The Run of Billy Hamilton
Tuesday night Billy Hamilton saw his first Major League action. He came in as a pinch runner after Ryan Ludwick singled in the bottom of the 7th inning of the Reds game against the Cardinals. That set up a tantalizing matchup. Billy Hamilton on first base with the best defensive catcher in the league, Yadier Molina, behind the plate. Cardinals reliever Seth Maness fired the ball over to first to try to keep Hamilton close to the bag, but when he delivered the ball to home plate, Hamilton took off. He got a good jump and Molina needed to hurry his throw. It wasn’t a terrible throw (just a little on the first base side), but Hamilton was safe easily. In there for the first stolen base of his career. Molina had quite a grin on his face after Hamilton swiped second.
Todd Frazier was up next and he came up trying to bunt Hamilton over to third, but racked up 2 strikes on foul bunts. Finally he took the bat back and slapped a double down the third base line. Hamilton crossed home plate for the first time in his Major League career, scoring from second base right about the time Matt Holliday was picking up the ball. Hamilton’s long strides look so smooth and effortless.
All of this came in a 0-0 tie ballgame between 2 teams that are 1.5 games apart in the standings. Will Billy Hamilton’s speed have an effect on the National playoff race? Absolutely. It already has. He scored the only run in the game. And he scored the run because he is so damn fast. Watching Hamilton handle his business on the base paths can really get a guy excited about having his legs in the lineup every day. The question still remains, does his bat have enough in it to enable the Reds to fully utilize his legs?
This season, his first tastes of AAA saw his OBP fall from .410 (combined between A+ and AA) to .308. That’s not very good at all. With that drop in OBP, his stolen base totals fell as well. In 2012 he stole a total of 155 bases and this year he only managed 75 (for those not mathematically inclined that’s less than half). It would stand to reason that Hamilton’s OBP will dip as he makes the transition to the majors. What will his OBP drop to? .275? .250? If Hamilton gets on base 25% of the time and he maintains the 82% success rate that he had in the minors, the maximum stolen base total in a season of 600 at bats (which would be generous for his offensive skill set) would be 123 stolen bases. That’s having him steal 1 base per time on base and sending him every time. Of course that won’t happen. Undoubtedly he’ll get on base with someone on the base ahead of him, or the batter will swing at the first pitch and put the ball into play. A realistic high side, in my estimation, would sit somewhere in the 75 stolen base range. That’s the high side. The last player to surpass 75 stolen bases in a season was Jose Reyes (78) in 2007. The last player to go over 100 stolen bases in a season was Vince Coleman in 1987. That year, Coleman had a career high OBP of .363. If Billy Hamilton could muster a .363 OBP, I think the safe bet would be that he would eclipse 100 stolen bases. I just don’t believe that he has an OBP over .333 in his career.
I do think Hamilton has value right now to the Reds and to fantasy owners, but I think as time goes by, his value will decrease and decrease as people find out ways to exploit his bat and keep him off the base paths. If you own him in a keeper or a dynasty league, I would recommend holding on to him this season and use his success at the major league level in a small sample size to flip him for something else your team needs.