Projecting Billy Hamilton, 2.0

September 7, 2013
 
The newest version of Billy Hamilton made his major league debut today, immediately clinching the 2013 Award for ‘Best Debut That Exactly Reflects What That Player is All About.’ Entering a scoreless game to pinch-run in the bottom of the seventh, Hamilton stole second on the first pitch. He was so ahead of Yadier Molina’s throw that he slid in feet-first. He then scored the only run of the game on a Todd Frazier double. BH2 was, for one afternoon, exactly who we all thought he’d be.
 
I was really excited to see Hamilton. I started paying attention to baseball in 1988, a year that marks the end of the century’s high-water mark for epic base stealing seasons. I’ll try to illustrate what I mean with a table: here are the sixty-six players who have collected 80+ stolen bases in a single season:
 
Rank
Name
Year
Steals
1
--
1887
138
2
Rickey!
1982
130
3
--
1887
129
4
Lou Brock
1974
118
5
--
1887
117
6
--
1889
111
6
--
1891
111
6
--
1887
111
9
Vince!
1985
110
10
Vince!
1987
109
10
--
1888
109
12
Rickey!
1983
108
13
Vince!
1986
107
14
--
1891
106
15
Maury Wills
1962
104
16
--
1887
103
16
--
1888
103
18
--
1887
102
18
--
1890
102
20
--
1894
100
20
Rickey!
1980
100
22
--
1889
99
23
--
1895
97
23
Ron LeFlore
1980
97
23
--
1890
97
26
--
1915
96
26
Omar Moreno
1980
96
28
--
1887
95
28
--
1888
95
30
--
1887
94
30
Maury Wills
1965
94
32
Rickey!
1988
93
32
--
1888
93
34
--
1889
91
35
Tim Raines
1983
90
36
--
1889
89
36
--
1887
89
38
--
1912
88
38
--
1887
88
38
--
1887
88
38
--
1892
88
42
Rickey!
1986
87
42
--
1896
87
42
--
1891
87
42
--
1888
87
46
--
1887
86
47
--
1890
85
47
--
1891
85
47
--
1887
85
50
--
1887
84
50
--
1896
84
50
--
1887
84
50
--
1890
84
54
--
1911
83
54
--
1896
83
54
--
1890
83
54
Willie Wilson
1979
83
58
--
1888
82
58
--
1888
82
60
1911
81
60
Vince!
1988
81
60
--
1910
81
63
Eric Davis
1986
80
63
Rickey!
1985
80
63
--
1889
80
63
--
1888
80
 
Here’s the trick part: I’ve only included the names of players you might have actually seen play. The least-recent player whose name appears on this list is Maury Willis, who cracked the 80-barrier in 1962 and 1965. The last player before Willis to crack 80+ was Ty Cobb, way back in 1915. If you saw Cobb in 1915, you should absolutely get a free subscription to this website. 
 
So all those blank spots are players from 1915 or earlier. In fact, we can condense the periods of really big stolen base stealers into three distinct eras:
 
 
Era 1:  The Villainous Motley-Minded Clotpole Years - (18-- - 1915)
 
This is basically baseball from the time of its conception, until the time that Babe Ruth ruined baseball by making it insanely popular. And yes, I used an old-timey insult generator to come up with that title. Call me a fobbing sheep-bitter, if you must.
 
 
Era 2: The ‘That Stolen Base Record Sure Looks Beatable’ Years - (1962-1974)
 
For which we have exactly two representatives:
 
Name
Year
Steals
Maury Wills
1962
104
Maury Wills
1965
94
Lou Brock
1974
118
 
And finally:
 
 
Era 3: The ‘This Had Nothing to Do With Cocaine. Nothing! What’s That NOISE?!’ Years - (1979-1988)
 
It was the best of times:
 
