Who is Billy Hamilton and what do we expect out of a lead-off hitter?
I am 42 years old, and I was blessed in seeing the two greatest lead-off hitters in the history of baseball--Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. Their combination of speed, power, and on base percentage from the leadoff position was never seen prior to 1980.
For the better part of a decade, prior to 2013, the Cincinnati Reds has been below average for production from the leadoff spot--and then we had Shin Soo Choo.
Choo was an on-base machine. As a lead-off hitter, he was Tim Raines and Rickey Henderson--just devoid of speed. A professional, mature hitter, who knew how to get on base, whether it was through a walk, hit by pitch, or a base hit. Choo was able to get to first base at a +.400 on base clip--and voila, we as Reds fans now know what a lead-off hitter is suppose to do.
Now, because of money, here comes 2014 and Billy Hamilton. A 23-year-old, blazing speed lead-off man, who, is struggling at the plate.
But, what really are fair expectations of Hamilton?
I think it is fair to expect Hamilton to post a .300 OBP--but to expect anything higher than that is a bit ridiculous.
Quite simply, Hamilton does not have the power for pitchers to do anything but challenge Hamilton to put the ball into play. And while his speed is greater than either Henderson or Raines' speed, he certainly does not have their slugging ability to warrant a pitcher to think twice about a 2-0 or 3-1 fastball.
So, naturally the walks are not going to come to Hamilton as they did for both Raines and Henderson, which will drastically impact his OBP.
Example: In Henderson's first eleven full seasons, he walked over 80 times ten times (and the year he failed to do so was in 1981). And while Henderson stole over 930 bases during that time, his slugging percentage was.441--with 294 doubles, 50 triples, and 166 homeruns.
Example: In Raines' first ten full seasons, Raines walked over 80 times five of the ten seasons (he was hurt in one, and one was 1981).And while Raines stole over 630 bases in the 1980's--his slugging percentage was .437 with 273 doubles, 81 triples, and 96 homeruns.
To me, for any rational baseball person to judge Hamilton's hitting ability where it is including SLG AND OPS is ridiculous. He is not that type of performer. And FEW lead-off men in the history of the game are true SLG AND OPS marvels.
Hamilton's ceiling reminds me more of Vince Coleman and Omar Moreno.
In Coleman's St. Louis days--his slash line was .265/.324/.365/.668 but--the impact Coleman had on the National League from 1985- through about 1988 was insane. In his first four years, Coleman stole 80 four times, and 100+ three times--and his presence on the base paths was felt throughout the league. His game was much like Hamiltons with the exception of one HUGE CRUCIAL PIECE--astro-turf.
In Moreno's case in the late 1970's and early 1980's Moreno was roughly a .250/.305/.320/.625 hitter, but his stolen base numbers were crazy--and the cat could seriously flash the leather. But, again--Moreno had Astro-turf.
In this day and age, we are expecting a hall of fame perfomance from the over-hyped players when they come on the scene, but to be fair--we are comparing and expecting things of Hamilton that probably cannot be done.
He will not get on base with Choo's regularity, because quite frankly... Choo could not turn a walk into a triple.
He does not have, right now, the ability to hit for power--like the two greatest lead-off hitters of all-time, because welll--he is not that type of hitter.
Don't discount the speed of Hamilton though--I have seen how speed will cause chaos on a team--it is a continual threat.
To me, Hamilton needs to keep bunting, keep working on hitting the ball in the grass, and it may even behoove the Reds maintenance team to let the grass grow a bit higher to slow that ball down even more for Hamilton.
If Hamilton can approach anything like Moreno numbers of .250/.302--we are going to have a great 2014.
Now, the wizards of sabremetrics will tell you that those numbers are in-effective-- and not deserving of a lead-off hitter...
And for those people-- I shrug my shoulders and say--baseball is more than WAR, OPS, and all of the other crap statistics.