Mark Sheldon had a piece up on Billy Hamilton yesterday afternoon. It is titled “Red hammering home art of bunting to Hamilton” and as you can probably tell, focuses on Billy Hamilton working on his bunting skills. On the surface, that is great to see that Hamilton is working on his game. I have said it before and I will say it again, Billy Hamilton works his butt off at improving his game. He has been that way since I first began hearing reports on him back in 2009 and I have continued hearing them all the way up through the system. I really want to stress that I am not getting on Billy Hamilton here.

But is bunting really something that should be hammered home? Last season, no one bunted for a hit 13 times in the game. Hamilton, between Louisville and Cincinnati had 24 bunt hits in 51 attempts. That includes 4 sac bunts, which is hilarious to think about because no bunt by Hamilton should be considered a sac bunt. So, excluding the sac bunts, Billy Hamilton hit .511 on bunts. That means that when he swung the bat, in 2013, he hit .235 between the Majors and minors. It means that when he didn’t get a bunt down and swung the bat, he struck out 20.5% of the time.

Let’s just assume that Billy Hamilton attempts 70 bunts in 2014, which would be an incredibly high number and easily lead the league (by comparison, league leader in bunt hits Leonys Martin went 12-30 on bunts last season and only two others even had 10 bunt hits in all of the Majors), that makes up about 10-12% of his likely plate appearances. In roughly 90% of his other plate appearances Hamilton will be swinging away. I know that Reds fans, or at least some of them, have a confusing amount of love for the bunt, so perhaps this is why the article was written, but the numbers flat out show that almost all of the time Hamilton spends in the batters box is going to be with the intent of actually swinging the bat. Swinging the bat is where he struggles.

Hamilton is criticized for his lack of wrist strength, which concerns scouts because it leads to struggles against stuff on the inside half of the plate, and his switch hitting where he still struggles to find consistency. I would rather see an article written about Hamilton working on improving those things, which will be far more useful to getting on base, than working on bunting the baseball, which he is already pretty darn good at. Sheldon did write this in the article:

Before taking a break for Reds Caravan last week, Hamilton was already at the team’s Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., to work on his hitting, but namely the bunting.

So while it does note he was there working on hitting too, there was, at least according to this quote, more emphasis put on bunting. When looking at the overall picture, that seems to be a bit backwards to me for what Hamilton needs to be working on.

21 Responses

  1. MDRon

    It’s different when Billy bunts for a hit. With his base-stealing ability, a bunt hit is practically a double. It carries more value when he does it.

    • Doug Gray

      That isn’t really the point. The point is that extra time is being devoted to something he is already really good at rather than using that extra time to work on the things that he really needs to work on and uses 9 times as often.

  2. Red Thunder

    Doug , I think you nailed it above, its all about keeping that average up. A way to break up the 0-8 streaks. Fans at GABP better understand he is a player (IMO) that has been rushed and will have his moments. As a BHAM fan, I know he will work hard and improve his game.

  3. Alan Horn

    Most definitely. He should also not reduce the time he works on his pure hitting. He should be working on consistent contact and keeping the ball on the ground. He just needs to reach first base on a consistent basis however he can.

  4. Randy in Chatt

    Maybe the Reds are being crazy like a fox by putting the thoughts in the opponents head that BH will be mega-bunting pulling the infield in even more anticipating it and that will open up the infield even more for balls to go through giving him a chance to be a better “non-bunting” hitter?????

  5. Kevin

    Let’s say his ML bunt avg is more like .450 given those numbers are mainly for minors and it’s harder to bunt against better pitching.

    Raising his bunt avg from .450 to .550 on 70 Abs equates to 7 extra hits.
    Raising his non bunt avg from .235 to .265 on 580 Abs equates to 17 extra hits.

    Just raising his non-bunt BA .012 pts gets him the same 7 extra hits that increasing his bunt avg by .100 pts gets.

    So the numbers back up Doug’s point that the bunt opportunities are too low to make much of a difference.

    But the question from the strategy standpoint is why if you can get on base at .500 clip you don’t bunt every time you’re up with the bases empty (especially if you’re a guy like Hamilton that has barely any power)? Last year, Choo had 466 PA with none on. Granted you lose the element of surprise if you do it every time, but if you did it half the time as a leadoff hitter, you’d get 117 hits from bunting alone.

    In the end I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition. I think it’s a facet of the game that Billy works on along with his general hit tool, and in the end if he continues to exhibit that hard work ethic and turns his raw athletic talent into big league skill, the Reds have a perennial all-star on their hands.

