Sabermatrician after sabermatrician insists that Billy Hamilton just isn't going to be any good this year. They point to the relative uselessness of the stolen base, Hamilton's pedestrian numbers in AAA last season, and even discuss his tiny frame and inability to find any power in a rail-thin 6'1" 150 lb. body.
Thank God sabermatricians don't know everything. Yet.
This is not to poo-poo their contributions to the game we love. Far from it. Saber-heads have given us all new avenues with which to study the great National Pastime and any new way to argue baseball with other knowledgeable fan is A-okay in my book.
However, most in the saber community can't seem to wrap their mathematical heads around a couple fairly simple concepts.
Hamilton is THE speed outlier
Billy Hamilton isn't just fast. He's the fastest. If others are 80's on the speed scale, he breaks the scale while screaming, "Hulk smash puny scale!" His 3.7 time to 1B (and typical 3.8) is truly a weapon no one else has. While that means he will have an advantage when hitting, it's the 3.1 seconds to 2B on a steal attempts and the resultant deeper meaning of that time that should be of interest here.
Yes, his straight speed means a ton of stolen base attempts and that both pitcher and catcher will have to be nearly perfect when throwing him out. It also gives Hamilton the green light for taking the extra base. This is where his value will perhaps most acutely be felt. Any single to the outfield will scores him from second base. Almost any grounder will score him from 3B. Almost any fly ball to the OF will score him from 3B.
Add his triple digit stolen base viability to his aggressiveness on the basepaths, and you've got a recipe for a player that could challenge the highest recorded total of the BsR component in the WAR calculation. Which brings us to our second point.
Projecting a rabbit
Season projections have been around, I would imagine, since at least the Federal League. But Tom Tango and his cohorts have only been doing this (admittedly exceptional) work since the 90's. They began in the middle of the PED, chicks-dig-homers era. As a result, their ideas on stolen bases and the validity/ importance of said base gaining are limited to one era of offensive dominance.
That era is changing. Pitchers are catching up to hitters. There are more hurlers now capable of throwing triple digits than ever before-- by a significant margin. Streamlined mechanics and coddled young arms have resulted in a starting pitcher that can throw mid-to-high 90's on every staff in baseball. Every prospective Top Ten, it seems, has at least one guy who pitches in the high 90's. On MLB's Top 100 prospects, 24 prospective arms can dial it up to at least the mid-90's consistently.
That's the evolution of the sport, after all. And of humanity in general.
As a result of the pendulum moving back toward the pitcher, taking bases will be of greater value. Not only that, because of the saber community, we know the value of taking extra bases on base hits. Hamilton, because of his outlier speed and aggressiveness (and high baseball IQ) both in stealing and in taking extra bases, will be able to put up a monstrous number in BsR. In fact, he should shatter the previous record BsR-- a 15.7 (1.6 wins above replacement) held by Vince Coleman.
I don't say this lightly. However, I know that BsR numbers-- and all those before the mid 1990's-- only counted stealing bases, not taking the extra base (or two) on another's hit. If Hamilton has proven anything at this point, it's that he's more than willing to do just that.
His BsR number from last season's brief 22-AB, 13-game audition was an astronomical 2.7. While that's obviously a small, small sample size, it does show Hamilton's unique skill set as a runner. It would be foolhardy to simply multiply that number per ABs in a season (700) or games played (160) and assume the youngster from Mississippi would earn over three wins just from his ability to take an extra base (or 200).
However, he could very well be the first person since Coleman to use speed and aggressiveness as an offensive weapon to this extent. Hamilton can, I think, be counted on to earn at least 1.5 wins from his legs offensively. That number is crazy-high, but absolutely within the realm of possibility.
Home on the Range
Speed isn't simply an offensive number. It's also a major factor for defense. And Hamilton's defense-- in his one season as a CF-- grades out among the most elite in baseball over the past 50 years.
His range factor per game was a ridiculous 2.89. Just to put that in perspective, last season's best defensive OF (and leader in Range Factor/ Game) was Carlos Gomez, at 2.7 and change. You have to go back to 2010 to have a major league CF beat that mark.
And that was his first season as a CF. He should improve. Not only that, he also showed an underrated arm, throwing out 8 would-be runners on OF assists. This tied for second in the league.
If you assume a slight improvement due to position familiarity-- let's say a .984 fielding percentage-- and a similar range factor in the majors, Hamilton should, then, profile as pretty close to the 2013 version of Colby Rasmus. That would put another 1.3 - 1.5 WAR in his seasonal pocketbook.
That means Hamilton begins the season with around 3.0 WAR on the plus side before even picking up a bat. That's around five wins more than Shin-Soo Choo gave the Redlegs last season in the same two categories.
The question then becomes, obviously, what about the bat? Last season's AAA numbers weren't good. And many point to those numbers as proof that Hamilton's not-ready-for-prime-time offense. What they conveniently leave out of the equation, of course, are his excellent numbers before that.
If you simply average his AA, AAA, and major league numbers together, you should get a clearer report of his offensive game. And that player looks very promising, to the tune of .265/ .335/ .365. These numbers assume a great deal-- that Hamilton will fare similarly at the major league level, chief among them. However, there are a variety of reasons why we use this as a baseline instead of simply his AAA numbers (ie, the position switch, the continuing work of learning how to switch-hit, the focus on bunting handed down from the Cincinnati front office, a larger upper minors and major league sample size, etc.).
That line-- .265/ .335/ .365-- doesn't, at first blush, look like anything special. It's only worth around 1.0 WAR and an OPS+ of approximately 90. Add that to his 3.0 WAR from his glove and legs and, suddenly, Hamilton is a 4.0 WAR player.
And, while that may not equal Choo's fine 5.2 WAR from a season ago, it's at least a far cry from what the projections have to say.