After the Reds locked up Eugenio Suarez for a better part of the next decade (a deal I kinda-sorta predicted in the first installation of this series, btw), I thought it’d be a while before the Reds extended another player. Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart both got their extensions, Joey Votto is here for the rest of his career, and the Adam Duvall/Scott Schebler combo, unless they show us something out of their ordinary play in 2018, aren’t the type of guys you typically see extended. Everyone else that might factor into the next good Reds team – names like Jesse Winker, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Nick Senzel – might get a look, but extensions for players with little service time are rare.

And then, I remembered that I was forgetting someone. Somehow, I had forgotten to take into consideration the fact that Billy Hamilton is a prime candidate for the next extension in Cincinnati. Now, it’s easy to see why I could forget about Hamilton when dreaming of the next great Reds team. He’s not good with the bat, and never really has been.

But Billy isn’t bad at baseball. In fact, since 2013, he’s accrued over 10 WAR, a feat not easily accomplished by your typical bad baseball player. Add to that the notion that the ownership group is thought to want to make Billy a Red for life, and we’re looking at more than just smoke to this fire.

But what is he worth? How much does elite defense and base running really go for in the open market? Is this a skillset worth locking down for an extended period of time?

Before we take a look at some comps, let’s get to the facts:

Fact #1: 2018 is Billy’s age 27 season. That’s a year older than Suarez, so we know that the Reds are willing and able to lock up a player in what should be the beginning of the middle of their prime.

Fact #2: No matter how you look at it, Billy Hamilton is a well below average hitter. I say hitter, and not offensive player, because his speed makes up for about half of the hole he digs himself in with the bat. His career 71 wRC+ means he’s almost 30% worse than the average MLB player in the batter’s box. That translates to roughly -18.1 Fangraphs Offense points, part of the formula Fangraphs uses to calculate WAR. Hamilton’s Off score was the 9th worst in the MLB in 2017. That’s not good.

Fact #3: No matter how you look at it, Billy Hamilton is a well above average defender, and an elite base runner. Hamilton was worth 1.2 fWAR last season, due to his baserunning (9.5 Fangraphs BsR, 2nd in MLB) and defense (9.6 Fangraphs Def, 12th in MLB). You can’t just add Off+ BsR + Def to get the total fWAR, but these three scores are a good indicator as to how Billy was only able to accrue 1.2 fWAR last season.

Fact #4: Although it fluctuates, the average price for 1 WAR is around $11M on the open market. So, theoretically, Billy Hamilton was worth just around $13M in 2017.

Since we’ve got such fresh data for Eugenio Suarez, let’s look at what he was worth, versus what he’ll be paid over the next 7 or 8 years. Fangraphs has Suarez listed as having accrued 4.1 WAR in 2017. That means Suarez would have been worth $45.1M last season alone. Of course, no player makes THAT much money each season. And indeed, the contract Suarez signed has an AAV (Average Annual Value) of $11M – almost 25% of what he would be paid if everyone was paid market value.

If the Reds were interested in paying Billy Hamilton at the same 25% rate of market value, we’re looking at an AAV of $3.25M. Granted, 2017 was Billy’s worst season as far as fWAR goes, but thems the breaks.

Now, we know the Reds value Hamilton more than this, because the team offered him a $4.6M, 1-year deal to avoid arbitration hearings this offseason. That comes out to roughly 35% of what he should technically make on the open market.

Using this, as well as a few different projection systems for how experts and computers think Billy will play this year, we can probably figure out the ‘bottom’ of the range of contract offers he might be willing to sign. Barring a complete breakdown in 2018 (and, of course, barring a development in his hitting that makes him more valuable), here’s what the minimum extension might look like:

While this contract might not make Billy a Red for life, it’d lock him up through his prime, and would have him hitting free agency at 32 or 33 years old. The AAV on the contract, before the team option, is just under $6.5M. If you’re playing along at home, that’s roughly 35% of what the projections for 2018 are saying he’d be worth on the open market.

Now, negotiations between the team and Billy’s camp will likely drive this number up. The best way to do that is to point to a comparable player who’s making more than this contract offers. I present you all with Exhibit A:

This is the contract the Tampa Bay Rays handed out to Kevin Kiermaier in 2017, featuring a $9.1M AAV. Like most player comps, there are faults to comparing Hamilton and Kiermaier. Kiermaier is a good example of what Billy Hamilton could potentially be, if all of the chips fell right. He’s got a Gold Glove award – something that has evaded Hamilton up to this point in his career – and he’s above average with the bat. Not great by any means, but his career wRC+ of 106 would have Reds fans salivating if Hamilton could pull it off. What Kiermaier has over Billy with the bat, he lacks on the basepaths. Again, Kiermaier is an above average runner, but he doesn’t sniff Billy Hamilton territory.

