One of the hottest topics around the Reds is Billy Hamilton. There are many who believe that Hamilton’s defense is great enough to keep him in the lineup despite his lack of productivity offensively. There are also many that believe the Reds need to move on from starting Hamilton, and some that believe they need to move on altogether. It is a great debate because there are valid reasons on both sides, and no clear cut answer. Many of the Redleg Nation writers got to sit down with the Reds front office last month. Without giving away too many company secrets, it is clear there is some civil divide among even the front office on what to do with Hamilton.

Billy Hamilton’s offense is not improving, and at this point it is what it is.

Year OBP wRC+
2014 .292 79
2015 .274 53
2016 .321 78
2017 .299 65
2018 .296 66

Hamilton is not improving, and with over 2,500 plate appearances, that probably is not changing. Reds president Dick Williams said just as much in an interview earlier this year. Hamilton is the 4th worst qualifying hitter (out of 150) in the MLB in wRC+ this season. One of the most frustrating aspects of Hamilton is that the Reds have always just settled with Hamilton’s offensive woes. Hamilton has made 411 of his 613 starts in the leadoff or #2 spot in the lineup. Hamilton only had a .308 OBP in a full season at AAA the year before he was called up. Hamilton has never been sent down despite not improving his on-base percentage. There is something to be said about earning your spot in a big league lineup. Billy Hamilton for some reason has been entitled to a spot despite no improvements in his offensive game.

How much value is Hamlton’s defense and how much does it make up for his offense? 

This is the major question and there is no perfect answer to this. The best data point to look at this would be to examine how many runs a player is creating, and how many runs are they saving. If you look at weight runs created (not wRC+) which gives you an actual total number of runs a player is worth, Hamilton is worth 42. Hamilton has 5 defensive runs saved this year. Here is how he compares with rest of the National League Central in total runs saved + created:

Lorenzo Cain 102 (16/86)
Starling Marte 68 (0/68)
Harrison Bader 61 (13/48)
Albert Almora Jr. 57 (7/50)
Billy Hamilton 47 (5/42)

It is also worth nothing that Bader and Almora have a lot fewer plate appearances and innings. Hamilton only having 5 defensive runs saved does feel a little off, but there have certainly been some instances where his defense has taken a minor step back while still making spectacular plays this season. Even if it is off, which certainly is possible, Hamilton’s career high is 15 defensive runs saved. He would still be below the rest of the NL Central CF given everyone had the same amount of playing time. You can certainly conclude that it is significantly easier to produce runs offensively than save runs defensively.

How much value could Hamilton be as a pinch-runner/late inning defensive replacement?

Hamilton was electric in 2013 when he was called up in September. I found an old post from our friend Doug Gray in 2013 which will refresh your memory and give you some context of just how value he was in that role. The Reds could have quite the weapon if they used him this way over a full-season. Hamilton would easily be worth the $7 million or so he will cost in 2019 if used this way, but there is certainly an argument that the Reds should allocate money elsewhere.

The Reds right now should be using Hamilton as pinch-runner/late inning defensive replacement to get a better data sample of the value of that, and giving guys like Scott Schebler and Phillip Ervin a shot to play CF. Both players probably can’t play good enough defensively to play there everyday, but the Reds should at least be making sure of that now while there is nothing to lose. It is a shame that Nick Senzel is hurt right now because he would be another potential candidate (similar to what the Cubs have done with Ian Happ). Most likely the Reds will have to look for a replacement this off-season. Hamilton certainly is not the only problem the Reds have, but him starting is not a solution to improving the Reds in 2019. The Reds need to start planning and figuring out what they will do without him starting everyday next season.


All stats are used courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and ESPN Stats & Info, and include games played through 9/8/18.

39 Responses

  1. Alex

    So long as Bob C. is the GM of this team Billy is going nowhere.

  2. Mason Red

    The big mistake was the Reds thinking BH could be a lead off hitter and sticking with him despite his struggles.

  3. JimBobCraig

    Easy solution. Nick Senzel starts in CF in 2019. Chris Welch is on record saying Senzel is fastor than any current Red (Hamilton and Pereza are faster). Release Hamilton and add the 7 million to whatever money has been bugeted for 2019 Starting Pitching.

    • Ghettotrout1

      I agree non tender him and be done with it.

      • lwblogger2

        He’s got value. Reds could certainly trade him. They likely wouldn’t get a very big return as he is a non-tender candidate and will likely make $7-million in arb. That said, I think teams may be willing to give up something for him rather than wait for the Reds to non-tender, partly because of the Bob Castellini factor. Teams know that the Reds value him and are unlikely to non-tender him. I could see a big money team definitely looking for that extra weapon for the 2019 postseason wanting to add him. They may be willing to give up a “B” prospect for that weapon.

  4. BK

    The Reds should play Williams and Ervin in CF for the rest of the season and get a glimpse of how the team plays. Hamilton should be used as a pinch runner/defensive CF nearly every game as you suggested.

