Jeff Sullivan wrote an enjoyable article over at FanGraphs this week, in which he described Billy Hamilton's season to date thusly:
Hamilton is a base-stealing dynamo. And he's a terrible hitter. He can't hit, but he does run, and when he's on the other side of things, he can play a mean center field. Which means, in a way, Billy Hamilton is something of a caricature. He's an exaggeration of a player type, which is exactly how he was advertised.
The article is well worth a read, because Hamilton is providing offensive value in a way that is both exceptionally strange and predictable. Like Jeff said, Hamilton's season thus far has been the embodiment of an archetype, the speed-and-defense player turned up to 11. The Y-Axis corresponds with fWAR and the x-axis is wRC+. See if you can spot the point that corresponds to Billy Hamilton in this chart!
I changed its color and put a picture of his face next to it, but I'm guessing you would've been fine without my help. For most players, wRC+ is a very large determinant of WAR, with a little variation around it from baserunning and defense. Clearly, Billy Hamilton is not most players.
I had an idea while reading Jeff's piece, and judging by the comments it was a fairly obvious one. Many players, when they get a hit, make it to second or third or home some percentage of the time, often because of the authority with which they made contact. Billy Hamilton, when he gets a hit, makes it to second or third or home some percentage of the time, almost always definitively not because of any contact authority, but due to his prodigious speed and baserunning ability.
What if we equated the two skillsets? What kind of player does that make Billy Hamilton?
The calculation is simple enough. Through Wednesday night's games, Hamilton has a .279 OBP and a .299 SLG, both bad marks by virtually any measure, a fact confirmed by his 59 wRC+. He also has 40 stolen bases, leading the league by approximately a million over second place (roughly estimated). If we change the slugging formula from (1*1B+2*2B+3*3B+4*HR)/AB to (1*1B+2*2B+3*3B+4*HR+1*SB)/AB, his slugging percentage increases by more than 50%, to .452.
Clearly, this ignores the impact of extra-base hits on runners on base in front of the batter, but that would invalidate the premise of this article, so I'm going to ignore it and never bring it up again.
Substituting Hamilton's adjusted slugging for his actual, are there any interesting player comps? Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, I looked for players this season with a) at least 200 PAs, b) a SLG of at least .440, and c) an OBP of no more than .290.
*Stolen bases added.
The best comp is probably Sal Perez, the only player in the above list to turn the lumbering power hitter profile into an above-average (or even above-replacement level) performance. His wRC+ being higher than Gattis' and Howard's has something to do with that, but this is more a function of his defensive value. If you hit for league-average offense, as is the case with a 'not-inept catcher', you are a valuable player.
Billy Hamilton plays a slightly less-premium defensive position, but has been a better center fielder than Perez has been a catcher in 2015, and so the overall effect is very much the same: average offense and excellent defense. He just gets to that offensive level with a completely different process than Perez.
This doesn't mean anything at all, but it's fun, so I wanted to do this same process for some of the other exemplary basestealing seasons throughout the ages.
What contemporary players do they compare to offensively, if we adjust their slugging percentage to include stolen bases?
|George Foster (1977)||.382||.631||165||8.9|
|Mike Schmidt (1980)||.380||.624||172||9.0|
|Rickey Henderson (1982)||.398||.625*||127||5.8|
*Rickey Henderson (1982) -- 130 SB, .382 SLG
|Bob Robertson (1970)||.367||.564||145||4.2|
|Johnny Bench (1970)||.345||.587||144||7.9|
|Jim Spencer (1979)||.367||.593||151||2.3|
|Lou Brock (1974)||.368||.567*||108||3.0|
*Lou Brock (1974) -- 118 SB, .381 SLG
|Ron Kittle (1983)||.314||.504||118||2.0|
|Dave Kingman (1984)||.321||.505||126||2.4|
|Bobby Bonilla (1990)||.322||.518||127||3.8|
|Vince Coleman (1985)||.320||.508*||88||2.6|
*Vince Coleman (1985) -- 110 SB, .335 SLG
|Jack Clements (1895)||.446||.612||160||4.3|
|Sam Thompson (1895)||.430||.654||162||6.3|
|Ed Delahanty (1896)||.472||.631||177||7.7|
|Billy Hamilton (1891)||.453||.632*||150||7.2|
*Billy Hamilton (1891) -- 111 SB, .421 SLG
Again, this is an academic exercise, but dang, there are some great comps in the above tables.
Billy Hamilton is fun to watch, for the same reason Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman and Lou Brock and (presumably) the other Billy Hamilton were fun to watch: the way this type of player produces offensive value is extremely singular and exciting. That the end result is basically the same as almost the exact opposite type of player makes them even more fun.
. . .
Henry Druschel is a lumbering Contributor with no particular skillset at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.