Billy Hamilton is an explosively exciting player. Despite an anemic bat that isn’t going to get any better, he is one of Major League Baseball’s best baserunners and outfield defenders. It is for that reason that the Kansas City Royals—huge proponents of the ‘speed and defense’ method of team construction, a method which won them a championship—signed Hamilton to a one-year, $5.25 million deal yesterday.
It’s easy to see why the Royals, one of the huge proponents of ‘speed and defense’ team construction, would be interested in Hamilton. For years, they happily employed Jarrod Dyson, a similarly light-hitting outfielder with a Sonic the Hedgehog-esque hunger for running fast. And at the 2018 trade deadline, Kansas City traded for Brett Phillips, the offensively-challenged defensive wunderkind.
Furthermore, Hamilton has been pretty good in his MLB career. Between 2014 and 2018, Hamilton generated 9.4 WAR per Fangraphs and 7.5 WAR per Baseball-Reference. In other words, he’s basically been a league average player by raw production on a per-game basis. His baserunning has been nothing short of extraordinary. Here’s a video proving just that by showing each one of his 59 (!) stolen bases in 2017.
As you might imagine, his defense is pretty spot-on as well, as you can see with the following catch. Just look at those legs churn! Look at that dive! Look how far he ranges to left field!
Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of Billy Hamilton. Indeed, as GM of the Seattle Mariners in the 2018 SB Nation MLB Offseason Simulation, I acquired him for a pair of mediocre Triple-A relievers for the purpose of significantly improving Seattle’s less-than-stellar outfield defense.
However much I love Hamilton, though, he just doesn’t fit with the 2019 Royals. Hamilton fits a really good role as a fourth outfielder on a contending team, a pinch runner a la Terrance Gore or a defensive substitute a la Jarrod Dyson. In a pinch, he can fit a larger role in an outfield that desperately needs a defensive anchor of some sort—like my shadow Mariners in the simulation (unlike real life Seattle, I was attempting to contend in 2019). That is very much unlike the 2019 Royals.
There’s a reason why Hamilton was even available at all: his faults are severe. In his five seasons outside his 2013 September cup of coffee, Hamilton has posted an on base percentage of .300 once. Hamilton has 21 home runs—career home runs. Let’s just stop dancing around it: dude can’t hit. He’s never been able to hit. At age-28 and with 2736 plate appearances under his belt and skillset, he won’t suddenly learn to hit. Just not gonna happen.
In other words, Hamilton isn’t a great reclamation project, especially if he even loses so much as a step or two or suffers some sort of injury that similarly hampers his speed. He makes sense as a very intriguing guy on a good team, an underrated guy who is elite at what he does. But on a 90+ loss team, that’s not the case.
Frankly, the Royals signing Hamilton would have been great two years ago. But now, it’s an exercise in futility. Kansas City is going to spend $5 million and a roster spot on a guy who wasn’t important enough for the club that drafted and developed him to keep him and wasn’t valuable enough for anyone else to offer anything of real worth.
Kansas City would be better served by giving one of their sizable collection of vaguely interesting, younger outfielders a shot than going with a known quantity veteran like Hamilton, who will function primarily as a waste of money and a roster spot in 2019. That’s not to say that Hamilton won’t be fun as a Royal. He absolutely will be. He just won’t fit with the team.
Do you approve of the Billy Hamilton signing?
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