  5. cfd3000

    I don’t think it matters much if Hamilton starts or not in 2018. But in 2019 I think he needs to a) play for another team, or b) start sparingly at most. He’s a utility level player, albeit one with very strong but limited, specialized skills. It would be fine if he gets a dozen starts in the big west coast parks, and fine if he gets another dozen to rest some regulars (but only against right handed pitching). After that, it’s late inning pinch running, defensive replacement, and the occasional double switch. The runs created numbers are painfully clear – starting Hamilton on a regular basis starts the Reds at a significant disadvantage against NL central competition.

    • greenmtred

      Yeah, CFD3000, you’ve hit the nail on the head. And I’m one of Billy’s biggest fans.

  6. Corey

    Someone should check on Chad. He is probably very upset and might shut down the website.

  7. bouwills

    Billys best is now & behind him. In retrospect, he should have been dealt to the Giants last winter/spring. Trade him, non-tender him, or gear up for another 90 loss season in 2019.

    • Indy Red Man

      Billy doesn’t pitch. They’re losing 90+ again with him or without him. I prefer without, but I’ve been saying that for 2 years and he’s still there.

      • Ghettotrout1

        Agreed all of this stupid talk about hamilton and Riggleman and whoever else really doesn’t make a hill of beans difference the reds pitching is a dumpster fire even if you replace billy with mike trout the reds would still not be a 500 team right now. I mean don’t get me wrong analyzing and talking Reds baseball is fun but they basically need 3 starting pitchers next season if they want to be relevant.

  8. Scottya

    I also would like to see the Reds try Nick Senzel in CF. Billy needs to be traded or converted to a late inning/defensive replacement/pinch runner. I think the 7 million would be better spent to sign Trevor Cahill or used as a portion of the total needed to sign Dallas Keuchal.

  9. sezwhom

    Didn’t he just turn 28? He’ll never hit. We all know that now. Best to move him. Ervin in CF.

  10. kmartin

    We know exactly what Billy Hamilton can do. He is known quantity. We cannot qualify for the playoffs. We should spend the last month of the season learning about whether or not other players can handle center field defensively.

  11. roger garrett

    He should never start another game period and I wished he had done better and always said just get on base at league average and he was a keeper.Time to move on from him.

  12. kmartin

    Check out the starting lineup for today. Hamilton is leading off. What can Riggleman be thinking?

  13. jeffery stroupe

    I doubt Riggleman makes the lineups.

  14. WVRedlegs

    Billy Hamilton has added value to the ones who will use him properly. Giving him 70-81 CF/OF starts a year will keep him fresh. Reduces risk of injury in the OF on defense. Those other games he is used in a utility roll with double switches, pinch running and late inning defensive replacements.
    The stat that should be mostly valued with Hamilton is runs scored. That is his main offensive value, so maximize it. Second then would be his OBP. He has to get on to score. Hamilton has scored this year 46.3% of the time he gets on base, through hit, BB and/or HBP. In 2017 it was 45.2%, in 2016 it was 47.9%, in 2015 it was 45.9%, and in 2014 it was 40.9%. That is a pretty consistently high percentage.
    The flip side is that Hamilton should be scoring a minimum of 100 runs a season with the amount of playing time he is receiving. The painful fact is his high water mark is 85 runs scored last year. The next highest is 72 runs in 2014. If Hamilton cannot increase his OBP on his own, then it has to come from the manager’s seat by using him in games he doesn’t start as a pinch runner.
    In comparison, the OBP king, Joey Votto, has scored at a low 27.2% of times on base this season, 33.9% in 2017, 34.5% in 2016, and 29.7% in 2015.
    The Reds have to be well aware of this. So why are they not trying to maximize BHam’s value? Why are they not trying to put Hamilton in places where he will have more success, which will bring the team more success? Hamilton could be a high quality 4th OF on the 2019 Reds. A lot of the Reds 1 run losses could turn into 1 run wins just with a little different approach on Hamilton.
    There is no reason to trade Hamilton for a B prospect and then have that team turn Hamilton into a run machine. The Reds could do that and keep him in the #9 hole in the lineup, with the right approach.

    • Bill

      I 100% agree that Hamilton can be a huge asset if utilized properly. Pinch running and defensive replacement would be the best use, which as you noted will greatly reduce his risk for injury while putting him in the best position to succeed. He isalso a capable 4th OF when someone needs a day off or even giving him some starts out west in the large parks where his skill are more valuable. GABP does not benefit a guy like him. The only downside to this is the money it will cost in arbitration to retain his services. This is one reason I would offer him a more reasonable AAV and extend him for a few years, but only if management can avoid the urge to start him everyday. Let Schebler man CF for the majority of the games, put Senzel in RF, Winker in LF, and have Hamilton for those times when you really need defense or a run scored. A short extension would keep Billy a Red, making Bob C and many fans happy. It would provide Hamilton some financial stability going forward. It would also improve the team in close games.

