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2015 in Review: The B in OBP does not stand for Billy Hamilton

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A look back at Billy Hamilton's frustrating, injury-shortened 2015.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We continue Red Reporter's player by player look at the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. We'll profile every player who got time for the Reds this year, and will imagine their tenure with the Reds going forward.


By The Numbers

454 PA, .226/.274/.289, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 55 OPS+, 57 SB, 1.0 bWAR, 1.9 fWAR

Tomorrow is Halloween.  Do those numbers scare you?

Billy Hamilton's season in the batter's box was one of the lowest on record.  His .563 OPS was worsted only by Omar Infante's .552 mark among the 176 big leaguers who saw at least 450 PAs, while his .289 slugging percentage was bested only by Michael Bourn in that group.

Now, I'm not here to here to hate on the pop in Billy's swing.  How many dingers he cracks is of little importance to his overall value, and while I'd love to see him hit more balls into the outfield gaps to let his speed do more talking, breaking down Billy Hamilton by yelling about his slugging percentage is akin to complaining that Pedro Martinez couldn't locate his knuckleball.  What's most important to him maximizing his ability to produce offensively in Major League Baseball is getting on base, and it was at that he was most disappointing.

His .274 OBP ranked as the fourth worst in that 176 player pool, and while that's troubling in itself, it's amplified severely by the intentions of the Cincinnati Reds to bat him leadoff, which he did in 46 games in 2015.  The frustration about his inability to get on base is played out in legendary ways, too, as his speed and instincts on the basepaths have already placed him in Reds lore; fortunately, he cut down on being thrown out by leaps and bounds in 2015, and the 57 steals he nabbed fell just one shy of Dee Gordon's MLB-best 58.

How'd He Do?

Through his first two full seasons in the big leagues, Billy Hamilton has been worth 5.5 fWAR.  That easily bests the rookie and sophomore season output of teammates Jay Bruce (2.7 fWAR) and Zack Cozart (4.1), and it compares rather soundly to those of other Reds of note like Adam Dunn (5.7), Todd Frazier (5.7), and Drew Stubbs (5.6).  Heck, Brandon Phillips can only lay claim to 5.8 fWAR combined in his first two seasons with the Reds, and that came after four failed seasons with the Cleveland Indians.

So, Billy's been just fine - on the whole.  It's the glaring differences between the parts of his game that make things stand out so distinctly.

His transition from SS to CF has been smooth and extremely effective, and his defensive prowess in the outfield has him a Rawlings Gold Glove Award finalist in just his second full season in the majors.  When actually on base, he stole 57 bases against being thrown out just 8 times, the kind of numbers that make you drool both due to the quantity and the success rate.  Had his shoulder capsule not ended his season prematurely, he'd have been on track to flirt with 80 steals on the season, a number that's remarkable for anyone in today's game - much less for someone whose on base percentage is one of the absolute worst in the game.

But, you have to look long and hard to find a player at this level who looks more overmatched with a bat in his hands, and even then you may not find one.

The silver lining on his 2015 season at the plate may be his paltry .264 BABIP, since a player with his kind of speed should, in theory, be able to leg out more balls than the average Joe, and therefore we should be able to expect that number to rise back somewhere close to the .301 mark he posted in 2014.  He doesn't hit the ball hard - only 6 players had a hard-hit percentage lower than Billy's 19.4% mark - but similar players like Jose Iglesias,Dee Gordon, and Ben Revere are among those 6, and each of those sported a BABIP over .330.  Put Billy in that kind of range, and you're looking at a 5+ fWAR CF.

2016 Outlook

A straight stat-to-stat comparison of Billy's first two years in the majors would make one claim that he declined, and sure, there are several ways in which that could be stated with truth.  However, there were many ways in which he made strides improving his overall game, and those trends paired with better health and better batted-ball luck could see him have a breakout 2016 campaign.

For instance, he raised his walk rate from 5.6% up to 6.2% and cut his strikeout rate from 19.1% down to 16.5%, and considering his priorities while at the plate are 1) to get on base and 1A) to put the ball in play to make his speed a factor, both are quite encouraging signs.  He's yet to come near the ridiculous 16.9% from his stellar 2012 AA stint (or even the 12.8% rate from A+ that year), but an uptick is an uptick, and that's a positive.

Likewise, his discretion on the bases was much improved in 2015, as his success rate on steals rose from 71% to 88%, and it did so despite him taking off more often (.57 steals per game in 2015) than he did last year (.52).  That's a legitimate weapon, one that made him the single most valuable baserunner in the game in 2015, and continued refinement (or, heck, even just replication in this case) should set the table for his 2016 to be a special one.

He's improving, but there's still a pile of room for more.  And really, that's what we should have expected given his abrupt call-up despite his struggles in AAA.  He's still just 25 years old, though, and there is time left for him to establish parts of his game that would make him one of the absolute elite players in the league.  Maybe, just maybe, that'll begin to show in 2016.

Chance of making the 2016 Reds roster: 99% (He'll be in his last pre-arbitration year in 2016, which means he'll be making a shade over the league minimum.  At some $600K, he's a bargain regardless of how awful his offense becomes, and that's something I don't see Walt Jocketty cutting bait on at this point.)