“In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of hardest things to do in fantasy this year will be predicting Billy Hamilton’s season. His speed is off the charts and with Choo moving to Texas, he will have the opportunity to leadoff for the Reds. As alluring as his speed is, there are some chinks in the armor that raise questions about his value entering 2014. As of this writing, he is the 24th outfielder selected at spot 83.18. (NFBC ADP’s) But in Hamilton’s promotion to AAA last year he suffered a drop in BB% from 16.9 in 2012 to only 6.9% in Louisville. In order to get my projection I am using two different comps to illustrate his immense upside and possible downside for the upcoming season.
Name this player: 162 Game Average: 72 R, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 59 SB 256/301/312
Before I reveal this mystery guest, he is the son of a major league ball player and has spent the last three seasons eastbound and down from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. The average of Dee Gordon’s 181 games in the major leagues has produced the line above. For reference his steals totals have never reached what Hamilton has accomplished in the minor leagues, but I am willing to bet that potential owners of Billy would take the slash line and plan on many more stolen bases. Here are Hamilton’s current projections courtesy of Fangraphs.com:
Billy Hamilton – OF – Cincinnati Reds
2014 Steamer Projection – 135 G, 55 R, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 69 SB 249/305/338
2014 Oliver Projection – 143 G, 79 R, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 64 SB 233/278/315
At first glance it seems that the projections are low for the stolen bases and too high for the home runs. Both projections seem to agree that he may be a batting average liability. Based on his scouting reports, Hamilton is a better hitter from the right side of the plate with better swing plane and finish. As a left hander though, he tends to be more of a slap hitter. This approach worked for Juan Pierre but Hamilton needs to increase his contact percentages to match Pierre’s on base ability. Before I get too down on Hamilton, I think a look should be taken in regards to his immense upside as well. The best comparison I could think of was Vince Coleman. There are striking similarities, not just speed based. Here are all three players discussed so far age 22 seasons, Hamilton last year and by level:
Billy Hamilton – AAA Stats – 123 G, 75 R, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 75 SB 256/308/343
Vince Coleman – AAA Stats – 152 G, 97 R, 4 HR, 48 RBI, 101 SB 257/323/334
Dee Gordon – AA Stats – 133 G, 86 R, 2 HR, 39 RBI, 53 SB 277/332/355
Hamilton and Coleman were a level above Gordon and this is probably where the comparisons between them end. It is fresh in memories how Dee Gordon’s speed has not translated to success in the majors. This raises the doubts about Hamilton’s ability to hit enough to stay at the top of the Cincinnati lineup. If they have made inquiries to the Yankees about Brett Gardner, are the Reds really confident that Hamilton can stay there for a full season? While you cannot steal first base, Hamilton has displayed the ability to run and stay healthy in the minors. Here are his steal percentages by year courtesy of Baseball-Reference:
|Billy Hamilton Stolen Base Percentages|
|Year||Attempts||Stolen Bases||Caught Stealing||SB%|
Since Hamilton was a level above Gordon in their age twenty-two seasons I think that he is a step above Gordon not only in speed, which is obvious, but talent as well. Without getting too excited about Hamilton’s potential first season in the majors, here is Vince Coleman’s rookie season with the Cardinals, in which he was 23, just like Billy.
Vince Coleman – 1985 – 151 G, 107 R, 1 HR, 40 RBI, 110 SB 267/320/336
This seems to be a more accurate comparison for Hamilton, Coleman’s huge rookie campaign displays what Hamilton can accomplish based on their slash lines, walk and strike out percentages. Coleman was never a huge on base percentage player with a career 2:1 K/BB ratio and his final hitting lines of 264/324/345. So what does this mean for Hamilton? I honestly started this thinking I would say to wait on Hamilton until next year but the Coleman rookie year is a sign of encouragement. However it could also be fool’s gold because if Hamilton cannot hit for a decent average it will be hard to envision the Reds leaving him at the lead-off spot or starting with him there. His winter league slash line of 227/284/293 highlights the risk of over investing. After conferring with two of the founders of Roto Analysis, Matt Cott and Charles Kurz, I decided to abandon my comfort zone and make this projection:
My 2014 Hamilton Projection – 151 G, 92 R, 2 HR, 41 RBI, 90 SB 247/301/330
In NFBC drafts, Hamilton is averaging a mid-sixth round selection and I think that could rise. The FSTA drafts are next week and it will be interesting to see where he is selected. Like many players this year, Hamilton could make or break your team. He could easily steal 85 or more bases just on his speed alone, but the average could also drop to the Steamer projection or below. If the price remains the same in the next couple of months, I am buying Hamilton for his stolen base appeal. Just know what you are getting. A better plan may be to trade for him if he struggles early as he has taken time to adjust to new levels, frustrated owners make good trade partners. Using Emerson’s quote, I’ve got the need for speed – just make sure Hamilton can keep you on the ice and not in the water.
Greg Jewett is a staff writer for Roto Analysis and you can follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!
Billy Hamilton picture credit: http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/files/2013/09/Billy-Hamilton.jpg