Name
Year
Steals
Name
Year
Steals
Willie Wilson
1979
83
Rickey!
1985
80
Rickey!
1980
100
Vince!
1986
107
Ron LeFlore
1980
97
Rickey!
1986
87
Omar Moreno
1980
96
Eric Davis
1986
80
Rickey!
1982
130
Vince!
1987
109
Rickey!
1983
108
Rickey!
1988
93
Tim Raines
1983
90
Vince!
1988
81
Vince!
1985
110
 
 
 
 
This last group is dominated by two players, Rickey and Vince Coleman. I was a month old when Henderson reached the majors, so I don’t have any first-hand memories about what people thought about him. I remember Coleman, who was coming off his third straight ‘century’ in 1987. It’s fitting that Coleman and Rickey close out the list: no one has stolen 80 or more bases since they both crossed the line in 1988.
 
I watched a little baseball in 1988, but I wouldn’t say that I watched too many Cardinals or Yankees games that year. I must’ve seen Rickey a few times on TV38, but I don’t have a distinct memory of Henderson in a Yankee uniform. I didn’t really tune in to the Rickey show until his second tour with Oakland.
 
This is to say I’ve never actually witnessed an 80-steal season, never mind a 100-steal season. So Billy Hamilton represents the great, fast hope for me: the first player who has a very good chance to put up an insane number of stolen bases.
 
*          *          *
 
So what kind of player is Hamilton going to be? How does he compare with the other players listed?
 
It is no use comparing Billy Hamilton to the likes of Hugh Nicol, Arlie Latham, and Jim Fogarty. It’s probably not worth it to compare him to Billy Hamilton version 1.0, a man who posted a career on-base percentage of .455. One hundred and ten years separate the careers of the two Billy Hamilton’s…that’s a gap too wide to cross.
 
There are no useful comparables from the second era, either. Maury Willis didn’t reach the majors until he was twenty-seven: Billy Hamilton will turn twenty-three this week. And although Lou Brock’s minor league record isn’t full, it shows that the young Brock had decent power: 14 HR and a .535 slugging percentage, to go along with a .361 BA for the Saint Cloud Rox. Billy Hamilton hasn’t shown that kind of power in the minors.
 
From the contemporary files, Rickey and Tim Raines don’t make for good matches: both players reached the majors at twenty-one, after tearing up Triple-A as twenty-year olds:
 
Name
Year
Age
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Rickey
1979
20
71
80
11
8
3
44
.309
.430
.448
Raines
1980
20
108
152
23
11
6
77
.354
.439
.501
 
Raines was playing in Denver, which explains the edge he has on homeruns. Both were exceptional players in Triple-A, something Billy Hamilton hasn’t been: Hamilton finished the year with a .256/.308/.356 batting line in Louisville. And both were younger players: Hamilton isn’t in their league.
 
Eric Davis, the great ‘what-if’ precursor to Grady Sizemore, had too much power in the minors to be a reasonable comparable to Hamilton.
 
Ron LeFlore is exempt on the same age issue that exempted Maury Wills: he started in the minors at twenty-five, though his skill sets and minor league numbers do correspond closely with Hamilton’s. LeFlore has had a life that seems deserving of that cliché ‘it could only happen in America.’ For those who have missed the story, the broad-strokes: LeFlore grew up in a bad neighborhood in Detroit, getting into drugs and crime at an early age. He was in prison just about as soon as he was eligible, where news of his play on the baseball team reached Billy Martin, then managing the Tigers. Martin arranged a try-out: LeFlore was paroled and in the majors a few years later. He was a good player who got better as he played: if he had gotten an earlier start he might’ve won a batting title or two.
 
So that leaves us with three players: Omar Moreno, Willie Wilson, and Vince Coleman. How do they compare to Billy Hamilton?
 
