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.