In four full major league seasons, Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton has stolen 56, 57, 58 and 59 bases. So 60 is the next frontier, if only he could get on base more (.299 OBP in 2017, .298 OBP for his career). He’s also on an upward trend in runs scored, with a career-high 85 last year.
But outside of a not overly helpful, but not going to hurt that bad .260 batting average in 2016, Hamilton has not offered anything to fantasy baseball owners beyond two categories.
Most of Hamilton’s 2017 plate appearances came in the leadoff spot (628 of 633). For his major league career, over 75 percent of his plate appearances have been as the leadoff man for the Reds.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, Reds manager Bryan Price would not commit to Hamilton hitting leadoff.
“Coming into camp, we’re trying to define where the best place is for him to hit. It’s probably multiple spots in the lineup, based on whether it’s a left- or right-hander starter and who’s in the lineup on any given day”
Other than speed, Hamilton does leave a lot to be desired as a leadoff guy. He strikes out too much (21 percent strikeout rate last year), doesn’t walk nearly enough (seven percent in 2017) and quite frankly he hits the ball in the air too much (30.6 fly ball rate in 2017) for the amount of “hard” contact he makes (16 percent last year).
A .264 BABIP led to a .226 batting average for Hamilton in 2015. But he has a .329 and .313 BABIP in the last two seasons respectively, with notable differences in “hard” contact rate (16 percent in 2017; 19.1 percent in 2016) and infield fly ball rate (12.1 percent in 2017; 9.8 percent in 2016) between 2016 and 2017.
Even an occasional drop in the batting order, perhaps to the lower-third of the lineup, would decrease Hamilton’s plate appearances and thus his volume of opportunities to get on base (even if he struggles to do so 30 percent of the time). Over the last three seasons he has a stolen base success rate close to 86 percent (174 for 203), and he scored a run 44 percent of the time he reached base last season.
Hamilton is still at the high end, and elite in these times, in one fantasy category (stolen bases) and pretty good in another (runs) as long as he’s healthy and in the lineup. But volume helped drive both of those contributions in 2017.
If Hamilton starts the season out of the leadoff spot, or moves out of it regularly throughout the season, 600 plate appearances will be a tough mark to reach. The possibility to crack 60 steals and score 90-100 runs will go away too.
Without a respectable batting average, and even with good volume of steals and runs, Hamilton is barely a starting fantasy outfielder in mixed leagues. But you wouldn’t know that by his current ADP, which has him as the 71st overall pick and OF22 (Fantasy Pros.com). I’d rather have Andrew McCutchen (OF25, 75th overall pick), Lorenzo Cain (OF26, 84th overall pick) or Yasiel Puig (OF30, 111th overall pick).
Billy Hamilton 2018 Projection: .253/.310/.340 slash-line, 6 home runs, 35 RBI, 55 stolen bases, 75 runs scored