The Four Outfielders and the Case for Three: Billy Hamilton

This idea began as “The Infuriating Billy Hamilton” but has evolved into a deep look into how the Reds four-man outfield rotation is going, and who should be the one to leave. 

In this first installment, I take a look at the enigmatic centerfielder for the Reds. For all his flaws, and for the numerous Reds fans out there who are in favor of trading Billy yesterday, Billy actually shows signs that things will turn around. To explain my meaning, I am going to go hardcore into some sabremetric statistics…but don’t worry, I will make them easy to understand.

The first thing you notice when you look at Billy’s performance, thus far, is the fact his average is quite low. At .216, despite the fact it has gone up lately, it still is well below even Billy’s expected threshold. Although only a few seasons are under his belt, Billy’s career batting average is .30 points higher than where he sits almost two months into 2018.

The second stat that you see is his on-base percentage. Now this is more like what you want to see. Hamilton is notorious for his low percentage of reaching base, safely, but thus far in 2018 he is getting on base at a .315 clip. That’s a little over 15% better than his career normal. This is thanks, in part, to his 43.3% swing percentage, which is the lowest it has ever been, contributing to his best career walk rate at 12%. Considering he has only walked 7% of the time, during his career, that stat is trending well.

Jim Riggleman has continued what Bryan Price began by batting Billy ninth, so he is not getting the volume of plate appearances he has, in years past. However, Billy has changed his approach to hitting which could explain the slow start.

So what is it? Why does it seem like Billy isn’t hitting? For that, we look at a few things. Firstly, the contact percentage is down, as a whole. In fact, he is making contact on strikes 10% less than his career average. He’s only made contact on 77% of strikes thrown against him. Then you follow that stat up with the fact Billy has a soft contact percentage of 32.1%. So he isn’t hitting the ball as much, and when he does it isn’t good contact. That has led to his lowest batting average on balls put in play in three years (.305).

The numbers tend to suggest Billy is trying to hit for power. Now, it doesn’t take a baseball scientist to know that Billy trying to hit for power is like a bird trying to swim. The man needs only find his way to first, then the magic happens. Billy’s isolated power, a statistic designed to describe the amount of time a player gets a hit that is better than a single, currently is almost 20 points higher than his career average. I’m all for Billy trying for extra bases, but it has led to a strikeout percentage of 28.7%, the highest it has ever been in his career.

Now the thing that Billy currently has going for him, and the thing that is keeping him part of the four-man rotation, is his defense. He has currently generated 2.5 wins above replacement wit his glove, meaning he is statistically better than your average glove in centerfield.

Should he refocus his efforts into making solid contact with the bat, and not trying to kill it (I feel like a little league coach typing that) then Billy’s offense will pick up the slack and make him an indispensable every day outfielder.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at Jesse Winker and what he has done thus far.