Billy Hamilton’s season at the plate has improved significantly from its dismal start. Where he was producing an awful .517 OPS in early June, and considering dropping switch-hitting as a potential remedy, he is now producing a more recognizable .636, in line with what he’s generally done over the past four seasons. The improvement hasn’t much made the Reds into a contender—they’re still in last place in the NL Central, and ten games out of the Wild Card—but baseball is just more fun when Hamilton is out there tearing it up in his specific way.
The surge started around June 17, with a three-hit day at Pittsburgh, and has seen Hamilton hit .354 in 24 games thru last Friday night. It hasn’t been enough to lift him out of the bottom of the order, but the Reds could certainly do worse down there than a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who causes terror and chaos whenever he gets on base.
About that defensive play: According to Baseball Savant, Hamilton has produced 14 outs above average this season, the most in the majors, and one more than he produced all of last season. He’s done it mostly by being just insanely fast and tracking down balls that other outfielders could only dream of catching, but he’s also always had a flair for the dramatic, so while he’s taking hits away by simply having more range than your average outfielder, he’s also quite literally creating wildly improbable outs with heroic highlight catches. Last night he outdid even himself, tracking a Matt Carpenter fly ball to the wall in dead center for an absurd play-of-the-year type catch:
Reds pitcher Amir Garrett was pretty impressed!
The Reds eventually cruised to 9-1 win over the abominable Cardinals. Hamilton reportedly is gunning to get back to the leadoff spot, with Reds interim manager setting a .320 on-base percentage—roughly league average—as a benchmark for that spot in the order. Hamilton’s OBP for the season is up to .313, but it’s been just a tick below .400 for nearly a month, now. Time will tell whether this surge will last, and whether it will ever get him back to the top of the order, but his production is for sure enough to keep him in the lineup, and out there in center field, and that means the highlight show will roll on for the foreseeable future.