Just when it looked like the Cincinnati Reds‘ speed merchant Billy Hamilton had turned the big league corner, he regressed to the promising prospect who still has to learn how to be patient at the plate and keep the ball on the ground when he does swing.
Hamilton peaked with a .266 average on May 15, and there’s good reason to believe that may be as good as he hits this year. Hamilton’s average was .260 on May 19, and since then his average has dropped to .245 over the past seven games after scratching out just four hits in 24 at-bats.
Making matters worse for Hamilton is his inability to improve his on-base percentage. Hamilton has drawn just two walks in the last seven games. His .287 OBP for the year has to be a major disappointment for the Reds when considering the on-base machine he replaced in Shin-Soo Choo had an OBP of .423 last year.
Still, the upside for Hamilton is there, just not this year. Now that the Reds have demonstrated that their 2014 season resembles their below-.500 2011 season more than a postseason-caliber year, there’s no need to bury Hamilton under too much pressure. Dropping him to the second spot in the order would allow him to bunt less for base hits and more for sacrifices.
Ideally, Hamilton is on base, but until he can reach base with more consistency, having him practice his bunting more often in a productive-out situation is probably the next best thing.
The Reds should also occasionally slot Hamilton eighth in the order, where he would be more free to work on his swing with the directive that he should be hitting the ball into the ground more than he’s hitting it into the air. As the eighth hitter, he’ll also get the chance to work on his plate discipline in terms of better differentiating balls from strikes.
Helping Hamilton better understand how he needs to approach his at-bats would have been best resolved before now in the minors, but since the Reds are a long way from making any kind of postseason push, the time for Hamilton to focus more on learning might as well be now.