I saw this tweet and wondered, why is Billy Hamilton getting no love.
The more I think about Billy Hamilton, the more I think there is not a chance he can hit enough to stick in the lineup all year.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) February 3, 2014
Before we take a look at Billy Hamilton, let’s take a look at MLB history. The MLB record for most stolen bases by a rookie was 110 by Vince Coleman in 1985. Coleman led the National League in steals for 6 consecutive seasons. Going all the way back to the end of the 1800’s, another Billy Hamilton stole 912 bases. The original Billy Hamilton stole more than 100 bases in a season twice (102 in 1890, and 111 in 1891).
I have already made my bold prediction that Billy Hamilton will remind us of Vince Coleman. There are several similarities between these 2 speedsters. In just over 2 seasons in the minors, Coleman stole 289 bases (including an eye-popping 145 in 1983, while being caught 31 times). That year Coleman batted 0.350, but the following season in AA, he batted 0.257 and stole 101 bases (in 137 attempts).
Billy Hamilton tore apart the minors over the past 5 years, stealing 395 bases (he was caught 84 times). Over 2 levels in 2012 he stole 155 bases! Hamilton was a 0.280 hitter in the minors, while walking at a rate of 10.8% of the time.
Upon his call to the majors in 2013, Hamilton stole 13 bases in 14 attempts, successfully swiping in his first 13 attempts. He stole his first 4 bases as a pinch runner. He finished the year with a 0.368 average (7 hits in 19 at-bats), with 2 walks in 22 plate appearances.
Finally, let’s take a look at the project Cincinnati batting lineup:
According to rotochamp.com, the Reds lineup projects to look like this on Opening Day:
CF Billy Hamilton
2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
RF Jay Bruce
LF Ryan Ludwick
3B Todd Frazier
SS Zack Cozart
C Devin Mesoraco
This lineup lost a little offensive potential with Shin-soo Choo signing in Texas. Hamilton at the top of the lineup, getting on base and putting pressure on the opposing pitcher and catcher should help make up potential gap.
Now, back to the fact that many “experts” are not convinced Hamilton will hit enough to stay in the lineup. Let’s take a look at some early 2014 projections.
|Fans on Fangraphs||.255||.317||.324||56||54|
OK, there are a couple of projections that stick out here. First, all the projections appear to favor Hamilton batting somewhere in the 0.240’s. Second, they all have him getting on base about 30% of the time. And third, when he gets on base, they expect him to steal bases and score runs. His lowest projection of 56 steals would have led all of baseball the past 2 seasons.
Let’s take his average projection from the 5 above:
Based on where you can probably select Hamilton this season, I think most owners would be happy with 63 steals and 62 runs scored from their 3rd maybe 4th OF. Now, there is always a chance Hamilton could outperform these projections. Let’s say he outperforms them by 20%.
Outperform by 20%
And the contrarians would say that there is also a chance he underperforms.
Underperform by 20%
His batting average would certainly be terrible, but he still steals 50 bases, which would have placed him second in the majors in 2013. Now, some will say that if his bat is not MLB-ready and he ends up underperforming, then he would start to lose at-bats and his projections would decline even more. There is one additional piece to the puzzle that is Billy Hamilton.
What does Hamilton bring to the table as a defender? Since moving to CF in 2013, Hamilton has a Range Factor per game of 2.89. That is better than Jacoby Ellsbury (a career 2.45). This is better than Matt Kemp (a career 2.23). It is better than Adam Jones (career 2.79). It is even better than the best CF I ever saw, Ken Griffey Jr (career 2.55).
So, in my opinion, it is not simply a matter of Hamilton having to hit enough to stay in the lineup. By offering potentially elite defense in CF, Hamilton has to find a way to get on base, perhaps by utilizing his speed to essentially steal first base with bunts and infield hits. His defense should keep him in the lineup, even if he struggles to deliver consistent hits. In a worst case scenario, Hamilton could potentially play the role of late inning defensive substitution and pinch runner could also net him 30-40 steals over the course of part of the season (assume he was used in this role 3 times a week, a typical platoon situation).
Hamilton brings enough to the table to make a potentially elite fantasy contribution in 2014, and certainly is worth owning in all roto-style league formats. I also like him in Head-to-Head category leagues. I think he will challenge Coleman’s rookie stolen base record, and you saw that here first.
Want to see what some others are saying about Hamilton, Howard Bender did a piece on him last week titled “Pump the Brakes on Hamilton?” as did David G Temple “The Future-Future Usage of Billy Hamilton“, both worthy of a few minutes of your time.
Projection data gathered from Fangraphs.com and Rotochamp.com
Statistics from Fangraphs.com and MLB.com