Billy Hamilton’s Potential Fantasy Value

The Reds’ Billy Hamilton has been one of the biggest stories of the minor league season this year. You are probably well aware by now that the 21-year old broke Vince Coleman‘s minor league stolen base record of 145 set in 1983. The Reds front office has obviously been paying attention and are considering calling him up when rosters expand on Saturday. Talking about Hamilton, GM Walt Jocketty said:

“We obviously are having very serious discussions about it. “I don’t think he’s ready to play at this level but he certainly could run the bases.”

With rookie Zack Cozart playing decently as the everyday shortstop, having posted 2.4 WAR, Hamilton would be used exclusively as a pinch runner if promoted. As a result, it makes little sense to analyze his overall offensive abilities since it’s conceivable that he receives nary an at-bat. So if Hamilton is indeed called up, will he actually generate any fantasy value?

For as long as I have played fantasy baseball, I cannot remember ever having to seriously consider whether a pinch runner was worthy of a pick up in fantasy leagues. As just a pinch runner, Hamilton only has the opportunity to contribute in stolen bases and runs scored. Since batting average is a ratio category, he wouldn’t actually hurt your team, but of course the 0 home runs and runs batted in would.

Every pre-season, I spend hours of my life projecting players and then plugging those numbers into my valuation spreadsheet to use for my 12-team mixed league auction draft. Out of curiosity, I typed in some possibilities for Hamilton had he been used exclusively as a pinch runner all season and having never earned even one at-bat.

As a pinch runner, you have to figure that he would get into nearly every game. To be conservative, let’s just say 155 of the 162 games. Using the stolen base opportunity (SBO) percent formula ([SB + CS] / [BB + Singles]), which provides a rough approximation of how often a base-runner attempts a stolen base, Hamilton posted a 92.5% mark this season in the minors, which is insanely ridiculous. That basically means that he attempted a steal nearly every time he had an opportunity to do so.

Since we know that he would be used in situations that would likely lend itself to a steal attempt, let’s assume a 90% SBO. With 155 pinch running opportunities (assume no extra innings games and chances of getting on base later in the game after an at-bat), a 90% SBO yields about 140 stolen base attempts. In the minors this year, has has stolen 149 bases in 185 attempts, for about an 81% success rate. If we assume that declines a bit to 78%, we are left with 109 steals.

For runs scored, you have to figure he will get himself into scoring position the majority of the time, so he should score a run a high percentage of the time that he pinch runs. I have no benchmark to use to help me project, but let’s assume 60% of the time, since the Reds have an excellent offense. That results in about 65 runs.

So we now have a projection of 109 steals and 65 runs, along with no homers or RBIs and no effect on batting average. Since a replacement level shortstop is typically expected to hurt you in average, Hamilton’s zero at-bats actually earns some slight positive value. As expected, the lack of any home runs and RBIs reduce his value by about $19. The runs scored are also a bit below average, so there’s another $2 lost. So far before the steals, we’re left with a player worth about -$19, which is no surprise.

The steals are worth gargantuan value though. Based on a replacement level at middle infield of 10 steals, my spreadsheet values 109 of them at a whopping $38.50. That means that he actually earns positive value when you look at his overall stat line, and significant value at that. All together, he earns nearly $20 over a full season! Now I will admit, other valuation formulas will likely value this stat line a bit differently, especially given how crazy it is. Just like Aroldis Chapman broke FIP when he posted a negative mark in July, sometimes these valuation formulas don’t produce accurate results when your statistical inputs are wacky.

So while we shouldn’t take his $20 full season value as gospel, it seems clear to me that he would earn positive value in 12-team mixed leagues even if used exclusively as a pinch runner all season. Of course, he is the ultimate context dependent player. Obviously, if you have nowhere to move in steals, whether you are sitting at the top or far back at the bottom, then he’s not the man for your SS or MI slot. But, if you can gain a couple of points in steals and would be replacing a near replacement level hitter, then he should certainly be snagged from the free agent pool.




