While managing editor Dave Cameron will typically find any manner of excuse to dissuade the present author from providing transaction analysis to these hallowed and electronic pages, he’s made an exception in the particular case of the Jerry Blevins–Billy Burns trade, it appears, between Oakland and Washington, on account of the latter of those players is one upon whom I’ve waxed enthusiastic already.
Specifically, he’s suggested that I consider the similarities/differences between the very swift Burns and also very swift Billy Hamilton. Because he’s capable of firing me — and because I’m clearly not doing anything more productive for this minute — that’s precisely what I’ll do.
The differences between Billys Burns and Hamilton are, in fact, immediate — at least so far are their respective draft pedigrees and prospect statuses are concerned. Hamilton was selected in the second round out of a Mississippi high school; Burns, the 32nd round out of college which appears to have produced three major leaguers ever. Furthermore, one finds that Billy Hamilton has been ubiquitous among industry prospect lists — ranking 65th, 43rd, and 30th, for example, on Marc Hulet’s last three top-100 lists and 50th, 48th, and 20th on the last three of Baseball America’s. Burns has been absent from all six of those respective lists. By how much, one doesn’t know. But given that he’s also been absent from recent organizational lists, one assumes by more than a bit.
“Why is this even a thing, then?” one might reasonably ask. Largely owing to the following table, is why — a similar version of which appeared in mid-November in a post attempting to identify the best minor-league basestealer. What it features is the top-10 minor-leaguer players by stolen-base runs, calculated by applying the linear-weight run values of a stolen base and caught stealing to the relevant totals of every minor-league player. There are a number of caveats to make regarding such an exercise — like how the run environments of each minor league are likely to differ from the present major-league one, and how the minor leagues exist predominantly for developmental purposes. Still, the methodology isn’t entirely unreasonable.
Here’s that table, then:
|Billy Burns||Nationals||A+, AA||121||74||7||12.1|
|Micah Johnson||White Sox||A, A+, AA||137||87||27||7.0|
|Mookie Betts||Red Sox||A, A+||143||46||6||6.9|
Above the celebrated Billy Hamilton, one finds only three other players: one of them a 22-year-old in Class A; another, a 32-year-old in the Mexican League. Above both of those players, however, is Burns.
That any minor leaguer — especially one at an age-appropriate level — would dare to outperform Hamilton by a baserunning measurement is a form of sacrilege, surely. This is, of course, the same player to whom Jeff Sullivan alone dedicated no fewer than three September posts following Hamilton’s promotion. This is the same player to whose speed prospect analysts have written lengthy and effusive paeans.
Merely outperforming Hamilton by one metric in one season isn’t, of course, the same thing as possessing objectively better speed or baserunning skills — nor is it my intention to suggest here that Burns is likely to record better major-league baserunning numbers. If we’re in the habit, though, of adjusting certain performances by park or era, then perhaps it’s also possible to adjust a prospect’s skills for the magnitude of attention said prospect has received. Hamilton’s “raw” demonstration of speed has probably surpassed Burns’s. The attention his baserunning exploits have received, however, relative to Burns’s probably isn’t representative of the actual gap that exists between those two players.
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