Billy Hamilton and His Undiscovered Value

We all know Billy Hamilton’s hitting stinks. In fact, since debuting in 2013, Hamilton’s wRC+ of 68 ranks as the 14th-worst among active, qualified hitters. His pre-2019 All-Star Break slash-line of .217/.284/.271 has done nothing more than hurt his cause. All told, since the start of his career, Hamilton has contributed a whopping -58.3 runs offensively.

Notably, however, among all of the cellar-dwelling hitters at the bottom of the offensive table, Hamilton’s 10.3 fWAR since 2013 ranks as the highest among the 75 lowest in wRC+. His 62.2 defensive runs contributed above average, in addition to his absurd 58.7 BsR, provides pretty much the entirety of Hamilton’s value.

To optimize Hamilton’s positive output, it would then make sense to limit his time hitting while simultaneously maximizing his baserunning and fielding opportunities. So here’s my proposal:

Given his weak career on-base numbers, when starting, Hamilton reaches base approximately once per game. Given this, if the Royals were to pinch-run Billy once every nine innings for a hypothetical average-running outfield replacement, Hamilton would contribute close to the same BsR as he does in a normal season, about 10.0.* This alone would be good for almost an entire WAR.

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After running for whichever outfielder reaches base in the late innings, Hamilton would then serve as a defensive replacement for the remainder of the game. Suppose, for example, Billy pinch-runs in the eighth inning. He would then field for a solid one or two innings (depending on home vs. away) while likely not coming up to the plate having just subbed for the previous hitter. Assuming Hamilton enters in this manner roughly every other game, his annual defensive runs contributed would ultimately equate to around 0.9. That’s not much, but it’s still significant given he’s only fielding about one-twelfth of the time.

In total, if my proposal were to come to fruition, Hamilton’s net runs contributed above average would end up a hair below 11.0, alone producing a net WAR close to 1.1 annually. Compared to his current 2019 pre-ASG fWAR of 0.4, this immediate improvement could be significant. Not to mention, the Royals, or whoever employs Hamilton post-July 31st, would still enjoy the additional WAR from the hitting of their starting outfielders.

Below is a chart with what Hamilton’s value would look like if he was played regularly versus sparingly. Note that “selective fWAR” accounts for Hamilton’s numbers if used only in my proposed approach. “Alternate fWAR” takes the offensive stats of the median-producing outfielder from the past few years and displays his fWAR from hitting and seven innings of fielding and running. “Hypothetical Total” sums Hamilton’s “selective fWAR” and the output of this average outfielder, essentially outlining the predicted results of my proposed experiment:

Utilizing Billy Hamilton
Year Hamilton’s fWAR Selective fWAR Alternate fWAR Hypothetical Total
2014: 2.7 1.0 1.45 2.45
2015: 1.2 1.5 1.45 2.95
2016: 2.9 1.5 1.45 2.95
2017: 1.2 1.1 1.45 2.55
2018: 1.3 1.0 1.45 2.45
2019: 0.4 0.5 0.80 1.30
Average: 1.75 1.19 1.45 2.64
SOURCE: FanGraphs

As you can see, if Hamilton is used sparingly, entering into only fielding and running opportunities, his team could add almost an entire WAR to their lineup, good for (well) over $6 million in value.

With Hamilton currently playing on a one-year, $5.25-million contract (with a club option for 2020), if an opposing team were to recognize this exploitability, an affordable asset could be had for a buy-low price. Even an outfield-stacked contender could find a major role for Hamilton, one that could very well prove consequential in September and/or October.

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*Hamilton’s BsR would likely end up slightly less than his actual regular-season average since his wGDP advantage would be taken away assuming he does not bat.

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CarmenC
Member

I remember travis sawchik brought this idea to his attention a little while back and Hamilton laughed it off. But if you are going to play him it’s a great way to leverage his prodigious speed. Great work!

Kevbot034
Member
Kevbot034

That was a great article! One of my favorites from this site, actually.

jacob2
Member
jacob2

So the ideal team is one with regulars in their outfield who are good enough overall to be worth starting over Hamilton, but ideally probably relatively poor baserunners. The fielding, it seems, is not so important but obviously there are a small handful of outfielders whose defense might be a tick better than Hamilton’s.

j520
Member
j520

Zach- what would you say to a team using this strategy a little earlier. Say enter him in the 5th or 6th so you get more defensive value. He would have to come to the plate, but only likely one time. Especially in a low scoring October game, this could make a difference. How would that affect the numbers?

Another alternative would be use him a pinch hitter in a situation that could use a sac bunt. He is good at bunting if I’m not mistaken?

AndersNiggelson
Member
AndersNiggelson

Very nice article – thanks!

I have a question regarding the point brought up at the end with the asterisk:
My understanding is that by not batting at all Hamilton loses some base running value because he won’t create less grounded double-play outs than an average base runner?

Absolutely makes sense, but I did not know that this skill was not a batting but rather a running skill – if that makes sense. Have a good day!

Broken Bat
Member
Broken Bat

Travis do you have a new pen name?n

matt55
Member
matt55

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