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


10 Responses to “Billy Hamilton’s Potential Fantasy Value”

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  1. Simon says:

    I can’t see him playing in 155 games. He isn’t going to get involved in blowouts one way or the other for starters. Also, you have to have a suitable defensive replacement on hand (maybe less of an issue after rosters expand) and have a baserunner late on in a spot where a stolen base adds significant value. I mean, he might come into a game where the Reds are trailing by 2 in the bottom of the ninth and get a runner on, but stealing a base there is of little value. In short, I think you’re significantly overestimating how often he’s used, and how often he steals.

    What might be more useful would be to look at how contenders have used pinch runners in September previously. While Hamilton may be somewhat faster than previous examples, he’s not a unique type of player.

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    • Matt Hunter says:

      Agreed. 155 games seems like a very generous projection for a pinch runner. What if no one gets on base in the late innings? What if there are runners ahead of him? What if they’re up 6 runs? Down 6 runs? Yeah, he’s an electric base stealer, but as a pinch runner, he’s probably only going to come in the game in the 6th inning or later, and only if the game is close, and there are opportunities for him to steal. Personally, I’d be surprised if he came into more than half of the games as a pinch runner. Or, at least, came in the game with an opportunity to steal.

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    • You may very well be right and my projection was probably best case scenario. What I should have included in the article, but did not, is the minimum he would have to steal to earn value. According to my spreadsheet, 68 steals and 41 runs would earn him about a dollar. Anything lower than that combination would result in a replacement level player or generate negative value. I think those projections are more than reasonable in a pinch running role, especially since I ignored the fact that he could also steal 3rd, for 2 steals in one game.

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  2. Corey says:

    How are you projecting out fantasy value and dollar-fantasy value? I’ve been interested in something like that, but I have no sense of how one might begin to calculate that out. Is there a past post where you’ve explored this?

    This is interesting in general just as a fantasy baseball nerd, and as a reader to assess the validity of everything you just vote. How are you getting a dollar value per steal? For ratio categories how do you handle the at bat issue? Just how much is a .300 hitter over 500 ABs worth if he provides negligible home runs and stolen bases? Say a John Olerud or Andre Ethier. I know I would want John Olerud in real baseball, but would I rather have John Olerud/Andre Ethier at a common price than say Drew Stubbs who has the opposite effect of screwing up batting average but getting lots of steals?

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    • There are various methods used to calculate fantasy values. I use the one that was developed by Todd Zola (Mastersball.com) like 10 years ago, which may have been updated since. It’s based on comparing a player’s stats to replacement level at each position, and only paying for the production you get above and beyond what’s freely available. So not too different than the concept of WAR.

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  3. Billy Bob Thorton says:

    you don’t take into account him stealing second and then third? which is probably going to happen quite a few times.

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  4. Steve says:

    For keeper leagues, what sort of role/numbers/value do you expect for next year? Seems too late for him to learn OF at a ML level, which means he probably won’t be up to start the year even if he’s otherwise “ready”, right?

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  5. Simmy says:

    My fantasy partner and I had a very similar discussion about Tony Campana earlier this year – we play in a 10 team 5 by 5 NL only and were wondering what is the true value of a pure pinch runner, and like people here have mentioned, concluded that pinch runners don’t attempt enough steals to carry enough value.

    If you want your pinch runner to steal a base, as a fantasy owner, you have to hope for a million things. You need the right stealing situation which involves a combination of score/”baseball ethics”, the right base (come in for a man on first to steal 2nd), a righty when your guy is on first, a lefty when your guy is on 2nd, an opposing manager who doesnt like to pitch out etc –

    And even then, even if the guy’s team is down 1-0 with a man on first and 2 out in the 9th against a righty and your guy comes in to pinch run to try and get in scoring position, the first pitch by the pitcher might be hit, or even if it is taken, it might hit the batter, ruining everything. Or a wild pitch putting him on 2nd, or throwing over and throwing it away for an error – those aren’t steals.

    Would love to see some fangraphs analysis on it though.

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  6. Kevin says:

    I’d agree that the games played is to high. A good comparision would be to look at the 1970′s Oakland A’s teams that utilized pinch runners. The most famous, Herb Washington (who was a world class sprinter) got into 92 games as a pinch runner for the 1974 A’s. He attempted 45 SB’s (29 SB, 16 CS) and scored 29 runs.

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