    It’s going to be a fun season watching his progress.

    • RMR

      Agreed. If you’re getting on base 50% of the time that you bunt and 30% of the time you swing away and you don’t hit for much power, it seems that you’re likely not striking the most productive equilibrium.

  6. boiler

    Bunt, Bunt, Bunt, Bunt, Bunt – For HOURS on end. And after those hours are up, do it again.

    Reasons
    1. By having the ability on any count to bunt the defense will play in closer and some outs will be hits.
    2. After you get 2 strikes and are not even close, try to bunt. Why not
    3. Great way to build his confidence, but getting on base.
    4. Slump busters 0 for 8, bunt to get on base.

    I firmly believe Hamilition should practice the BUNT,BUNT,BUNT,BUNT,and again.

    Not like our system is any good at bunting when they get to the majors.

    • MK

      Boiler, you are right on with all your points. Billy will be in the big leagues this year and must get on base in what ever means possible. His hitting reminds me of Ozzie Smith when he first broke in with the Padres. Ozzie continued to develop without the bunt as I imagine Billy will too.

      In 1967 Rod Carew had 91 bunts hits for a 72% pct. with bases empty. Matty Alou had 90 hits for 74% success rate in 1960. Pete Rose had 65 bunt hits his rookie year for 69.9% success rate. Don’t think any had the speed Billy does so if Billy can add a weapon like that then work on it.

      • Doug Gray

        Where did you find those numbers MK? I was looking on BRef earlier and their PBP only goes back to 1988. Would love to be able to look back at other “speedsters” over the years.

      • Greg

        Sorry to change the subject Doug, but HOW BOUT THEM BEARCATS!

      • Doug Gray

        Well, aside from the four heart attacks they caused me to have, it was awesome. I almost threw things through my wall when they gave up a 17 point lead in 1:48.

    • Doug Gray

      Interesting thing to consider from that link, assuming all data is correct, the most bunt hits ever in a season with no one on base: 29.

      Also, let’s note that Pete had 65 bunt hits in his career (with the bases empty). Not 65 bunt hits in a season. If Billy Hamilton winds up with even 35 bunt hits in a season, it will be incredible.

      • Stock

        I just finished reading the article. However, I think it is safe to say Hamilton is much faster than any of these guys. Butler was a great bunter though as was Carew. 40 or 50 bunt hits is not out of the question.

      • Doug Gray

        Fielders are better today than ever before (as a whole) because gloves and fields are just better. Hamilton certainly has a speed advantage over just about anyone on that list. But was he much faster than Vince Coleman? He had a grand total of 89 bunt hits in his entire career and didn’t even attempt 200. And he played in the 80’s when everyone bunted.

      • chrisdSD

        Doug, I agree with boiler on the added advantage of bunting that goes beyond the bunts for a hit. I got to see Rod Carew play several time on TV. He was such a good bunter that if the infield played back he would drop a bunt for a base hit. So the infield never played back. He also was an excellent 2-strike bunter rarely striking out when he dropped a 2 strike bunt. He also flirted with hitting .400 so he was an excellent hitter as well. If Billy can approach the skill of bunting and the 2-strike bunt that Rod had it will improve his overall average, not just for the bunt hits but also for the swinging hits.

        By the way Rod was not as fast as Billy but he was well above average speed when he first got to the majors, but he had a knee injury that took some of his speed.

        Love your site.

      • Doug Gray

        Billy Hamilton, and almost every other player in history can only dream of having the bat control that Rod Carew did. Hamilton struggles to make contact. Carew, in the Majors,struck out half as often as Hamilton does in the minors.

        Hamilton is an interesting guy to try and find a comparable hitter for because of his complete lack of power and his struggles to make contact. Usually guys without power strike out 15% of less. Hamilton is in the 18-20% range. Guys like that don’t often stick in the Majors because well, offensively speaking, they just can’t produce enough without power and missing that often.

  7. Cbus

    What’s stopping Hamilton from attempting 1 bunt per game? That’s 160 attempts, with 50% success rate that’s 80 extra hits! I know it’s a huge number that’s never been done before but 1 attempt per game doesn’t sound crazy to me with his speed.

    • Doug Gray

      I guess nothing is stopping him, but it simply isn’t going to happen. Against AAA defenses he only attempted 49. At the MLB level he only attempted 2. They simply aren’t going to send him out to bunt 150 times.