Cincinnati Reds 2015 Grades: Billy Hamilton

It was another frustrating season for Billy Hamilton, to say the least. Since the ill-fated second half to his rookie year, it’s been a downward spiral for the 25-year-old Cincinnati Reds center fielder from an offensive standpoint, one that he couldn’t get out of in 2015.

Coming off of a 2014 season in which he got on base at a lowly rate of .292, there was hope that Hamilton was due for some improvement in his sophomore campaign. He worked on bunting and making better contact — specifically trying to eliminate strikeouts and numerous lazy fly balls caused by his looping swing — with Triple-A Louisville manager Delino DeShields over the winter. Unfortunately for Hamilton, the hard work didn’t pay off in 2015.

Hamilton started off the year in the leadoff spot, but his meager production prompted manager Bryan Price to move him to the ninth spot in the lineup. The move didn’t help, as his offensive statistics continued to be down across the board. For the season, Hamilton wound up hitting an ugly .226/.274/.289 with only 56 runs scored and 15 extra-base hits, a number that is far too low considering the speed he has. To cap off his disappointing year, Hamilton sprained the capsule in his left shoulder in August, which would ultimately require surgery and knock him out for the season.

One of Hamilton’s biggest issues was again hitting the ball in the air too often. Hamilton is far from a power hitter and with his speed, hitting the ball on the ground gives him the best chance of reaching base. Despite working on his swing over the offseason, Hamilton’s fly-ball rate actually increased slightly (37.3 to 37.8 percent), while his line-drive percentage decreased (21.1 to 19.6 percent). He did manage to hit the ball on the ground a bit more often, but the improvement was negligible.

He slightly improved on his walk rate (from 5.6 in 2014 to 6.2 percent) and his strikeout rate (from 19.1 to 16.5 percent), but it wasn’t enough to make any difference in his on-base numbers. It’s not that Hamilton has bad plate discipline in terms of swinging at bad pitches — he offered at just 28.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone according to PITCHf/x, a fairly respectable number compared to the league average of 30.9 percent — he’s simply just not much of a threat at the plate and pitchers know that, so they throw him strikes.

Fortunately for Hamilton, he was still able to provide a good deal of value with his glove and his feet.

Defensively, Hamilton did not make an error and had the second-highest ultimate-zone rating (14.5) of any center fielder in the game, regularly making plays like this:

His 57 stolen bases trailed only Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (58) for the league lead, despite playing in only 114 games and having the fourth-worst on-base percentage of any player with more than 450 plate appearances. Hamilton was caught stealing only eight times, a vast improvement over his rookie season, in which he was thrown out 23 times. On June 14 against the Chicago Cubs, Hamilton became the 26th player in baseball history to steal five bases in a game.

Hamilton was easily one of the most disappointing players for the Reds this season and has a lot to work on with the bat heading into 2016, but his defense and baserunning abilities save him from a worse grade.

Grade: D+

More from Blog Red Machine