[This post was submitted by loyal Nation member Matt Habel. Thanks, Matt!]

This post came about from a commenter who posed the question, “Does the Reds winning coincide with Billy getting on base?” It is certainly an intriguing question which anecdotally would seem to have a very obvious answer and has even been brought up by his teammates.

The idea that any single player can directly impact a team’s win/loss results more often than not doesn’t really seem intuitive in baseball. At least to me. A quarterback in the NFL or a dominant basketball player (see James, LeBron) makes much more sense than a position player in the MLB. If a baseball player were to stake that claim, it would seem most likely to be a starting pitcher, such as Madison Bumgarner or Jake Arrieta, who have both been key parts of their respective team’s championships. Can a below average center fielder really have that much of an impact?

If we take the game vs the Giants which I am currently watching, Billy reached base in his first three at-bats, the Reds scored runs in each of those innings and have been in complete control the entire game. Not to mention this came against Matt Cain who had been pitching very well recently. Watching Billy get on base, effortlessly glide around the bases and get driven home by a Votto base hit seems like the most organic sequence in baseball history.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see what we find. Keep in mind this is for each player’s Reds career only.

Source: FanGraphs

Before we go too far into the numbers, I do want to acknowledge that there is an inherent problem taking splits for wins and losses. If a team wins then they generally score runs which means there has to be better offense. The easiest way for me to think about it was not single players splits, but rather the splits of different players compared against each other. There are more ways to look into this particular question, but this was the first question that I asked so I wanted to see it all the way through. The results did surprise me a bit.

Since the title of the article refers to Billy Hamilton, we will start there. The number that pops out immediately is the variance in Billy’s Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) between Reds wins and losses. That is very substantial as we can compare that with the rest of the Red’s lineup. I added in some former players to get a little bit more to look at. It definitely wasn’t nostalgia. Why would I ever get nostalgic while the Reds are playing the Giants?

Nobody else’s variance is even close to Billy’s and five players actually perform worse on average when the Reds win, including Joey Votto. If the Reds win a game, there is a very good chance that Billy had a good game for his standards. Unfortunately, that only is only barely above the average MLB performance, according to wRC+. Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is also included and presents a similar story, though not as dramatic as wRC+. In Red’s victories, Hamilton is still producing an average wOBA that is 44% higher than that in Reds losses. The downside, again, is that this is still considered below average. Another way of saying that is that in Reds losses, Billy Hamilton is one of the worst players in the league (a .210 wOBA for 2017 would be 3rd worst among qualified players). This is just more encouraging/frustrating evidence that if Billy ever can perform at an average or even just slightly below average level consistently, the Reds stand to benefit. Pretty amazing.

The other callout from the chart is the huge increase in ISO from EVERYONE during Reds’ wins. I am sure this is a trend that would hold true across the league as well. If a team wins a game, they are more than likely going to have more extra base hits than the opposition. There are endless different ways to build a team, but as many of the writers here have been expressing for years, power is the safest bet there is.

The three former Reds are all extremely similar, which is interesting but not sure if it means anything at all. Those teams had much more stability compared to the constant changes the current roster has endured. Maybe that plays into it, maybe not. For what it’s worth, Todd Frazier (.505) and Jay Bruce (.502) are the only players listed with winning percentages above .500. Brandon Phillips barely missed at .499. Votto sits at .486 after the blood bath last year.

I was surprised when I saw how much higher Billy’s variance is compared to everyone else. I pretty much assumed that everyone would play better, on average, in wins compared to losses. Going back to what I said earlier, that’s just a super intuitive observation. Also thinking again about the nuances of baseball, it takes much more than one or two strong players to win games. Just ask Mike Trout. That said, the connection between the Reds going and Billy going is enough to make you wish Billy was able to go a bit more often.

Matt Habel

When Matt is not in a kayak or a tent (yes, that is a Reds bucket hat), Matt is watching the Redlegs from the land without baseball, Portland OR. He grew up in Cincinnati but lived in Pittsburgh during the Pirates return to the postseason and survived the 2013 Wild Card game. He’s been a diehard fan ever since. 

