If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll want to read this interesting piece by Jerry Crasnick over at ESPN. It’s about Billy Hamilton, if you haven’t figured that out yet:

Hamilton is tied for 11th in the majors with 40 runs even though he ranks 127th among 171 qualifying hitters with a .305 on-base percentage. If he continues at his current pace, he’ll finish the season with about 109 runs. Since the start of the live ball era in 1920, only two players (Tony Armas of the 1984 Boston Red Sox and Hughie Critz of the 1930 Reds and New York Giants) have scored 105 runs in a season in which they logged an OBP of .305 or worse.

Any conversation with Hamilton’s teammates invariably strays to mad dashes around the bases or frantic sprints in the outfield that test the limits of StatCast. Reds catcher Tucker Barnhardt recalls a California League game in 2012 in which Hamilton tagged up and scored on a pop fly to the second baseman in shallow right field. Reds coach Freddie Benavides, similarly, remembers the day in spring training when Hamilton raced out from shortstop and caught a ball at the warning track.

I know, I’m becoming a caricature when it comes to the topic of Billy Hamilton. He’s just the most unique player I’ve ever seen. As long as his legs are healthy, we’re liable to see something spectacular at any time.

Still, despite the fact that I can’t be trusted on the topic of Billy, I encourage you to read the entire piece. Crasnick takes a look at some particular things — between-games preparation, specifically — that Hamilton is trying to improve his hitting and base-running.

I know opinions are divided among Reds fans as to whether Hamilton will ever get on base at a reasonable clip. I don’t know whether he will, or whether the current Billy is the best we can hope for. But — stay tuned for the common refrain whenever this guy is the topic — if Hamilton can get on base at a league-average clip for a full season, watch out. You’re right, he hasn’t been able to sustain that kind of production over the long haul thus far in his career.

But he’s still a kid! And there are signs of improvement (look at that line drive rate, and the fact that’s he seeing far more pitches per AB than he ever has). So I choose to be optimistic about Billy. Not that I really have a choice; I’m way too far out on this particular limb to go back now.

20 Responses

  1. james garrett

    I love him but he can’t hit enough or walk enough to get on base.This is his 4th year and his OBP is right at his career number of 299.If it was league average he would score 150 runs with the guys behind him in the order.It will interesting to se if he continues to play every day with Winker coming up from the minors.

  2. Gobucks

    If your scoring runs at the rate Billy scores runs, that’s equal to having a higher OBP, isn’t it? Add in the plus defense.

    • Gaffer

      Don’t forget who is driving him in. Coazart and Votto are right around the best hitters in the game right now.

  3. Tom

    I think you have to calculate his scoring potential with his OBP. I’ve said for quite some time that he’s slightly faster than the speed of baseball. I’ve seen Billy score from second in a wild pitch (front row, behind home plate at Wrigley). I’ve seen him score on a shallow pop up. I’ve seen him score from first on a routine single. He is something different and he needs to be measured for value differently. Once normal player is on base, it’s up to every one else to drive them in. With Billy, once he’s on base, he’s just getting started. He creates runs. I wonder what the data says on his “scored from 1st, 2nd, 3rd with 0, 1, or 2 outs)” versus the rest of MLB. I bet he an outlier.

    My eyeballs tell me he’s the most dangerous player in baseball once reaching first base. The data from the article reinforces this beliefs. And, it doesn’t factor in his ability to distract. In short, he’s a menace.

    Here’s an other stat to calculate – winning percent on games where Billy scores once or twice. When he goes, the Reds go.

    Now, if Billy can just produce a love child with Jesse Winker, we’re set.

  4. 3 Old Reds Fans (@3oldredsfans)

    The impatience of fans is laughable at times. You don’t give up this early on a player with the unique talents of Billy Hamilton. I just said on this past week on my podcast that we need to consider Zack Cozart. Not every sub-.250 hitter figures it out like he has. But I said two years from now Billy could definitely be hitting close .300 when the Reds might become a true contender. His OBP has shown signs of improvement even though it’s down during his current slump. Besides, Billy’s OBP, if there is a metric to adjust for his talents, is really higher than it seems. In other words, something like .300 for him is like .350 for someone else, etc. And now he’s using the bunt, which many have cried for. I respect Billy a ton for how hard he is working to become a great leadoff man. It’s a high-pressure job. If he was the player keeping us from winning it all, then yes make a change. But the Reds are still rebuilding. I am hopeful for this season still, but this start to the season and hanging near the division lead is most likely fool’s gold. Not every player bursts on the scene like Aaron Judge. In fact, they rarely do. Time is still on Billy’s and the team’s side. Jesse Winker batting leadoff won’t make the starting pitching better or come remotely close for making up for it.

  5. Chuck Schick

    In 1975, Pete Rose scored 14.6 runs for every 100 plate appearances. In 2017, Billy Hamilton scores 15.38 runs for every 100 plate appearances.

    In 1975, Pete Rose was a base runner 303 times and scored 105 times. His Run to on Base Yield was .346……meaning Rose scored about 35% of the time he got on base.

    In 2017, Billy Hamilton has been a base runner 76 times and has scored 39 times. His Run to on base yield is . 512……meaning Hamilton scores 51% of the time he gets on base.

    Rose scored 112 runs on 764 PA’s. If given the same number of PA’s, Hamilton is projected to score 117. However, if backed by Morgan, Bench, Foster etc….I would guess that Hamilton would likely score more. If Rose was backed by the 2017 Reds, I would guess that he would score less.

    Given the same number of plate appearances, Pete Rose…..with the greatest line up in the modern era behind him, needed to get on base 40% more than Hamilton……in order to score 4% FEWER runs.

