The Braves were in need of some bench depth later in the the 2019 season due to injuries. In particular, the absence of Ender Inciarte created a need for a player with defensive acumen in the outfield who also could provide some value as a baserunner. Enter Billy Hamilton, who the Braves claimed off of waivers, who not only remains one of the more dangerous baserunners in all of baseball, but also has a slick glove as well even if his bat leaves a lot to be desired.
What went right in 2019?
For a guy who could not hit anywhere close to enough to really justify playing every day, Hamilton still had his virtues. In 115 games in 2019, Hamilton still put up a very respectable seven defensive runs saved in center field for the Royals and Braves. His otherworldly speed and strong instincts the outfield continued to show up even when his other tools didn’t.
He also continued to be a really, really good and dangerous baserunner. Hamilton is arguably the fastest runner in all of baseball and while his 22 stolen bases in 2019 doesn’t jump off of the page like his four straight seasons of 50+ thefts did, that was more a function of his struggles at the plate than anything. He remained a premier pinchrunner and routinely took extra bases when opportunities arose and in his time with the Braves, the team definitely benefited.
What went wrong in 2019?
Hamilton has never been a particularly great hitter, but 2019 was probably his worst season at the plate of his career as he posted a career low wRC+ of 50. That is...not good. While it is worth mentioning that he has not once posted a wRC+ of over 79 except for his 13 game stint in the majors in 2013, his bat clearly is not trending in a positive direction and was already starting from a bad baseline.
His batting average has declined every season since 2016 and in 2019, it sat at a pretty abysmal .218 with most of that coming from his time with the Royals.
What to expect in 2020?
Somehow, Hamilton managed to get a contract that had a $7.5 million option for the 2020 season. However, it is a mutual option and there is basically zero chance that the Braves would pick up that option as Hamilton just is not worth that kind of money so expect the team to pay his $1 million buyout.
It wouldn’t be crazy to see if the Braves could see if he would want to come back on more favorable financial terms, however. As a bench guy who you can use as a defensive replacement and as a pinchrunner, the team could do far worse than Hamilton who also can switch hit. The decision to retain Hamilton’s services hinges not only on finances, but also the fates of guys like Matt Joyce, Nick Markakis, and Ender Inciarte, however, If the Braves decide to move on from more than one of those guys, then the argument in keeping Hamilton makes some more sense. If not, it is hard to envision a roster spot for him.