Inside the Offensive Struggles of Billy Hamilton


It’s no secret to anyone that Billy Hamilton can be a spark plug for the Cincinnati Reds. When he gets on base, he is a dangerous weapon and makes things happen with his speed. The problem with Hamilton, however, is that he simply hasn’t gotten on base enough, especially for a leadoff hitter.

Coming into 2015, there was hope that Hamilton would improve on his poor .292 on-base percentage from a season ago. Through four games this season, it looked like he had vastly improved at working counts and taking walks. The Reds won their first four games of 2015 thanks in large part to Hamilton, who went 4-for-14 (.286) with four walks, six runs scored, and seven stolen bases (just imagine the numbers he’d put up if he maintained a .444 on-base percentage all season long).

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His numbers have dropped off since, as he’s hit just .194 and walked only three times in his 21 games since. Hamilton hasn’t walked since April 23, going walk-less in his previous 11 games. He’s also struggled mightily from the left side of the plate, which is not his natural side (Hamilton didn’t take up switch hitting on a full-time basis until 2011).

Last season, Hamilton hit .246/.291/.350 in 460 plate appearances from the left side, while hitting .264/.297/.371 in 151 plate appearances from the right. Not a huge difference between the two. This season has been a different story, at least so far. Left-handed, Hamilton is currently hitting a paltry .179/.247/.269 in 85 plate appearances, while performing much better from his natural right side — albeit in fewer plate appearances — hitting .276/.276/.448 in 29 right-handed plate appearances.

Despite his woes batting left-handed, you have to think he’s going to turn things around at the plate, as his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .238. Last year, his BABIP was .304 and in a full minor league season, it was never lower than .310, so his .238 number in 2015 shows us that he’s been a bit unlucky. So while I don’t believe he’s going to be a .300 hitter this season, he’s also not as bad as his current numbers indicate.

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  • His walk rate — while up slightly from a season ago (6.1 percent vs. 5.6 percent in 2014) — is still an issue, though. It’s not as if he’s never shown an ability to walk at a high rate either. In 2012 with High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, Hamilton hit .311 while walking 86 times in 605 plate appearances, good for a 14.2 BB%. It’s no coincidence that 2012 was the season in which he stole 155 bases and scored 112 runs.

    Since that season, Hamilton’s walk rate has plummeted (6.9 percent in 2013 in Triple-A, 5.6 in 2014) and as a result, his stolen bases, runs, and OBP numbers have decreased as well.

    Obviously, it’s easier for me to sit here and say “Billy Hamilton needs to walk more,” than it is for it to actually happen. The last thing opposing pitchers want to do is put the fastest player in baseball on first base, so they go right after him, evidenced by the fact that pitchers have thrown 71.3 percent of their first pitches for strikes against him this season. So, until he starts hitting better, pitchers will attack him and it’s going to be hard for him to draw many walks.

    Despite Hamilton’s offensive shortcomings in the early going of 2015, it’s still apparent that he can cause a lot of havoc when he reaches first base, as he leads the majors with 14 steals. If he can heat up with the bat and find a way to get on base more consistently, the Reds offense could ascend to a whole new level.

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