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The Red Report 2018 - Billy Hamilton

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New year, same question: Will Billy Hamilton figure it out at the plate?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds-Media Day Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

Fast Facts:

  • Born on September 9, 1990 in Collins, MS.
  • Always the athlete: He earned all-state honors in football, basketball, and baseball.
  • Earned a scholarship to play wide receiver (football) at Mississippi State University.
  • Set the minor-league record for stolen bases at 155 (total, plus 10 in the Arizona Fall League, if you’re still counting)
  • The Red Sox have never stolen more bases, as a team, than Billy Hamilton did in 2012 (per our overlord Grant Brisbee).

Organizational History:

Drafted By the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft.
Debut September 3, 2013.
Rookie Status: Exceeded Rookie status during 2014 season.
2017 Contract Status: Signed thru 2018, 1 yr/$4.60M.
Arb Eligible: 2019
Free Agent: 2020

Career Stats

Standard Batting
Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB Pos Awards
2013 22 CIN NL 13 22 19 9 7 2 0 0 1 13 1 2 4 .368 .429 .474 .902 150 9 0 0 1 0 0 /8
2014 23 CIN NL 152 611 563 72 141 25 8 6 48 56 23 34 117 .250 .292 .355 .648 81 200 1 1 9 4 0 *8/D RoY-2
2015 24 CIN NL 114 454 412 56 93 8 3 4 28 57 8 28 75 .226 .274 .289 .563 55 119 5 1 9 4 0 *8
2016 25 CIN NL 119 460 411 69 107 19 3 3 17 58 8 36 93 .260 .321 .343 .664 77 141 5 1 11 1 0 *8
2017 26 CIN NL 139 633 582 85 144 17 11 4 38 59 13 44 133 .247 .299 .335 .634 66 195 5 0 5 2 0 *8
5 Yrs 537 2180 1987 291 492 71 25 17 132 243 53 144 422 .248 .298 .334 .632 71 664 16 3 35 11 0
162 Game Avg. 162 658 599 88 148 21 8 5 40 73 16 43 127 .248 .298 .334 .632 71 200 5 1 11 3 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/21/2018.

2018 Projections

SOURCE PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF fWAR
SOURCE PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF fWAR
Depth Charts 560 6 69 39 53 .247/.303/.346 12.1 1.5
Steamer 537 6 60 42 46 .242/.301/.343 10.4 1.2
Fans 597 3 38 42 60 .255/.308/.338 14.1 1.8
ZiPS 588 5 80 37 60 .252/.305/..348 14.6 1.8

Pitch F/X

Outlook

Sweet, dear Billy Hamilton.

I love him. You love him. Of the non-Joey Votto players on the Reds roster, Billy is a de facto face of the Reds franchise; one because, well, pick a guy that’s actually been on this team for longer than 15 minutes while also not chronically injured, but mostly because he’s just so much goddamn fun. He seems something like a real life The Little Engine That Could, not just because of his rail-thin build (can you imagine if Joey Votto sent Billy to his tailor?), but because he all too often makes the seemingly impossible possible.

He does things like this. That catch probability was 7%. He does this, while also jumping back up to double up the runner who foolishly doubted his range. He did this on Opening Day 2016... after he’d already done this a couple of innings prior.

Dan Straily lived it better than I could ever describe it.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Dan Straily is all of us watching Billy Hamilton play defense in center field.

The Lore of Hamilton doesn’t end there, of course. The things the man manages on the base paths is possibly equally as awe inspiring. It’s possible, or, dare I say likely, that at least a couple of times a year when Yadier Molina puts lays his tired, neck tatted head upon his pillow at night, he is haunted by nightmares of Billy Hamilton on first base.

I mean, haunted is a strong, obviously. But as of April of last season, Hamilton was 24-of-26 stealing off Molina, who at that time was 5th in caught-stealing percentage since Hamilton came up in late 2013 (minimum 200 innings played at catcher) in all of MLB. We like to poke fun at Yadi on this blog, and 2017 Yadi is hardly peak Yadi, but regardless, he’s still one of the preeminent defensive catchers of his generation.

Billy has essentially owned him.

And it’s not just steals that makes a baserunner good. Billy is capable of extraordinary things, like that time he advanced from first base to home on three pitches, two of which were shallow pop outs that no one else on Earth would’ve thought to make opportunities to advance. He can also score from first if you give him even the slightest of windows.

But back to the stolen base thing: Hamilton leads MLB in the category by 21 over 2nd place and also fast Dee Gordon.

Billy has done it in 269 less plate appearances.

If only he had the offensive ability to do it more.

And therein lies the rub. All too often than not, Billy Hamilton is The Little Engine That Can’t at the dish, which limits all of those havoc-creating possibilities on the base paths listed above. The fact that he’s even pacing the league by that much with his career batting line is a story in and of itself. He’s a world class athlete.

But it’s becoming more and more clear that he’ll never be an adequate batter.

Hamilton is 27 years old now and recently received a $4.6 million price tag for his 2018 season, which is ARB-2. He’s never had a season where he’s gotten on base at more than a .321 clip, which was his best season at the plate by most measures. In fact, his 2016 on base percentage of .321 is over 20 points better than his career average. For his career, Hamilton has a 71 wRC+ and a 71 OPS+.

We’d hoped beyond hope that it would click, with maturity, age, strength, and the tutelage of Joey Votto. But... it hasn’t. After seemingly a career year at the plate in 2016 (which says a lot without meaning a lot), Hamilton reverted back to places we thought were gone. 2017 marked a full season career low in hard hit percentage (16.0%) and an any season career high in soft hit percentage (25.0%).

He did turn some more ground balls into line drives (23.6% to 45.8%) and while that’s generally a good thing, when you’re hitting the ball softer than ever and are a runner of Billy’s caliber, that doesn’t necessarily turn into good results. A soft grounder for Billy allows him room for error. A soft liner for Billy just allows more time for him to be out.

It seems like maybe, just maybe, Billy made all of the adjustments that he tried to make, that a lot of batters made last season: hit the ball in the air more, pull the ball more, better trajectory. But it’s just that he forgot one important detail. For those tactics to work, you also have to hit the ball hard. He didn’t do that. Or, maybe, worst of all, he can’t do that.

Billy Hamilton is like the least bad of the things that the Reds have to figure out if they’re going to contend again in the near future. The Billy Hamilton as Lead Off Batter day in and day out is getting old and harder to justify, especially with an OBP specialist like Jesse Winker waiting in the wings, or Eugenio Suarez showing out. Billy Hamilton could turn into Andrew McCutchen tomorrow night and the Reds still aren’t going to win anything if the rotation and bullpen are as historically bad as they’ve been the previous two seasons.

That said, there’s an outfield jam presenting itself, and nearly all of them are either just better or substantially better at the plate than Hamilton. Couple that with him going into ARB-3 next year...

The Reds don’t have a payroll crunch, and unless Hamilton’s otherworldly skills crater because of the unrelenting passage of time, he’s not a non-tender candidate. His status as the everyday center fielder is further reinforced by the fact that the team has no Plan B in place.

But it’s easy to justify a no-bat, crazy-good defender, silly great base runner when it comes at league minimum. It’s harder once that figure starts approaching $10 million a year. If Billy Hamilton ever hopes to be more than that, his 2018 batting line is going to go a long, long way.