Billy Burns and Hamilton Share a Thing Besides a Name

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 BlevinsBilly 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:

Name Org Level G SB CS SBR
Billy Burns Nationals A+, AA 121 74 7 12.1
Freddy Guzman Mexican AAA 99 73 9 11.1
Terrance Gore Royals A 128 68 8 10.5
Billy Hamilton Reds AAA 123 75 15 9.2
Travis Jankowski Padres A+ 122 71 14 8.8
Michael Taylor Nationals A+ 133 51 7 7.5
Jesus Galindo Giants A 89 48 6 7.3
Jose Peraza Braves A+ 114 64 15 7.0
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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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

18 Responses to “Billy Burns and Hamilton Share a Thing Besides a Name”

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  1. j6takish says:

    Billy Burns is the best possible name for a player with this skill set

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    • Will says:

      I dunno, ‘Billy Hamilton’ is pretty awesome too.

      After all, Billy Hamilton is following his namesake, the late Billy Hamilton, who was one of only 12 players in the history of baseball to steal more than 100 bases in a season- Billy Hamilton did it three times, more than any other player (Henderson and Coleman also stole 100+ three times, but Hamilton wins the tiebreaker because he also stole 98 and 97 bases in other significantly shortened seasons, while Coleman and Henderson never again came very close to 100).

      What are the odds that two people with the exact same name from different centuries turn out to be one of the best at an extremely niche aspect of this game?

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  2. cass says:

    I was looking forward to seeing a true speedster here in Washington, so I’m a little disappointed. But I recognize that a lefty in the pen next year is more likely to increase the Nats chance of success next year.

    Hopefully saving money here allows the Nats to sign a good backup catcher and another good bench player or two. And increases the chances of extending the contracts of Zimmermann and Desmond in the short term and Strasburg and Harper in the long term.

    But I was hoping to seeing Hamilton and Burns go head-to-head in a couple years. Alas, they’re now in different leagues.

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  3. Dave says:

    This analysis doesn’t even take into account that Burns has a much lower strikeout rate and better plate discipline, thus allowing him a better chance to maximize his premier skill. Then again, Burns may hit the wall at AAA as Hamilton did last year.

    As far as speed, though, Burns is ridiculously fast, but Hamilton is the Flash. Hamilton stole 155 bases at the same levels that Burns stole 74 at last year.

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  4. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    You may run like Hamilton, but you hit like shit.

    Actually that isn’t true, but Lou Brown died somewhat recently and I wanted to quote it. Burns is a pretty intriguing prospect to say the least. He obviously should be able to hack it at some point in the not too distant future as at least a 4th OF, but if he can progress without his BB and K ratios completely diminishing he has a shot at being a pretty darn good MLB player.

    I imagine it will be harder for him as he faces pitchers that have the ability to consistently challenge him without fear of getting hurt in any meaningful way (he appears to be no threat to hit even a double), but there is still some room for erosion and him to still be quite good.

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    • Iron says:

      Burns had a 14.5% walk rate. Hamilton’s walk rate went from 16.9% to 6.9% from AA to AAA. I think you underestimate the erosion as pitchers who can throw strikes, throw them at Burns. A lot.

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      • Dave says:

        That 16.9% walk rate in AA was easily a career high in a relatively small sample size though; Hamilton’s walk rates were much more modest at other stops – his career mark before reaching AA was 9.4%

        Burns has had a relatively consistent walk rate of 12.9% in his career, and his strikeout rate is barely more than HALF of Hamilton’s, giving him a better chance once those pitchers start throwing all those strikes.

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      • Professor Ross Eforp says:

        Look at Michael Bourn’s walk and k rates. He has a 20.6% career K rate and an 8.5% career walk rate. He was striking out at nearly that rate in the minors. Hamilton had what I think we can all agree was probably a low BABIP for him at 0.310 in AAA.

        I’m not signing any of these guys up for the HoF (and don’t get me wrong, I understand that the majority of Bourn’s value comes from defense), but there is a path to being successful major league players with these types of skills.

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        • bjoak says:

          Hamilton’s BABIP is pulled down by his LD% and IF% actually. Both have been consistently poor. While speedsters frequently have higher BABIPs that is not a hard rule.

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      • Iron says:

        Good points, all.

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  5. I always like players whose names are also sentences.

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  6. AK7007 says:

    “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.”

    Why is Cameron trying to stop you from writing about transactions again? Awesome stuff.

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