As it turns out, the four are very comparable. Checking in on their minor league numbers, year-by-year:  
 
Name
Year
Age
Lg
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Billy H.
2011
20
A
135
153
18
9
3
103
.278
.340
.360
Vince C.
1982
20
Rk
58
53
2
1
0
43
.250
.348
.269
Willie W.
1975
19
A
127
132
18
4
8
76
.272
.323
.374
Omar M.
1973
20
A, AAA
139
154
22
9
10
78
.285
.383
.414
 
All four showed impressive speed in their first go-around in the minors, though there are a few slight differences. Vince Coleman didn’t show any kind of pop during that first stint, posting a slugging percentage almost 100 points below his on-base percentage. Omar Moreno appears as the ‘real’ hitter in the group, which explains his jump to Triple-A ball.
 
Hamilton, at this point, seems closest to Willie Wilson, who was blazingly fast. I don’t have any idea how many of Wilson’s eight HR’s were inside-the-park jobs.  
 
Going ahead another year:
 
Name
Year
Age
Lg
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Billy H.
2012
21
A+, AA
132
159
22
14
2
155
.311
.410
.420
Vince C.
1983
21
A
113
156
8
7
0
145
.350
.431
.399
Willie W.
1976
20
AA
107
98
13
6
1
37
.253
.309
.325
Omar M.
1974
21
AA,AAA
135
140
18
6
7
73
.286
.394
.391
 
This was Billy Hamilton’s breakout season, when he stole 155 bases. It is also the year Vince Coleman broke out, though Vince’s breakout happened in Single-A. Omar Moreno, in a second stint at Triple-A, treaded water, and Vince and Billy have essentially caught up, posting good batting averages, with on-base and slugging percentages being about equal.
 
Willie drops from the pack here, with a lower on-base percentage than the rest. He didn’t get the memo that you walk to first, and then run to second.
 
Name
Year
Age
Lg
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Billy H.
2013
22
AAA
123
129
18
4
6
75
.256
.308
.343
Vince C.
1984
22
AAA
152
156
21
7
4
101
.257
.323
.334
Willie W.
1977
21
AAA
132
139
10
6
4
74
.281
.323
.349
Omar M.
1975
22
AAA
130
127
20
2
9
39
.284
.357
.398
 
All of ‘em have made it to Triple-A, and have essentially evened out as players. Omar Moreno takes back the lead in on-base and slugging percentages, and probably rates, as a prospect, as the best hitter of the bunch. Vince seems the speed-first player: the player focused on getting to first any way possible, so he could steal his way around the bases. Willie sits in the middle: as fast as Coleman and a slightly better hitter than Coleman.
 
That brings us up to Billy Hamilton’s present. To project his next three years, we can take a look at how Vince, Willie, and Omar during their first years in the major.
 
Except…things get a little complicated. Vince Coleman was given a starting gig his first year in the majors. Willie Wilson and Omar Moreno had to spend a year as pinch-runners/fourth outfielders before they got full-time work in the majors. This skews the ages a bit: Vince and Willie now show even with Billy Hamilton, while Omar is a year ahead.

Here’s each players’ first full year in the majors:
 
Name
Year
Age
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Vince C.
1985
23
151
170
20
10
1
110
.267
.320
.335
Willie W.
1979
23
154
185
18
13
6
83
.315
.351
.420
Omar M.
1977
24
150
118
19
9
7
53
.240
.295
.358
 
Of the three, it was Wilson who had the most impressive first year in the majors, posting a solid batting line to go along with 83 stolen bases. Moreno, the best minor league hitter, struggled during his first full-time gig in the majors. Coleman splits the difference between ‘em.
 
Moving on to Year-2:
 
Name
Year
Age
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Vince
1986
24
154
139
13
8
0
107
.232
.301
.280
Willie
1980
24
161
230
28
15
3
79
.326
.357
.421
Omar
1978
25
155
121
15
7
2
71
.235
.339
.303
 
One step forward, two steps back. Willie Wilson, the best first-year full-timer, turned in an even better second season, posting a robust .326 batting average to go along with a lead-leading 133 runs scored, 230 hits, and 13 triples. He finished fourth in the AL MVP vote. This was the best season of Wilson’s career.
 
Vince and Omar each declined in their second year. Vince declined across the board, while Omar traded some of his power for an uptick in on-base percentage.
 