    • Dave Bell

      I hate to be a negative voice here; Hamilton is often amazingly fun to watch. But this run-scoring machine’s career high in runs scored is 72, batting mostly leadoff, in a hitter’s park. By comparison, Rose exceeded that total 19 times. What you do when you get on base matters, of course. But actually getting on base is pretty darn important, too.

      • Chuck Schick

        Rose had far more plate appearances in a given season than Hamilton. Hamilton has often been injured. The point was to show that Hamilton’s low OBP is largely offset by what actually happens when he gets on base

      • Chuck Schick

        Tom….I have the highest regard for your opinions and empirical observations. The points you raise are great.

        Giving up outs is certainly not desireable. However, is it possible that the ancillary impact Hamilton has on pitchers when he does reach base mitigates the negative impact of those extra outs?

        Is the benefit of a stressed, distracted pitcher great enough to offset the 45 extra outs Hamilton creates? I’m not mathematically gifted enough to know, but ithere seems to be evidence that those outs are at least partially offset.

      • Dave Bell

        Two points: one, injuries matter, when evaluating a player’s value. And second, if we adjust for Billy’s missed time, we still get BH scoring .54 runs/game and PR scoring .61. When looking at individual plays, Hamilton has an amazing ability to score from unorthodox starting points, no question. That makes him a great conversation piece and occasionally entertaining as all get out. But does it make him a great, or even a good, run creator? Unfortunately, no.

      • Dave Bell

        I grant you that Rose, for a few years at least, had an historic lineup hitting behind him. Adam Dunn, hitting in the middle of the lineup, did not.

        Career runs/game Billy Hamilton: .54
        Career runs/game Adam Dunn: .55

        And that includes decline phase of Dunn’s career.

    • da bear

      Chuck +100. the base running ability of BH is undervalued, nice analysis. OBP is undoubtedly important, but ultimately the game is about scoring runs. Convert those SBs into xBHs and the scores from first on singles into xBHs and the BH scores on groundouts because BH got to third base, perhaps a better measurement of BH’s contribution emerges.

      At the same time Votto who we all love as a hitter probably needs a deduction to his WAR contribution due to his poor base running. It’s approaching as bad as Adam Dunn, which is as bad as I’ve seen.

  6. Jack

    The problem with Billy Hamilton is that the Reds are losing. If the Reds were in first place and winning at a above 500 clip, well everything would be fine. No complaints. Let’s bring Winker up and run a 4 person outfield. Guys get days off every week. Just stop using Gennett and kivelhan out there. This is the year of sorting things out. Do it and stop running the wrong guys out there.

    • 3 Old Reds Fans (@3oldredsfans)

      Can’t disagree that Winker deserves a chance, and I think he gets it soon. Better to have him as the 4th OF than anyone else. If he’s in AAA because of the mantra he needs to play every day, we’re past that with him. Bring him up, play him 3-4 days a week and see what happens. But remember the desire for him to play is typical of guys like this. Big prospect hype who we expect to hit the ground running in the bigs. Not the way it usually happens, so when he comes up and goes 0-for-12 or 2-for-20 we’ll be hearing how he’s a bust. It will happen more than once before he’s a proven player, if he ever is.

  7. Tom Mitsoff

    To me, he currently is a valuable, Gold-Glove caliber center fielder whose offensive shortcomings can be overlooked on an otherwise strong offensive team. He probably should be batting eighth or ninth.

    To date this season, this team is exactly the kind of team Hamilton should be on. The rest of the team is above-average offensively and defensively, and would be a contender with even average starting pitching.

    Currently the team is carrying eight relievers (Iglesias, Lorenzen, Peralta, Brice, Storen, Cingrani, Wood and Buchanan). When the starting pitching is more stable, at least one of those can go, and maybe be replaced on the roster by Jesse Winker. That would give a four-man outfield platoon of Winker, Hamilton, Schebler and Duvall which would keep everyone rested and give Price some great matchup opportunities.

    Hamilton is in a perfect situation, and belongs on this team, not somewhere else.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      I forgot to include Kivlehan, who has shown some surprising power and plate discipline.

  8. Sliotar

    For 2018, a step in the right direction to maximize Hamilton’s value….

    Sit him vs. left-handed pitching, if the replacement can adequate defense

    Hamilton vs. LHP
    2016- .267 OBP, wRC+ 52
    2017- ..207 OBP, wRC+ 16

    vs. RHP
    2016- .340 OBP, wRC+ 88
    2017- .320 OBP, wRC+ 73

    (Source: FanGraphs)

    He is a below average, negative WAR offensive player. If the Reds feel the defense he provides is worth it as a cost-controlled player, the damage offensively can be minimized by platooning him.

    “Kid” or not, he is approaching 2,000 plate appearances. There is a “book” out on him with the other teams.

    • Tom Mitsoff

      He’s far enough along the career path that we have a pretty good idea who and what he is. Not to say he can’t improve at the plate, but he’s not going to be a .300 hitter. But speed kills, and can be used in many ways both in the lineup and off the bench.

  9. james garrett

    It look like we may have to develop another category to debate.Are we saying that Billy’s OBP of 300 is really like 350 because he is fast?If so does Votto’s 400 mean its really 350 because he is slow?I don’t think so.What we can say is that Billy is fast and scores runs when he gets on base.He is also an elite defender whose WAR is entirely because of his defense.We can say he doesn’t drive himself in because he has no power.We can say he should bat 8th or 9th because he is not a good hitter and good hitters should get the most at bats.Finally when he does score once or twice a game I am sure our winning percentage goes up.Couldn’t you say that same thing about every lead off hitter or every hitter with an OBP of 300.

  10. wkuchad

    please print that out and mail to Great American Ballpark, care of Bryon Price. I’m happy to foot the bill for the postage.