Has there ever been a more fun position player to watch that canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hit than Billy Hamilton? Every time Hamilton gets on base, he completely wrecks the opposing pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stellar, he seemingly runs down every ball hit from foul pole to foul pole. Again, HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remain elite forever. Here are some areas in which Hamilton has struggled thus far this season.
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 doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t strikeout that much and swings and misses an impressively small amount. So why doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t he walk more? Well, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take a look at HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s batted ball types compared to the league average this season.
These numbers arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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
HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect Hamilton to hit the ball as hard as Bruce, but the gap shouldn’t be that large.
HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inability to hit the ball hard is the reason he doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get walked much. Pitchers challenge Hamilton in the strike zone freely because he hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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. HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s talent in other areas allots him some time to figure it out, but he better not wait too long.