Kevin Kiermaier has been worth around 4 WAR a season, including a 5.1 WAR 2015 season which cemented him as the best defender in baseball. He lost a step defensively in 2017, at least according to the metrics, but was still a 3 WAR player thanks to his 112 wRC+. Oh, what could be.

Not only are the players somewhat similar, but the clubs are somewhat similar as well. Tampa Bay, like Cincinnati, is a small market team that likes to get creative with contracts. You can argue that the ‘likes to get creative’ above should read ‘needs to get creative’, but that’s a conversation for another day. The Eugenio Suarez contract is a classic Tampa Bay contract. Spoiler alert: in the next edition of Contracts for the New Core, we’ll be discussing Evan Longoria’s contract, and how that relates to the Reds.

So, let’s say Billy comes back to the Reds, and wants his contract to be a little closer to Kiermaier’s. Without a Gold Glove or any sort of bat to speak of, that becomes a tough ask for the Reds. However, Billy is quickly becoming a fan favorite, and has already proven to be a favorite in-house. Without budging too much, here’s the high end of what I’d find acceptable in a contract offer if I were in the Reds front office:

This contract is set up similarly to the Suarez contract, but obviously with less money. The $8.3M AAV is less than Kiermaier, but probably a little rich for the production Billy has been able to accomplish up to this point. Again, a lot of the bloat in the contract is due to Billy being one of the faces of the club, someone who “puts butts in seats”, and is a personal favorite of the ownership group. I think if 2018 is more of the same from Hamilton, and his camp is trying to bargain for more money than is provided in this contract, the Front Office has to seriously consider cutting ties.

At the same time, if 2018 is the year Billy finally shows he can be at least competent with a bat in his hands, you sign him to this contract in a heartbeat. Even the 100 wRC+ version of Billy Hamilton is insanely valuable, given the same level of base running and defense we’ve seen in the past. That’s exactly the kind of player a small market team needs to extend, and I’d be perfectly comfortable signing him to the contract above if he can show some progress this season.

What do you think? Too much? Not enough? Let’s hear it in the comments.

34 Responses

  1. DHud

    Also not interested. Love me some Billy in the field but my patience is all but gone with his bat

  2. David

    Base stealing in this day and age is over valued, especially by the Reds. It has its place, but is not as valuable as say, Bobby Tolan in 1970 (who was also a very good hitter) and Joe Morgan (1972-1975). Joe also had a fabulous OBP. I think it was more valuable then because frankly, fewer home runs were hit. We can wax nostalgic for the BRM, but they did not have a lot of really big TEAM HR years. 200 – 210 HR/year was normal.

    The players are bigger and stronger now, and look at HR totals for the pennant winners last year.

    Having said all that, signing a very low OPS player like Billy to a long term contract would be ….nuts. Talk about mis – spending money. If he was as good as Juan Pierre in terms of hitting /OBP, that would be different. Or even Dee Gordon, who should be a good comp for Billy. Billy is an outstanding CF in terms of running around, catching and throwing, but he is not much of an offensive ballplayer, and this is not news to anyone here.
    Just say no to an extension, or even a new contract.

  3. Jordan Barhorst

    With the current makeup of the team, I agree. But, if you think there’s a realistic chance you can get 8 other average (at least) hitters in the lineup, I think that tune changes quickly. You’ll take the hit offensively for that defense, as long as he’s the only black hole in the lineup.

  4. wkuchad

    Taylor Trammell is what, 4ish years away. I’d be willing to offer Hamilton a 3 or 4 year deal with a deep club discount. Something like $4.5 million a year for 4 years. He could be used as a starter or super sub off the bench at that price.

    If he doesn’t accept, trade him or shake his hand and let him walk.

    • Jordan Barhorst

      I get the sentiment, but I refuse to think this way about prospects anymore. Remember when (not even that long ago), Stephenson/Reed/Garrett were supposed to be the new core of the rotation? Two of the three excelled in AAA to the point where they had nothing left to prove. The other has stuff for days.

      One is starting in AAA, one just got shellacked for the umpteenth time, and one is a middle reliever.

      I love Trammell and all of that potential, but we can’t count on him to be any better with the bat than Hamilton is.

      • Tom Mitsoff

        I absolutely agree. Nobody is a sure thing as a major league contributor until they prove it. People get way too excited about prospects before they prove anything. That’s one reason I think Senzel needs to stay at Class AAA for awhile — to get comfortable at that level before trying to ascend to another level.

        There are people who still think Stephenson is going to someday “get it.” Show me someone who dominates a minor league level and I’ll get excited. Only a handful of the “prospects” in the Reds system (or any other system) will develop into difference makers at the major league level.

  5. wkuchad

    In unrelated news, per C. Trent, Senzel is expected to move back to third base for the Bats’ game today.

