The fantasy baseball echo chamber has been repeatedly hammering the “speed is scarce” argument. For months, we have stated and you have heard that stolen bases are in short supply and that you better not wait too long because there are only a few elite speed options. Given the force with which this narrative has been driven home, I should not be surprised that Billy Hamilton is going as a top 50 player, but I am. As of this morning, Billy Hamilton appears on the front page of NFBC ADP as the 50th overall player (ADP 50.63).
Before we delve too deeply into why I believe this is wrong, let’s give Billy Hamilton some credit. He was absolutely dynamic in the second half last year – walking 10.7% of the time, hitting .293, and most importantly, stealing 36 of 40 bags. If you believe those gains are real, I think a player that hits .290 with a .360 OBP, stealing 70 bases and hitting in front of Joey Votto is worth the price of admission. I would also add that at 26 years old, it would not be stunning if Hamilton found his stride and this is the new and improved Billy Hamilton.
However, there are quite a few reasons to be skeptical of Hamilton and the assertion that he has suddenly found his game and will excel from here on out as a major leaguer. First, Hamilton’s strikeout rate is still too high for someone with his profile – at 20.2% K%, he will need significant BABIP help to aid him in achieving a plus average. As with last year’s second half, his .293 second half average was fueled by a .378 BABIP. Elite BABIP skills are not out of the question for Hamilton, if he utilizes his skillset appropriately. In 2014 and 2015, Hamilton hit way too many flyballs – his GB/FB rate was just above 1.00 even, which is folly for a light power, speedster.
Last year, even in the first half, he corrected the issue – Hamilton’s 2016 1st half GB/FB ratio was 1.51 compared to a slightly improved 1.61 GB/FB ratio in the second half. This is where the .378 BABIP and .293 batting average strain belief. Aside from a dip in infield flyballs and a surge in infield hit rate, there is not much difference between Hamilton in 2016’s first half and second half. In all likelihood, 2016 Hamilton was probably never as good or as bad as he looked and his .329 BABIP is the correct number. His final numbers probably bear out what you can expect a – .260ish batting average.
Going on this assumption, which is supported by the evidence at-hand, the big questions surrounding Hamilton are somewhat linked: (1) playing time and (2) role. Barring injury, Hamilton’s defense and the lack of a suitable replacement will likely keep him on the field. However, the Reds could decide to move on from Hamilton during the year – his defense and speed could be seen as a major asset to a team in playoff contention, where Hamilton would likely serve as a fourth OF. Of course, that is highly speculative. I think it is correct to view Hamilton as the Reds everyday center fielder barring injury.
So let’s extrapolate out – give 2016 Hamilton 155 games and his steal total rises from 58 to 75, his run total approaches 90 and his RBI total eclipses 20 (22). That’s right, Hamilton had 17 RBI last year. Basically, what we have in is a 4 HR, 75 SB player with 90 runs, livable .260 average and a total RBI drain with 22. Not bad, but still extremely deficient in 2 (or 3) categories, beneficial in one and elite in one. That is without accounting for any injury. Last year, his season was cut short by an oblique injury at the beginning of September. In 2015, Hamilton also had his season cut short by injury. If you want to be cautious, I would reduce his PT projection to 135 games – at that total, Hamilton’s line becomes 3 HR, 65 SB, 80 runs, 20 RBI and a .260 average.
The other side of the Billy Hamilton coin is his role in the Reds lineup – where is he going to hit. On February 17, Reds beat writer John Fay reported that Hamilton is expected to hit leadoff this season. Since that time, he has alternated with Jose Peraza on-and-off as the leadoff man every game except for one where they both played and Hamilton hit first with Peraza second.
Peraza has been red-hot this spring, collecting nine hits in 20 ABs and swiping 3 bags. Hamilton is off to a much slower start. Perhaps Hamilton claims the leadoff role to start the year, but we have seen the Reds move him around the lineup before when he is struggling and they now have an all-around better offensive player with similar skills in Peraza, who can provide speed at the top of the lineup. I do not think it is some foregone conclusion that Billy Hamilton is going to bed Reds leadoff hitter all season. I also think there could stretches where he is in the bottom third of the lineup – he was for 37 games last year and 66 games in 2015.
There is real injury and role risk with Billy Hamilton in addition to his production risk, which all shows up in his track record. In addition to his own teammate – Jose Peraza, who offers eligibility at 2B, SS, and OF, and is being selected on average 124.76 (but is likely closer to 100 in most drafts post-Brandon Phillips trade), there are several other players similar to Hamilton, who are going much later despite the lack of speed narrative. Below is a chart of these players with their ADP and 2016 totals in games played, batting average, home runs and stolen bases:
|Jarrod Dyson||237.94||107 (83 GS)||.278||1||30|
Although none of these players, including the aforementioned Peraza, offer 70+ SB upside, they are all players capable of 40+ SB and can contribute in ways that Hamilton is extremely unlikely to – be it with power or average.
With plenty of risk in his profile and similar assets going at a discounted rate, I will skip Billy Hamilton and take a player the caliber of Ryan Braun (49.30), who will chip in 10-15 steals and provide five category production, and grab one of the above speedsters at a discount later.