Hating on Hamilton, Loving J.D. Martinez

In this series, I will be taking a tour around the diamond for in-depth looks at players who I value differently than the market consensus. Expert ranking lists are not worth the paper they are printed on without analysis as to why players are ranked where they are. Since the featured players in this column will be guys who I value much differently than the mainstream, you may not agree with where I rank them, but it is still important to understand why I have them where they are. Sometimes alternative viewpoints can be more illuminating than group think, even if you do not agree with the opinion.

 

Hate – Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

Last season, Billy Hamilton was one of the most hotly debated players heading into draft season. His unique skill set is capable of single-handedly winning the stolen base category for your fantasy team, but there are plenty of flaws in his game that limit his overall value. Despite being an unproven rookie last year, Hamilton was drafted toward the end of the 5th round (57th overall) according to Mock Draft Central.

This season, his price tag seem to be about the same following a rookie campaign where his line looked like this:

.250 BA, .292 OBP, 72 Runs, 6 HR, 48 RBI, 56 SB in 152 Games

Y! says this line made Hamilton the 89th most valuable player, but as you can see, his owners really only got a positive contribution in one category. Clearly people are willing to pay for an elite steals specialist, but this feature will explain why Hamilton’s current price tag may not be worth the risk.

Defense

Perhaps Hamilton’s greatest asset is that he is a gold glove caliber center fielder. Because he is so impressive on the defensive side, he will be afforded a much longer leash than most with regards to his playing time. Despite being less valuable than a replacement level player as a hitter last year, Billy Hamilton was still worth 3.5 WAR because of his stellar defense. For that reason, owners can expect Hamilton to remain in the lineup, even when he is struggling.

Power

You are not drafting Billy Hamilton for his power, but he did manage 6 HRs last season. Given his average fly ball distance of 258 feet, that looks to be near the upper limit of his power potential. Hamilton will get his fair share of doubles and triples, but most of those are due to his world-class speed. His .105 ISO from 2014 is right in line with his minor league numbers and about what owners should expect moving forward.

On Base Percentage

Hamilton’s .292 OBP just is not good enough for a leadoff hitter. His 19.1% strikeout rate from last year was very much in line with what he did in the minors. The concern is that he only walked 5.6% of the time. Pitchers are not terribly afraid of Billy Hamilton the hitter, so they aggressively attack him in the strike zone.

Ideally, a hitter like Hamilton with limited power would be able to make much better contact. It is not uncommon for slap hitters to have low walk rates, but the combination of low walk totals, a K rate near 20% and very limited power is difficult to overcome. During his best minor league season (2012), Hamilton’s BB/K ratios were .71 and .84 across 2 different levels. Once he moved up to AAA in 2013, however, he really struggled to the tune of a .37 BB/K ratio. His .29 BB/K number in 2014 was no surprise, but it simply has to get better for Hamilton to be worth what fantasy owners are willing to pay for him.

His batted ball profile shows a solid line drive rate (21.1%), but his fly ball rate of 37.3% is simply too high. You would rather see a player with such limited power potential keep the ball on the ground. Ben Revere has proven capable of being an asset in the batting average category because his ground ball rate is over 60%. Hamilton’s 41.5% rate does not allow him to take full advantage of his greatest skill. Hamilton should be a high BABIP player, but that won’t happen if he continues to hit so many weak fly balls.

A player who strikes out nearly 20% of the time, does not walk, has no power and yet still hits fly balls at a rate above the major league average is not going to be particularly good at getting on base. With some sophomore improvement, Hamilton should be able to get his OBP over.300, but don’t expect a BA much higher than what he delivered last season. He just is not a very good hitter.

Speed

Obviously people who draft Hamilton are doing so primarily for his contributions in the SB category. 56 steals is nice, but not nearly enough to make up for his other deficiencies given the price you must pay to acquire him. If he is going to hit below .260, then his drafters are counting on him to score 90+ runs and steal 70+ bases in order to get what they paid for.

Last season, Billy Hamilton ran 46% of the time when he had the opportunity. Considering that Jarrod Dyson (37%) and Dee Gordon (36%) where the only other players in the league over 30%, 46% is an eye-popping number.

Jeff Sullivan detailed many of the challenges for Hamilton’s running game in this article. The gist of it is that because of Hamilton’s reputation, pitchers devise specific game plans to slow him down. They are quicker to the plate, they hold the ball longer to disrupt timing and they are constantly aware of Hamilton. Hamilton is more or less unstoppable when he gets a perfect jump, but because he is still a little raw and big league pitchers are really good at disrupting his timing, he was only successful on 56 of 79 attempts (70.8%).