Onto Year-3:
 
Name
Year
Age
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Vince
1987
25
151
180
14
10
3
109
.289
.363
.358
Willie
1981
25
102
133
10
7
1
34
.303
.335
.364
Omar
1979
26
162
196
21
12
8
77
.282
.333
.381
 
 Vince and Omar bounced back. Actually, both Coleman and Moreno put together the best seasons of their careers here: while both players would remain good players, they never again reached this level of ability again. Omar Moreno would steal 96 bases in 1980, but that masked a poor .301 on-base percentage. Coleman led the NL in steals for the first six years of his career, but he was never a particularly great player. Neither was Omar Moreno.
 
Willie Wilson was, for four years, a great player. He tallied an impressive 8.5 rWAR in 1980, and had two years over 6.0. He wasn’t quite as great during the strike-shortened 1981 as he was in 1980, but he went on and won the batting title in 1982.
 
That was Wilson’s last great season….he had other productive years after 1982, but his best years were 1979-1982, when he was 23-26 years old. Like Omar and Vince, Wilson peaked early.
 
Which, getting back to Billy Hamilton, gives us at one pretty solid prediction about his career: whatever his peak is as a major league player, we’ll probably see it between 2014 and 2017. And the decline from that peak will happen quickly.
 
Also: he’s going to steal a lot of bases. That’s the other take-away. If you average those nine major league seasons of Moreno, Coleman, and Wilson (and give Wilson a few ticks for the strike year) you get an average of about 82 steals per year. It’s not only possible that Billy Hamilton, given a full year of playing time, will steal 80 bases…it’s likely. It’s very possible he’ll get to 100. 
 
My sense, having watched a few of Billy’s minor league at-bats, is that he’s probably closer to Coleman than to Moreno or Wilson: a true speed guy whose value will depend on his ability to make contact and show discipline at the plate, and play good defense. Willie Wilson was, at least for a few years, a terrific hitter; Moreno showed the potential to be a good hitter. I don’t think Billy Hamilton 2.0 has shown that ability yet. He certainly could, but I’m not holding my breath.
 
Which is fine. Actually, it’s great: Hamilton is the purest speed-first player since Coleman. To be successful in the major leagues, he has to be really good at the various components that can make use of that speed: getting on base, reading pitchers and catchers and defenses and balls-in-play when on base, and playing defense. Hamilton could do all that and be a 3+ win player for the Reds for a few seasons…that’s extremely valuable, and it’ll be really fun to watch.
 
And I might get to see my first 100+ stolen base season, which would be fantastic. Here’s my prediction for year one of the Hamilton Era:
 
Name
Year
Age
G
H
2B
3B
HR
SB
BA
OBP
SLG
Hamilton
2014
25
142
144
17
9
4
87
.267
.312
.344
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com. 
 
 

COMMENTS (10 Comments, most recent shown first)

DaveFleming
Using Gose or Dee Gordon as comparables to Hamilton is a stretch.

Viewed purely as hitters, they are certainly comparable to BH2, as are hundreds of minor leaguers. But Hamilton's abilities on the base paths put him in a different class.

Dee Gordon stole 53 bases in Double-A, in 73 attempts, a 73% success rate. Same level, playing a year younger, Hamilton stole 104 bases in 125 attempts, for an 83% success rate.

Gose and Dee Gordon are marginal major league players because having the ability to steal 50-60 bases at a 75% success rate just isn't enough to balance out a .275/.325/.350 slash-line.

Where Hamilton breaks from the pack is how much further he pushes that equation. Is the ability to steal 100-120 bases, at an 85% success rate enough to make up for a batting line of .275/.325/.350?
4:08 PM Sep 9th
 
Florko
Dee Gordon says Hi
11:25 AM Sep 9th
 
DaveFleming
On Anthony Gose...it's likely that Gose didn't get the same attention as a prospect because his minor league stolen base totals are about half of Hamilton's.