  6. Willie Dixon (@dixon606)

    The Reds should be interested in signing Billy long term at a low price. Defense and speed has value. With the middle of the infield no longer a defensive strength for the foreseeable future it may be wise to invest in a rangy CF with a good arm at a low yearly value. As for his hitting? Don’t blame Billy because he hits at the top of the order too much. That’s poor coaching. I like him in 8-9 spot.

  7. Ghettotrout1

    I agree with Steve nice post but no thanks on Billy. To me he is a bench guy and I don’t think the reds should sign a bench guy to that kind of money. I also don’t think base running is nearly as valuable as being able to get oneself on base. The old saying you can’t steal first base is old Billy Bears main problem.

  8. eric3287

    I’m firmly in the don’t extend Billy any more than necessary camp, mostly because the strengths that he does have are going to age horribly. While 27-28 may be the beginning of the middle of most players’ primes, Billy’s entire strength is speed. A player’s speed declines sooner than anything else. Billy the fastest player in the world might be someone who can start; Billy one of the 5 fastest players in the league is probably a late innings defensive replacement at best.

  9. Sandman

    Billy Hamilton will never hit! I am 1,000% sure of that. He’s been up for 5 yrs now and he still HASN’T LEARNED. That’s enough for me. I don’t care if one of you provide countless examples of plyrs who have begun their offensive careers similar to Hamilton only to have a breakout with the bat at some point. He’s had Votto try to teach him and I think some other good hitters from the Reds past and it hasn’t sunk in.

    Therefore, if the Reds sign Hamilton to a long term contract…well, lets put it this way. The other day I saw this meme that asked this question: you ever been so mad that you’re calm? That would probably be me (can’t say for sure). But, I see myself being so mad that I’m calm. I can’t say no more for now.

    • David

      The only example I can think of is Ozzie Smith, who was ALWAYS a great Shortstop, but could not hit worth a darn in his early years. Later, he did become a decent major league hitter, but still with not much power. I think it is more sensible to put a great fielder/weak hitter at SS, because he handles so many plays, and Ozzie was a great Short stop. There is a lot less sense in having a great CF that is a weak hitter, rather than a good CF who can OPS over .800.

      • Sandman

        David, my problem is I’d rather not have a weak hitter at all. I’d rather have 8 guys who can hit some and play a solid defense.

      • David

        Well sure. But Ozzie did go into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a defensive shortstop. He was pretty incredible. There have been pennant winning teams that had weak hitting/great fielding shortstops. It’s not unknown. But you do have to have either great pitching or the rest of the line up is dynamite (or both) to compensate for one really weak hitter. The Orioles had perennial champs in the 1969-1973 period with Mark Belanger at SS, who was good field, weak hit.

      • Jason Linden

        Literally everyone wants this, but even lots of great teams don’t have that. Even the BRM had two below-average hitters in the lineup (Geronimo and Concepcion). Average means what it means. Half of the players are going to be below average and there are going to be below average players starting on even contending teams.

      • Sandman

        David & Jason, I’m not saying that the reds can’t win a championship with Billy on the team. I’m just saying that I don’t care for his lack of offense and quite frankly think we could find someone somewhere who could hit AND play a solid defense. I’ve said this a million times already but, we don’t need Billy. We were fine before Billy, we’ll be fine after he’s gone.

      • Mike Adams

        Beg to differ, Jason, on Concepcion. His first two, three or four years he was below average (a lot like Billy).
        After that he was an average or slightly better hitter in that time period.

      • Tim Lockridge (@timlockridge)

        Long time reader, first time poster. Hi, all!

        This comparison between Billy & Ozzie Smith makes a lot of sense to me. Has the club ever tried Billy at short stop?

  10. Macon Jeffries

    If the Reds were any good I would complain about the misuse of Hamilton more but currently it doesn’t really matter. He should be playing 160 games a year but only starting against RHP. On days he doesn’t start he should enter every game as a punch runner and defensive replacement. Hybrid 4th OF and could be an absolute weapon to deploy off the bench in a playoff series.

    If I thought the Reds were going to be good any time soon then I would say it makes sense to look at an extension and use him in a way to maximize his value but they kinda suck again so I’d rather just let him walk.

  11. Keith

    I don’t think Billy is going to age well — his full-speed ahead approach will likely lead to more injuries as he ages, and those injuries will hasten the decline of his speed and defense, which are the only two things worth paying Billy for. The first few weeks of the season have emphasized that Billy has still not learned how to improve his hitting. There’s a place for Billy on a contending team as a super-sub, but he’s probably one of the last guys I’m interested in signing to a long-term contract. If baseball contracts weren’t guaranteed, I’d be open to a long-term, incentive laden contract, but I wouldn’t just hand over $10MM/year for the next 6-8 years.

