Let’s Talk About Leadoff Hitters and Why Acquiring Billy Hamilton is a Very Bad Idea
Hey, can we talk about leadoff hitters for a minute? I know I’ve bent your ear quite enough already when it comes to the Cubs batting Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot, so I’ll try to make this quick. Maybe.
Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had followed great meals. That said, I’d like you to feast upon the buffet of awful takes below in order that we can talk about it on the other side. See if you can name the chef de cuisine responsible. Oh, and try not to ralph.
Hard pass pic.twitter.com/PiNMTuWsV4
— Cubs Insider (@realcubsinsider) March 4, 2017
If you’re wondering why I didn’t include a link to the full text of the piece above, my rationale is pretty simple: I don’t have it. Okay, that’s not entirely true. But it’s an ESPN Insider deal that requires a login that I’m assuming many of you don’t have. What’s more, I already hit you with the Oh-God-this-tastes-awful-here-you-try-it bit and figured you’d not want more.
Which, speaking of, my dad somehow happened upon these nutrition bars that are made with — I poop you not — cricket protein powder. Imagine distilling and extracting the flavor of old barn and then eating it. I actually fished the box of them out of the trash for the express purpose of messing with people. Anyway, back to the lecture at hand.
Man, I don’t even know where to begin with the text above. Billy Hamilton is really, really fast. I mean, he’s so fast he makes fast people look not fast. But he’s also a very bad hitter. I’m talking a career wRC+ of 72, which means he’s been 28 percent worse than the average MLB hitter. His .086 ISO is more than 60 points lower than league average over the last three seasons and his .631 OPS is roughly 70 points lower.
But he sure can steal him some dadgum bases!
Maybe I’m being unfair by comparing the speedster to the rest of the league, though. Maybe I need to look just at leadoff hitters, who OPS’ed and ISO’ed at three-year lows of .715 and .121 last season. Yet even those lulls represent jumps of 51 and and 38 points over Hamilton’s 2016 production. And what was also a low-water mark for OBP (.326) was still better than Hamilton’s career-high of .324, set last season.
Look at me, I got so caught up bashing Billy Hamilton that I forgot about my point altogether. And that point was that we need to rid our minds of the idea that a leadoff hitter needs to have blazing speed or that he needs to steal bases in front of the mashers behind him. The most important thing a leadoff hitter can do is get on base. Full stop.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to see a guy turn walks and singles into triples with his legs, something Cubs fans have seen Hamilton do all too often. If he gets on base against Jon Lester, chances are good that he’ll end up scoring a run. But Hamilton is the veritable poster boy for Cubs Killers, opposing players who seem to have the team’s number and who are utterly pedestrian otherwise. He’s a fantasy baseball must-have if you’re in a league that counts steals because he’ll win you the category all by himself.
But to advocate trading anything of value to acquire Hamilton for an actual, real-life baseball team — let alone one that, as many forget, just won the World Series — is the kind of thing that should lead someone to have his head examined. By a proctologist. Hell, it might even require having a glass stomach installed so that the person in question can at least see where he’s going in the future.
While it’s a nice luxury, the Cubs have no use for a Willie Mays Hayes type who has no discernible value outside of stealing bases. I mean, Tony Campana, anyone? The comment about Hamilton having great range is true, but he’s not appreciably better than Albert Almora, particularly not when you factor in the added cost. And the fact that, save for his minuscule walk rate, Almora projects as a better offensive player.
I’m treading on thin contextual ice here, operating as I am from only the snippet above, but it sure looks like Jim Bowden — the author in question, in case you were still wondering — is saying the Cubs could give up (gasp!) Ian Happ to acquire Hamilton. That’s just…I mean…like…dude.
It’s bad enough to give voice to the idea that the team should spend anything for a guy like this to displace their potential centerfielder of the future (and a guy who was this front office’s first-ever draft pick with the Cubs, no less), but then you talk about trading a top prospect? Ugh.
You may not agree with my assertion that Schwarber can and will do well at the top of the order, but I think we can all band together in unified distaste for the idea of Billy Hamilton in royal blue pinstripes. And perhaps in collective amazement over the fact that Bowden once operated a major league club. Perhaps he’s still got loyalty to the Reds and bears too much affinity for their current players.
So let me just reach into my bag of nopes one last time when it comes to the idea of needing elite speed at the top of the order. You just need a guy who can get on base and set both the tone and the table. Now let’s just hope War Bear and the Cubs serve us up a better meal than Bowden was able to.