Gose stole 70 (in 85 attempts) in AA. That was his most impressive year, which is less than half of Hamilton's total at the same level (155 steals).

And Gose he struggled to maintain that success rate in Triple-A...in 208 games (2012-2013), Gose stole 56 bases, but was caught 25 times, a success rate a hair under 70%. Hamilton's been comfortably above 80% at every level he's played.

Gose might be fast; but being fast doesn't always translate to being a good baserunner (or a good outfielder). We're still waiting to see what kind of hitter/fielder Hamilton will be, but I'm convinced that he is, right now, an elite baserunner.

Anyone know what his defense has looked like in Louisville?
3:19 AM Sep 9th
 
chuck
This article over at Fangraphs on the play has a gif of the steal:
www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-obviousness-of-billy-hamilton/

A good throw likely has him out, but what's amazing to me every time I watch it is how fast Hamilton covers the last 10 to 15 feet before the bag. One moment he's about in a line where the ump is positioned, and the next split second he's at the bag, with a very clean, efficient slide.
4:32 PM Sep 8th
 
mbrown_84
Very interesting article. As a Toronto guy, I'm wondering why Anthony Gose never got the same anticipation. How much faster could Hamilton be then Gose. Gose might be the fastest player I've ever seen on the baseball diamond. For those who have seen their fair share of both players, please tell me, are their speeds at least on the same page??
8:42 AM Sep 8th
 
DaveFleming
A couple notes about Hamilton, which I should've added: he's a natural right-handed hitter, but the Reds are trying to develop him into a switch-hitter.

His 2013 AAA performance isn't too impressive, but it's worth remembering that a) he spent the year trying to learn how to play outfield, and b) he's still trying to figure out how to hit left-handed. By all accounts, he's got the defense part of the equation down, and it's a positive sign that his on-base percentage was better against right-handed pitchers than against lefties (.317 to .285).

I'd note, too, that Hamilton did improve over the second half of the minor league season:

Pre-AS Break: .243/.300/.331
Post-AS Break: .283/.324/.367

He's certainly not a hitter yet, but he doesn't need to actually hit: he just needs to make enough contact to get on base.
8:06 PM Sep 7th
 
jemanji
Thanks for the wit and wisdom Dave. :- )

Wasn't aware that Willie Wilson had that kind of impact in terms of Win Shares / WAR. That gives us the 30,000-foot view, that Hamilton has a target of 'franchise-type player' as opposed to 'overrated mediocre player.' A game-changing perspective, and you laid our your reasoning in very convincing fashion.

............

I was born in the '60's, and so recall Rickey's 130-base season pretty clearly ... it was pretty much a feel of 'Okay, he's on first now, he's going, and you'll be lucky to get him.' I recall some Mariner scrub walking Henderson and Dave Niehaus snarling, "You might as well put him over there on third base."

There have been SB kings who make the game look 'broken,' so to speak, and I hope Hamilton becomes one of those.

Great article!

-Jeff


5:37 PM Sep 7th
 
ventboys
OPS isn't a very useful thumbnail metric for obvious leadoff types; it overly punishes them for not having power when their batting order position virtually guarantees that they will bat with the bases empty over half the time unless their pitchers all hit like Babe Ruth. Hamilton will have a career if (1) Dusty likes his defense and (2) he can keep his onbase percentage high enough to avoid it from being bandied about in the media like Tebow's completion percentage.
2:53 PM Sep 7th
 
Florko
Hamilton cannot hit, he has a career .728 OPS in the minors including a sub.700 in AAA. If you cant hit in the minors you aint hitting in The League
9:08 AM Sep 7th
 
77royals
He didn't actually beat Molina's throw. The throw had Hamilton by a huge margin. The only issue was the throw was wide.

Wong had to go 10 feet towards 1st base to catch it, and dive back into for the tag, and Hamilton barely made it in.

Any kind of decent throw and he was out. I realize Hamilton's speed made Molina rush his throw somewhat, but to say he beat throw easily is not correct.
4:51 AM Sep 7th
 
 
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