In order for Billy Hamilton to steal more bases, he will either have to get on base more efficiently or he will have to improve his timing. Both are possible, but neither are a given.

2nd Half Slump

Hamilton hit .200 with a .254 OBP and only 18 SBs after the all-star break. Optimists will point to his first half numbers and project those out for a full season. The unfortunate reality is that he was playing over his head during May and June. His final line appears to be pretty indicative of his skill level, and there is just as much room for regression as there is for sophomore improvement. If Billy Hamilton begins 2015 the way that he ended 2014, he may not last in the leadoff spot for very long.

Conclusions

Hamilton’s current skills just are not worth the premium fantasy owners need to pay in order to enlist them. He is a drain on the batting average category who is not going to hit more than a handful of HRs. His value is derived almost exclusively from his ability to score runs and steal bases, both of which are limited by his poor on base skills. I expect Hamilton to deliver a 2015 line that looks like this:

.250, 80 Runs, 4 HR, 40 RBI, 60 SBs

While that line certainly has value, it is not worth anything close to a 5th or 6th round pick. Steals are pretty easy to find and I would rather acquire a little bit at a time than to spend so much to get a player who is only really helping me in one category.

Love – J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers

J.D Martinez enjoyed a massive breakout last season hitting being Miggy and VMart. Despite playing only 123 games, he was able to return a 7th round value as the 69th ranked player in Y!’s player rater with the following line:

.315, 57 Runs, 23 HR, 76 RBI and 6 SB

It is easy to look at J.D.’s .389 BABIP and dismiss his success as flukey, but there seems to be some legitimate skill improvement that allowed him to amass this line. The standard advice is to never pay for a career year, and that holds true here also. Given the price tag, however, you may not have to. Most of my Fantasy Assembly counterparts still have Martinez ranked as a pick after round 10, so I think there is some excellent value to be had here.

Ks and BBs

The biggest flaw in Martinez’s game is his lack of plate discipline. Last season, Martinez struck out 26.3% of the time while only walking 6.3%. Much of this can be attributed to his aggressive approach at the dish. In 2014, Martinez swung at 37.7% of pitches outside the zone and he had a swinging strike rate of 15.2%.

Clearly, any player who strikes out as much as Martinez does and walks as little as he does is a batting average risk. He is not going to hit .315 again, but there is some reason to believe that he can continue to be an asset in the category anyway.

Batted Ball Profile

J.D. Martinez is a line drive hitter with power to all fields. He enjoyed a line drive rate of 22.7% last season. While that number is slightly above his career average, Martinez does have the skills to post a BABIP significantly above .300. His .389 mark from last season is somewhat ridiculous, but a very reasonable projected BABIP of .320 would still allow him to hit in the .270 range. With a league average fly ball rate, a profile that suggests defensive shifts are out of the question, and a high line drive rate, Martinez is likely to pull that off.

Power

Martinez had an average fly ball distance of 299 feet last season, which seems to completely support his HR/FB rate of 19.5%. Additionally, when looking at his spray chart, it is obvious that Martinez is far more than just a pull hitter. Only 9 of his 23 HRs went to left field. 5 went out to center and the other 9 went to right.

Given his average fly ball distance and his ability to drive the ball out just about anywhere, J.D. Martinez’s 2014 campaign has the look of a breakout season from a very good emerging power hitter. If J.D. Martinez can play a full season, he is a great bet to hit 25+ HRs with upside for 30-35.

Conclusions

Again, it is easy to look at J.D. Martinez’s numbers and dismiss them as flukey. Don’t make that mistake. The power is completely legitimate and he hits enough line drives to support a playable batting average despite the high K rate. Given that he will continue to see plenty of RBI chances hitting behind Miggy and Vmart, JDMart is a player you should consider investing in. Here are my projections for 2015:

.275, 70 Runs, 28 HR, 95 RBI, 5 SB

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

2 thoughts on “Hating on Hamilton, Loving J.D. Martinez”

  1. Do you think Cespedes or J.D. Martinez will have the better fantasy year next year? Similar profiles, and play on the same team. Cespedes gets viewed as being overrated (to the point that I wonder if he will be under-rated next year)

  2. Great Question.

    I think the move to Detroit certainly helps Cespedes. I think their production should actually be very similar. Martinez should have a better average and a few more HRs, Cespedes will likely get a couple more steals. The run and RBI totals will depend on their respective lineup spots, although Cespedes will probably bat 5th with JD 6th.

    Plate discipline is an issue for both, but Martinez actually appears to have more power. Martinez’s average fly ball distance was 299 feet, and Cespedes was 276 feet last season.

    I will take Martinez because I think I can get him 4-5 rounds later than where I would have to take Cespedes. That makes Martinez much less risky because of the price.

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