketty and vice versa. That arch was nuked years ago in St. Louis. As good as Cueto would look in an Astros uniform, I’m sure he was their absolute last choice. Yankees, Royals, and maybe Blue Jays (in my opinion) are the Reds’ dance partners.

  13. Art Wayne Austin

    Why everyone suggests Billy hit grounders instead of fly balls most hitting coaches would recommend hitting line-drives.

    • jdx19

      Line drives are a byproduct of hitting neither a grounder or a fly ball. They are a much harder thing to repeat.

      FB and GB rate both begin to stabilize (signal-to-noise great than 50%) around 80 balls-in-play.

      LD rate begins to stabliize at 600 balls-in-play.

      You can try to hit line drives, but mostly they turn out to be FB or GB. They just sort of happen when they happen.

      Once a player has shown over a few seasons that he can hit line drives at a high rate, then he can officially be said to “own that skill,” but I’m not entirely sure it’s something that can be taught very easily.

  14. kmartin

    The discussions about Hamilton’s physique being a problem have centered around his weight and lack of strength resulting in not hitting the ball hard enough. Here is another viewpoint. Notice how square shouldered Hamilton is compared to hitters such as Mike Trout or Eric Davis. There are scouts who consider square shoulders the kiss of death. See for example,


    Warning: this does article is not backed by solid sabermetric arguments but is nevertheless interesting to read.

      • CP

        Oh, is it time to start blaming the hitting coach again?

      • Tom Gray

        The job of a hitting coach is to work with struggling players like Hamilton.

        Believe it or not, the Reds have had other players struggle to hit in MLB who eventually became good hitters.

      • jdx19

        Tom, it may be possible that Billy just isn’t a good hitter. No hitting coach would make me hit well in the major leagues.

        With that said, he probably can get better!

  15. Tom Gray

    Different situation but Davey Concepcion was a pretty weak hitter in 1970, 71 & 72.

    Ted Kluszewski worked with him until he became an MLB capable hitter beginning in 1973.

    • jdx19

      Here’s a funny stat: Mike Trout will have more career WAR that Davey Concepcion sometime around late September.

  16. big5ed

    Billy has to get stronger in his upper body and back and in his quads and glutes.

    My theory is that extra strength effectively gives a hitter a bigger sweet spot on the bat. To hit the ball hard, a scrawny guy like Hamilton has to hit the ball perfectly on the sweet spot, or the screws as they said about old golf woods, whereas a strong guy like Votto has much more margin for error. Votto’s strength makes his sweet spot a lot bigger.

    Being stronger will also help him groove his swing better.

    Either his agent (or Billy) or the Reds need to put him with the best strength-training in Arizona (or Florida) all winter, and he needs to work with a real good independent hitting coach like Reggie Smith. He can get much better, but it’s going to take a ton of work.

  17. Playtowin

    Defense is always important. Hamilton is young and can improve. The Reds will be a so-so teiam over the next few years whether Hamilton is a Red or not. Stick with him. There is nothing to lose and there could be a nice upside. If he does not improve by age 27-28 it might be time for him to move on or down. He could probably make a decent living as a 5th outfielder, late inning defensive replacement, and pinch runner.

    • jdx19

      Agreed. Stick with him because there is no one better in the system to replace him. If he doesn’t learn to hit, we just let him go after his ARB years. His ARB years shouldn’t be too expensive since they seem to reward HR and RBI above all else.

  18. Chris Miller

    Say what you want about Billy Hamilton. When a young kid doesn’t perform, you send him down. It not only helps him, but it sends a message not to get too comfortable, unless you plan on executing at a high level. I love this kid, but he should be in AAA right now, especially since the team is not going anywhere.