When Billy Hamilton was called up to the big leagues in September of 2013, he made a big impact. As the Cincinnati Reds secret weapon off the bench, Hamilton stole 13 bases and scored nine runs in only 13 games. With prolific leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo signing elsewhere during the offseason, the Reds put their faith in rookie Hamilton to conquer the big leagues and fill the shoes of Choo.
Only 21 games into the new season, doubts over Hamilton’s ability to play in the big leagues have surfaced. Whilst his speed is a given, and his glove is good, his bat is a problem. Thus far, in 20 games for the Reds, Hamilton has an abysmal .230/.266/.284 slashline. The amazing .432 OBP of Choo seems a distant memory.
When batting first in the order, Hamilton has a .219 batting average with 19 strikeouts compared to only 16 hits. Evidently, despite his speed, Hamilton batting at the top of the order isn’t an option for the Reds which begs the question: is Billy Hamilton good enough for the majors? In short, yes.
Whilst one may doubt his ability to play everyday in the big leagues, I believe Billy Hamilton can still be a pivotal player for Cincinnati this season. His destiny may not be to leadoff this year, but at the bottom of the lineup he could be a big threat. In hitting at the bottom of the order, the pressure of getting on base is much less and besides, he has already proved how his speed can change games.
Putting the terrible slashline to the side, he has already stolen nine bases, and once the pressure of hitting in the leadoff spot has gone he could easily average one per game. His ability to go to third base on what is normally viewed as a double or score on sac-flies from just outside the infield could be a real asset with the top of the lineup coming after him.
If he tweaks a couple of flaws in his bat, he could be Rookie of the Year. First, we know that he can reach base on most ground balls. In 2013, during his mad September, Hamilton hit 50% ground balls compared to 14% fly balls. This year, Hamilton has only 39% ground balls compared to 37% fly balls. It’s a fact that he can’t reach base when he flies out, when he hits a ball into the infield, it’s a different story however.
Also, with a bit more time, he could and should be able to adjust to big league pitchers. Last season, Hamilton saw around 58% fastballs, whereas this season he is seeing a fastball only 35% of the time. Once he starts to hit offspeed pitches better, he could become a much better hitter. With a higher batting average and on base percentage, just imagine how good Billy Hamilton could be.