Reds only hurting themselves batting Billy Hamilton ninth

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At what point does speed outweigh a lousy OBP?

Joe Morgan was fond of saying that speed was the No. 1 factor in searching for a leadoff hitter. Statheads used to believe that OBP was everything, that it made far more sense to put a slow guy with a big OBP in the leadoff spot than a fast guy who didn’t get on base.

Billy Hamilton pretty much sucks at getting on base. But he’s so ridiculously good when he does get on that he’s a viable leadoff hitter anyway.

Hamilton has hit leadoff for the Reds 36 times this year and scored 27 runs in those games. Brandon Phillips, though, has been leading off while healthy these last seven weeks. He’s scored 19 runs in 37 games leading off.

Of course, that’s not really a valid test of speed versus OBP. Oddly enough, both have .280 OBPs in their time batting leadoff. Both have also hit three homers as leadoff man, so that doesn’t really factor in. And while Phillips isn’t quite a burner these days, he’s actually gone 6-for-7 stealing bases from the leadoff spot.

The run totals, even if they’re a bit fluky, suggest that Hamilton should be leading off for the Reds. His .280 OBP is probably worth about the same there as a .330 mark from a merely decent runner. He wouldn’t continue scoring three runs every four games if returned to the spot, but then, who does? Mike Trout and Brian Dozier currently lead the majors in runs scored (largely because they have 27 and 20 homers, respectively) and they’re barely better than that (.775 runs scored per game).

And the Reds’ alternatives simply aren’t any good. Phillips has never been an on-base guy, and the other four guys to have opened a game in the leadoff spot for the Reds this year (Zack Cozart, Skip Schumaker, Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Kris Negron) have posted even worse OBPs. Plus, Joey Votto has thrived on those occasions in which he’s hit second behind Hamilton. Unless the Reds somehow come up with a viable option in one of their upcoming trades involving Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake or Jay Bruce, Hamilton is going to be their best option at the top the rest of the way.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.