    • TXRedleg - Mike C

      This is so true and so painfully frustrating to read. The biggest question that I have this year is why does he only have 30 SB? Billy’s numbers this season are almost identical to his career averages, yet his SB numbers are almost half of his career average. You could pinch run him and use him as a defensive sub just about any game and he should have 60 SB on the season at a minimum.

      • greenmtred

        I wonder whether he’s been told not to steal so much–maybe to reduce the chance of injury? He’s been caught/picked off surprisingly often, too, so maybe he (or the Reds) has gotten gun-shy.

  15. RickCoyne

    Keep Billy Hamilton and reassign Homer Bailey to the bullpen. It worked to save KerryWood’s career

  16. roger garrett

    I agree but as long as he is here he will start 140 games or so.The idea of putting him in the best position to help the team is the right thing but they never do it with him or anybody else for that matter.Its almost like whoever calls the shots must constantly keep doing the same things over and over hoping and praying it eventually works instead of moving on.Its one thing to ride a good horse until he can’t go but its just dumb to ride a bad one that never could go.

  17. KG

    The American League has the DH. Maybe the National League can install the DF rule and Billy could become a Designated Fielder.

  18. Bill J

    I still think that, maybe because BC wants, sometimes plays hitters so he can make those great catches. I may be wrong but I thought it was easier running in to make a catch than running back.

  19. Scott

    . My problem with Hamilton is that he has not improved in 5 years with the reds and there is nothing to suggest he has even tried. He still can’t bunt, still doesn’t hit grounders, many strikeouts and few walks and just in general a lack of doing anything significantly better. And now his stolen bases are down as well. And now his Drs is 5. Sorry, I don’t see the value except as a role player in 2019, or preferably gone.

  20. Bobby

    Somebody needs to teach Billy Hamilton how to bunt than he can use his speed.But the reds won’t spend money on that so why complain when nothing will be done about it.i say hire Brett butler to help billy.

  21. Old-school

    How bout RLN writers go back to kindergarten- instead of writing scholarly artcles. Consider it community service to help the ownership and it’s advisors at Sunny Acres.

    Chapter one could be a primer on leadoff hitters. Go slow. Introduce OBP. That’s fancy analytics for “ON BASE PERCENTAGE”.

  22. Gary Napier

    It seems that many of you are forgetting the old saying…….”every championship team is strong up the middle….behind the plate, second, short, and center field”. How about the ’75 and ’76 World Series Champion Teams? They had Cesar Geronimo in center field, and The Chief was never really known for his offense. Although in ’76, he stunned everyone by hitting .307. Geronimo was never the base stealer than Hamilton is, but let me tell you The Chief could play a mean center field. He won four consecutive Gold Gloves ’74 through ’77 and had an absolute cannon for an arm. Sparky Anderson used to say that when Geronimo was running down a flyball, he had about an 8′ stride. I’ve been called “old school” many times, but you’ll never convince me that Hamilton’s offense needs to a lot greater. Sure, that would be nice……..but offense wins games, and defense wins championships.

    • Bill

      Old sayings don’t mean much to me. Results do, Geronimo had a .327 OBP in 75 and .382 in 76. Hamilton is a career .298 OBP. There is another old saying that you are forgetting about, “you can’t steal first base”

    • Shchi Cossack

      It’s a different game today from 40 years ago, plus…

      (1975) / (1976):

      Morgan => (.974 OPS & 11.0 WAR) / (1.020 OPS & 9.5 WAR)
      Bench => (.878 OPS & 6 .8 WAR) / (.741 OPS & 4.8 WAR)
      Foster => (.875 OPS & 5.2 WAR) / (.894 OPS & 6.3 WAR)
      Rose => (.838 OPS & 5.3 WAR) / (.854 OPS & 7.4 WAR)
      Perez => (.816 OPS & 3.6 WAR) / (.779 OPS & 2.8 WAR)
      Griffey Sr. => (.793 OPS & 2.5 WAR) / (.851 OPS & 4.1 WAR)
      Geronimo => (.690 OPS & 3.8 WAR) / (.795 OPS & 3.0 WAR)
      Concepcion => (.679 OPS & 4.1 WAR) / (.736 OPS & 4.6 WAR)

      Hamilton => .624 OPS & 1.3 WAR

      Hamilton is at best a utility player on the BRM and arguably never makes the 25 man roster.

    • greenmtred

      I have fond memories of Geronimo and the BRM and, yes, they were about as strong up the middle as a team can possibly be. I also believe in the need for good defense, and love watching Billy play center. There is a difference between the BRM and the 2018 Reds, though (gunning for understatement of the decade award): If you compare the respective lineups, it’s clear that the Machine had so much hitting that they could afford Geronimo for his defense. Davey C., too, though both could contribute some with the bat. The current Reds, I’m persuaded, haven’t put togther a consistently productive offense, so hiding a weak bat or two is more of an issue. On the other side, of course, is the fact that the current pitching staff ;is in deep trouble and needs good gloves behind it. The more pitches these guys throw, the more trouble they encounter. Mis-plays and errors sabotage even good pitching.