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So You’re Thinking About Taking Billy Hamilton…

An extraordinarily polarizing player in drafts this year is Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton. Especially so in 5×5 and traditional leagues, where one could make the argument where Hamilton is almost a Babe Ruth-like talent.

Wait, what?

Well, it’s true. Sort of. Hamilton stole 88 bases between Triple-A and the majors last year. He swiped an ungodly 155 between three levels the year before that. In 2011, 103.

Last year, 12 teams stole over 100 bases, with just four over 120. Hamilton alone — in a best-case scenario, that is — could find himself on that list if the Reds let him run wild.

So while calling him a Ruthian talent is certainly hyperbolic, he’s the kind of talent that alone would easily win a category outright in those traditional style leagues.

Maybe *could* is a better word that would, though.

Hamilton hit well in his cup of coffee down the stretch with the Reds (.368/.429/.474), which lent itself to him running hog wild on the bases given the ample opportunity. Pinch running obviously skews things, but Hamilton stole 13 bases in just 22 plate attempts. That’d be a 355 stolen base pace (heh). But even regressing that to games played is still downright bonkers, as Hamilton swiped as many bags (13) as he had games played in the major leagues.

But where Hamilton’s risk comes into play is with the bat, where he’s coming off hitting just .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A, with a finally stable BABIP (.310 after years of .371 and .404), and just 28 extra-base hits in a full season’s worth of plate appearances.

And one obviously can’t scout the stat sheet, but there’s plenty of skepticism about whether or not Hamilton can hit in the big leagues.

Take a look at some of the things projected and said about Hamilton by smarter people than me (heh, again):

2014 Steamer Projection: .246/.301/.334 (.283 wOBA) | 67 SB
2014 Oliver Projection: .233/.278/.321 (.267 wOBA) | 64 SB
2014 ZiPS Projection: .264/.319/.362 (.302 wOBA) | 68 SB

“…his hit tool is not nearly as developed and he’ll likely continue to be overmatched at the Triple-A/MLB levels until he makes some further adjustments…Ideally, his bat could probably use another two to three months of seasoning in the minors…the offensive development will dictate if his contributions come from the starting lineup or from the bench” – Marc Hulet, Fangraphs, 2/6/14

“…struggles to put together quality at-bats; can get power hungry and try to lift balls he shouldn’t lift; game contact can play soft; would put a below-average future on hit tool without his speed…takes himself out of counts early and doesn’t drive the ball with consistency. If Hamilton can refine his approach, his speed would make him a destructive force at the front of lineup, an 80-100 stolen base threat and premium defender in center because of his pole-to-pole range.” – Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus, 2/3/14

“Rising strikeout and falling walk rates may cut into Hamilton’s ability to profile as a first-division leadoff man, but his speed alone will make him a weapon.” – Everett Merrill, Baseball America, 10/11/13

“…overall strength is a serious concern and Hamilton is unlikely to quite (sic) those doubters anytime soon…that lack of punch presents as 20 power without much projection for growth…in his stance, Hamilton has a slight double tap as his timing mechanism and I question how successful it will be for him in the long run. In eight-to-ten plate appearances from the left side, he failed to square up a baseball once and his inconsistent weight transfer led to a lack of consistency in his swing.” – Mike Newman, Fangraphs, 8/5/12

From reading these excerpts, this isn’t just a ‘he may not hit’ situation, but a significant worry about if he can handle not only big league pitching, but pitching in the upper minors even dating back to Newman’s report a year and a half ago.

Undeterred, prospective owners have still taken to paying massive prices to acquire Hamilton’s talents in fantasy drafts.

Here are some of the spots I’ve heard Hamilton going (draft spot/$ value) via quick crowdsourcing:

Round 6, Pick 108 overall – Fangraphs Mock (via Enosaurus)
Round 6, Pick 2 – KFFL Bad Fantasy Mock (15-teamer with industry leaders)
Round 5, 12-teamer – Mock Draft Army (via Howard Bender, who said he saw up to 53rd overall)
Round 4, Pick 40 – via @kali0116 on Twitter
44th overall, 20-team dynasty – via @mdthomp24
No. 33 – Rotographs consensus rankings

That’s some pretty insane average draft position, right? And now since I’ve completely buried the lede, here’s what’s up:

Draft Ben Revere instead.

First, here’s a peek at where Revere has gone in similar situations:

Round 14, Pick 239 overall – Fangraphs February Mock (via Enosaurus, 131 picks later!)
Round 15, Pick 173 – via @kali0116 on Twitter (11 rounds, 133 picks later than Hamilton!)
231st overall, 20-team dynasty – via @mdthomp24 (nearly 200 picks later!)
Round 11, Pick 13 – KFFL Bad Fantasy Mock (15-teamer with industry leaders)
No. 53- Rotographs consensus rankings

I’ll tell you why you should take Revere instead. First of all of course is the money involved. I saw that Hamilton went for $28 in the NL-only LABR auction, while Revere went for a much more palatable $19 (though still maybe too high for my tastes). In most drafts, Hamilton is going many, many rounds ahead of Revere, though both players represent a *somewhat* similar skill set.

Here’s the rub: Nobody knows how long the leash is on Hamilton, whose deficiencies will be magnified if he does in fact hit leadoff as expected. This is a team with a first time manager in Bryan Price. This is a team that allowed Shin-Soo Choo to play center all last year, so it would be no big loss for them to run Jay Bruce out there, if not Chris Heisey.

Revere, on the other hand, has full reign in center in Philly, with nobody but John Mayberry and Clete Thomas to push him for playing time.

Not only does Revere have insane wheels, but he is a contact machine — 92.4% career rate — whose only worry when it comes to stealing bases this year will be any potential ill effects felt from breaking his right foot last year. Personally, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.

Revere has already stolen 34 and 40 in a season, and swiped 22 last year. That comes out to a 162 game average of 45.4 steals.

So to me, it boils down to taking a ‘risk’ on 70-80 steals — keeping in mind that Hamilton could very well hurt you in home runs, average, and RBI which are all big OF-heavy stats — or taking a pretty safe bet in 40-plus steals, with a good batting average to boot.

Give me the two category guy. I’m holding out for Revere. Thoughts?