How Bad is Billy Hamilton?
It is easy to sit back and really hate on the guy. While he’s had success in the minors, its almost entirely been with his legs. People have always questioned his actual talent as a hitter, and deservedly so. He’s fresh off a season where he had a putrid .226/.274/.289 line. While he didn’t qualify for the batting title, his .563 OPS was lower than Chris Owings who posted the lowest qualified OPS in baseball last year.
The big question is, should we still hope for a better future? In 2015 he had shoulder, wrist, groin, and finger injuries, with the shoulder lingering all season, and resulting in surgery which he is still recovering from. He was limited to only 114 games, and while on the field, his already choppy swing, became uncomfortable.
But despite these injuries, it appears he grew as a hitter while dealing with a litany of issues. He certainly was not hitting the ball as hard as last season (19.4% hard hit rate in 2015, 20.5% in 2014), or on a line as often (19.6% in 2015, 21.1% in 2014), but he was improving in other aspects of his game:
This is a mix of batted ball data and plate discipline, but you must consider Hamilton’s role. As the fastest person in the history of the whole wide world, it makes sense for him to put a lot of balls on the ground, which he did more frequently in 2015. Second, infield fly balls are wasted outs, and truly worthless for a speed demon. Hamilton went from being 3.6% above the league average in IFFB% in 2014 (9.6%), to being 3.6% below the league average in 2015 (9.5%). Those are baby steps, but necessary ones in order for Hamilton to develop.
On the plate discipline side of his game, he chased fewer balls, and was more aggressive in the zone. His slightly reduced contact rate on balls outside of the strike zone was corrected by his increased contact on balls in the zone. Overall, his contact rate improved marginally, despite playing hurt, and losing 17.82 ft on his average home run and fly ball distance according to baseballheatmaps.com, AKA suffering from diminished bat speed.
So while he was playing hobbled, he managed to make more contact, and improve his plate discipline. We all know this didn’t result in a good—or even okay—2015, but it gives a reason to expect him to improve in the future, which is what dynasty baseball is all about. But did you know on the base paths he actually was even better in 2015, than he was in his great 2014 season?
Hamilton had a career high 57 steals while playing 38 fewer games last year. If you were to add up his walks, singles, and doubles from both seasons you see what his opportunities to steal really were.
So he had 47 fewer chances to steal, but he managed to swipe one more in 2015 than 2014, while concurrently being more efficient.
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He lead the league in baserunning last year when you rank by BsR, his score was 13.4, which you can read more about here. This was a considerable improvement from 2014 when he was considered the seventh best baserunner, with a score of 7.6. Anything over 7.0 is considered excellent and Hamilton managed to improve his score in every season of his career thus far.
Hamilton’s slow recovery may be a blessing in disguise for dynasty investors. He is still progressing towards playing, and opening day remains a possibility. Obviously a healthy offseason would have been ideal, but a healthier body with his improved approach could present a nice moment of being undervalued until an official return date is announced. Since I have surgeons in my family, I took it upon myself to ask one if the soreness he is still experiencing is a big deal, and the description I received was brief but clear “if someone drilled through your shoulder muscles, you’d be sore when you started really using them again too.” So his removal from Spring Training games is not terribly surprising, and its more a sign of him not being fully recovered as opposed to injuring himself again.
This off-season appears to be a great time to buy low on Billy Hamilton’s future. Few would assume Hamilton played this poorly solely due to injury, but it appears he’s primed to actually improve on what he did in 2014, after toughing out a lot of injuries in 2015. Missing a few games in the beginning of this year at the cost of a few years of mega steal totals is totally worth it to me. He’ll play 2016 as a 25-year-old, and should have a few more seasons as a fantasy superstar burner going forward.