Why the Reds Should Bring Up Billy Hamilton…Now.

Hamilton2Yeah, I know it’s early. Yeah, I know the Reds are in first place in the NL Central. Yeah, I know that after getting beaten down by the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon that Cincinnati fans are concerned about their team. There are reasons to be concerned, but it starts with the club’s philosophies.

After the club traded for Shin-Soo Choo, people in Cincinnati knew that they had an upgrade to their leadoff spot. Choo is now a career .312/.397/.502 hitter when he bats first over his career, and his five hit-by-pitches and five walks have allowed Choo to post a .511 on-base percentage early in the 2013 season. His three home runs are tied with Todd Frazier for the team lead, as well, allowing Reds’ fans to say: “Drew Stubbs, who?”

Well, Drew Stubbs the fine defensive center fielder. Drew Stubbs,  who ranked as the 6th best defensive center fielder in baseball since arriving to the Queen City in 2009, posting a UZR/150 of 3.7, just behind Austin Jackson and in front of B.J. Upton in the rankings. Drew Stubbs, who was 14th in MLB from 2009 through 2012 with 110 stolen bases. Drew Stubbs, who scored 285 runs in 486 games for Cincinnati, despite a .312 on-base percentage, and a .244/.321/.372 line in 873 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter.Choo1

Drew Stubbs was everything wrong about Cincinnati Reds baseball, at least, that is what it seemed like. His free-swinging ways resulted in 588 strikeouts in 1,791 at-bats or 32.8 percent of his at-bats. However, he did provide two things that Choo still can’t, speed and defense.

Shin-Soo Choo has a tremendous arm, which he needs when compared to Stubbs defensively due to his -42.8 UZR/150 rating, meaning: Choo would be nearly 43 runs below average defensively than the league’s average outfielder. It isn’t like Choo’s lack of defensive skills were the reason that the Reds lost 10-0 on Wednesday, but with Ryan Ludwick out for the next several months after surgery to repair his labrum and Chris Heisey hitting just .161/.188/.323 in 34 plate appearances, should the Reds go to super-prospect Billy Hamilton now?

Calling up Billy Hamilton would do three things:

1) It would start Hamilton’s arbitration clock early, making him Super Two-eligible due to service time, which means that he would be expensive quicker than most Post-June callups, and potentially reach free agency sooner.

2) It would allow the Reds to put Shin-Soo Choo in left field where teams have hidden other awful defensive outfielders over the years, such as Adam Dunn in Cincinnati and Manny Ramirez in Boston. He may not be a liability in left, which would allow him to continue to be solid offensively while playing every day.

3) It would make the Reds have Hamilton, Choo, Votto, and Bruce as left-handed hitters in the every day lineup.

That third thing is probably more reasonable as to why the Reds wouldn’t want to call up Hamilton right now, though the arbitration figures could also factor in, as it seems unnecessary to rush Hamilton with such a small sample size out of Chris Heisey. It is, after all, just 34 plate appearances, but it is hard to ignore Hamilton’s .364/.417/.545 start in Triple-A, while stealing six bases in six games for the Louisville Bats.

Hamilton1Billy Hamilton isn’t ready to leadoff at the major league level. Billy Hamilton isn’t ready to become a game-changing talent from the very moment that he steps onto the field at Great American Ballpark. Billy Hamilton isn’t going to post a .962 OPS over the course of a major league or minor league season. However, Billy Hamilton could ignite the bottom of the Reds order by hitting seventh, bunting over Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier for Ryan Hanigan to get RBI opportunities with his fantastic contact skills (Hanigan has a career 137:163 K:BB in 1,347 plate appearances and a 10.2 percent strikeout rate).

Billy Hamilton provides speed that would benefit the Reds defensively. Michael Bourn, the Cleveland Indians’ new center fielder, has a UZR/150 of 11.1 since becoming a regular in 2007. B.J. Upton is second with a 4.1 UZR/150. Hamilton is still making the transition from shortstop to center field, but his speed alone makes him a Bourn-like defensive talent in center, and his 264 stolen bases since the start of the 2011 minor league season makes him worth bringing up now to impact the lineup.

While questions about team-control, arbitration, and the presence of another left-hander in the lineup are worth considering, the Reds have very little to lose and plenty to gain by calling up Billy Hamilton right now and putting him in center. As the club heads to Pittsburgh and PNC Park, a notorious pitcher’s park, will defense become more important than potential offensive production? While Devin Mesoraco rots on the bench due to Ryan Hanigan’s ability to handle the pitching staff, the Reds have already shown their philosophy. Now is the time for Billy Hamilton.

 

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2 Comments

Is Billy Hamilton a better defensive option in CF – he is just learning the position, has no long throw control, and a small glove. They should put him at SS/2b where he belongs.

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If nothing else, he can get to more balls than Choo. Sure, he is still learning, but what about his other skills and how they play. His arm wouldn’t hold at SS and they have Phillips at 2B. CF was his best spot long-term.

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