15 Responses

  1. Tom R

    A couple thoughts. What % of the time does Billy score once on base versus league average? The eyeball test suggests it’s much higher. So he converts OBP to R more efficiently than others. It doesn’t hurt to bat before Votto. Secondly, if we were to consider his SB’s as his version of SLG%, it seems to me it would raise his OPS considerably. Meaning, he converts a walk or base hit into a double or triple frequently – especially if he does so before the next out. Ultimately, what that means to me is that he can have a lower OBP than other lead off batters because he converts his OBP more efficiently to runs. And I think it’s because he’s slightly faster than the speed of normal MLB baseball. Again, this is all anecdotal observation – so some data would be interesting to see if what my eye picks up is actually happening.

    • mdhabel

      He currently has 19 SBs and has been on base 40 times this year. His SB% is 95%. If we added take ratio of SB/times on base and multiply that by 95%, we could argue adding .450 points onto his OPS to give an estimate for what the stolen bases are worth. That would put him around .645 with league average at .729

  2. Sliotar

    Matt, good article. It is the kind of fresh perspective on a Reds issue that Redleg Nation is known for.

    Old School, to your point of resting Hamilton, maybe a beginning point is to not start him against left-handed pitchers?

    I have Hamilton in all my dynasty fantasy leagues. The stolen bases alone justify him getting starts. But, he won’t be in my lineups tonight because he is 2 for 22, 1 SB for this season vs. LHP. He wasn’t much better last season, either.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats.cgi?full=1&params=plato%7Cvs%20LHP%7Chamilbi02%7Cbat%7CAB%7C

    Sitting him vs LHP still allows for an appearance later, if needed, vs. RH relievers. It also helps with breaking in others in CF or the outfield in general down the road {Wink(er), Wink(er)}.

    • Vicferrari

      Seems like a few years ago people were saying he should be an exclusive RH hitter, he probably is listening to Votto too much and needs some guidance from the other side

  3. Vicferrari

    Not sure how feasible an investigation could be made into determining if Billy getting a hot streak shows more of a correlation with winning than other players. For example…
    pick a criteria- 6 game or more stretch with obp over .330 or under .250
    determine Reds winning % during those stretches
    would trends be similar to other players like Votto?
    not sure if you would have to take it out more like 9 games to find any trend, I just recall Billy looking great from May to ASB in 2014 and pretty good last year in the 2nd half and that coincided with the best Reds have looked in the Price era.

  4. mdhabel

    Thanks Partrick. Definitely not perfect but I will keep investigating as I keep getting more comfortable with the stats

  5. Vicferrari

    Let alone the stolen bases, but how much does he affect the pitcher’s concentration thus giving his teammates and advantage in their AB’s?

  6. james garrett

    I don’t know if Billy makes the Reds go or not but I do know if he gets his OBP up in the 320-330 range he will score a bunch of runs.He is what is I would call an old school lead -off guys because of his speed.Most teams go with a guy with on bases skills and gap power because well most teams don’t have a guy that will steal 50 bases a year but Billy can turn a walk or a single into a double or triple really quickly.He just has to get on base.

  7. The_next_Janish

    A year ago I did a rough eyeball test and noticed a similar thing whenever Billy got on base twice the Reds had a winning record.

  8. David

    OK, going to be a bit of a contrarian here.
    Perhaps we have reversed causation and correlation here.
    Historically, Billy Hamilton has really not been a very good hitter.
    Perhaps his “good Billy” nights are indicative of mediocre to poor pitching from the opposition, and thus, everybody will hit. Anecdotally, I can recall nights where Billy was very overpowered by the starting pitching the Reds faced, and surprise, so was a lot of the line-up.
    I like Billy and he is great fun to watch when he contributes. Maybe he really is getting better. That seems to be what I see when I watch the games.

  9. HerpyDerp

    Does the same hold true historically if you did this based on lead off hitter, rather than specific players? Just looking at the number of times Cozart, Stubbs, Phillips, etc led off combined over the years, and do the same analysis.