Billy Hamilton started the season in center field for the Cincinnati Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals. In that opening series Hamilton went 0-12 with a walk and six strikeouts. Reds postgame radio talk host Doc Rogers wanted him to be sent to the minor leagues because he said that Hamilton was overmatched and he didn’t want to crush his confidence. I’m not sure how sending him to the minor leagues because of three games is supposed to be good for your confidence, but nonetheless, Rogers said it.
The speedy outfielder was given the game off against the Mets to start the next series and in a pinch running appearance he was caught stealing and tweaked a finger. That held him out of the next two games as a hitter, only making one appearance as a pinch runner.
Hamilton then returned for the series against the Cardinals. This time around he went 5-14 with a walk and a strikeout. He did some crazy things on the base paths such as scoring on a sacrifice fly that was caught by an outfielder about 25 feet from the dirt and stealing second base off of Yadier Molina without an attempt at a throw. While those things may have Reds fans talking, it isn’t what they should be talking about.
Everyone already knows that Billy Hamilton can run faster than anyone in the game and do some truly special things with his speed. What Reds fans should be talking about is how different Billy Hamilton looked at the plate. Back on April 3rd I tweeted out this about Hamilton’s mechanics:
Billy Hamilton isn't staying back on the ball and trying to drive it. He is out front balance wise and throwing the bat at the ball.
— Doug Gray (@dougdirt24) April 3, 2014
In that first series he was a mess. Hamilton still doesn’t exactly show a nice swing from the left side of the plate, and he will still have some issues with pitch recognition at times that will cause him to be out front and look fooled, but in that first series against the Cardinals Billy Hamilton was simply a mess. He was throwing the bat at the ball simply trying to slap the ball and he was doing so out on his front foot. The number of hitters with enough bat control to do that in the last 30 years can be counted on one hand and the Reds center fielder isn’t one of them.
In this past series with the Cardinals Hamilton was a completely different hitter. He stayed back and tried to drive the ball rather than simply flail the bat at the ball in an effort to make contact. He had a double and a triple in the series, though the double was of the “did you really forget how fast I am” variety, but the triple was stung well. When he can stay back and try to hit the ball hard, he is going to see a lot more success than when he is simply up there throwing the bat at the ball trying to make contact. As we have seen thus far, Major League infielders can throw him out on ground balls (0-10 on balls fielded by infielders that weren’t bunts) even with how fast he is.
If Billy Hamilton can keep doing what he did with his plate approach in St. Louis, he will be just fine and the Reds will get plenty of offensive value from him, even if it does come in extraordinary ways at times because of his special kind of speed.