  12. Jeff Reed

    After attempting to trade Billy this off-season and having some success relegating him to the lower part of the batting order when he’s in the lineup, I would not tie the hands to the next Red’s manager by extending Hamilton.

  13. wizeman

    I like Billy Hamilton.
    However, I used to like him more.
    3 years maybe. For cost certainty

  14. Bill

    I like the comment “if we could find 8 league average hitters”, since there are only 8 line up spots plus the pitcher where would Hamilton hit? It may not mean anything but I seen a ball hit over his head and another he didn’t get to makes me wonder if he is already slowing down.

    • Jim Walker

      Add the little topper in front of the plate BHam hit over in Pittsburgh the other night and didn’t come close to beating it for a hit.

      • big5ed

        Stop. He hasn’t slowed down much. He and Byron Buxton both registered speeds of 30.1 ft/sec, the top two last year in MLB. Last night, on the two infield hits, StatCast had Hamilton at 30.5 and 30.6. (The 30.1 figure was an average of their top speeds.) He got to first on his bunt in 3.68 seconds last night. He led MLB in home-to-first times last year (top 3 average) with 3.77.

        Schebler was the second fastest regular last year, at 28.4; Peraza was 28.2; Votto was the slowest at 25.7.

        Barring a major injury, Hamilton is going to be really, really fast as a baseball player for several more years. That certainly doesn’t mean he can hit, but he isn’t going to lose his speed anytime soon.

  15. Scott Carter

    I kove Billy in the field. Too bad that you can’t use a flex player like in High School softball and a DP for Billy. I would not sign Billy to an extension, his best tool is his speed and that is one of the first things that go as we age.
    On the bright side of Billy, he did get two infield hits last night, one a bunt, and the other night it looked like he chopped at a ball. Now if Billy could learn to do that consistently then I would say extend him, but not for five years, preferably three. We do not need another Brandon Phillips contract hanging on us.

    • JPete

      So if speed is the first thing to go , Winker will soon be walking all over the field because I cant understand how an athlete can’t run and I thought he was playing when he ran , plus he has no arm strength and Billy does. Keep Billy and trade Winker to the American League or teach him to play 1st base because he is Joey Votto 2.0 without the wheels because Joey is faster and older so there goes your theory.

  16. big5ed

    Thanks for not surrendering.

    Excellent sanity for all of these moves.

  17. Indy Red Man

    The Pirates closer changed his name to Felipe Vasquez.

    The Reds need to latch onto that!! Shake things up! Joey Groucho….he likes to make people laugh! Billy Hambone…..sounds like a great jazz player. Kevin Quakenbush should change his name to Kevin Dfa

    Serious note….Pirates GM got with the program and snapped up Corey Dickerson when Tampa wanted to cut him loose. He’s a good hitter. A lifetime .830 OPS and hitting .351 so far with 5 doubles, triple, and a HR with 9 rbis. Reds could’ve snagged him up too but DW is incompetent at his job!

  18. Andy

    I refuse to believe that players who get starter minutes and achieve <2War should earn the going rate of $11M/WAR. That number might make sense to get elite players into the lineup, but not for average production. (I say starter minutes because an elite reliever for a playoff team is a different story.) If I owned an MLB team, I’d be willing to pay $5M/year for a 2WAR player, and additional $10 per WAR above 2 (so, $15M for 3War, $25M for 4WAR, etc. For below average free agent players, a fraction of the $5M/2WAR works for me. Billy has earned 8.2 War over last 4 years, with regression last season. If I’m generous, let’s say he provides 6War over next 4 years. That would be $15M/4years. This seems low, and I think Billy actually has some real playoff-team value as late-inning Pinch runner/defensive replacement (similar to elite reliever) so I would offer him $20M/4 years. For the Reds, I get elite defender who should either start CF in stadiums with big outfields and pinch run/ play CF in late innings every game. He also is a good quality replacement for injured starters, and a reasonable starting option in games when the 4th outfielder takes DH spot. The money is not enough to stop Reds from spending on true starter-quality OF. For Billy, $20M guarantee is maybe disappointing compared to what he thought he once was worth, but still provides multi-generational wealth. This past year the owners showed reluctance to overspend on mediocrity, I don’t see a scenario where someone offers $57M guarantee as author suggests. Twist my arm, I might go 5yr/$25M.

    • turbobuckeye

      Absolutely correct analysis. A small market team, especially, cannot afford to pay anywhere near market rates for 1-2 WAR players.

  19. Aaron Finney

    Great job on the article… very well thought out. Only issue I have is the fact that Billy’s terrible bat would be taking up space in the lineup for people like Trammell at that point. I like the fact that Billy is slap hitting some more but I just can’t see a future with Billy.