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How could the Royals get the most out of Billy Hamilton?

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Billy Hamilton could still be of some value for a big league club, but how would a team make sure it was maximizing the value of the current free agent?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Hamilton is a fascinating athlete. According to Baseball Savant, Hamilton was just a hair slower than the second fastest player in all of baseball in 2018. The just turned 28-year old center fielder’s speed is well known, but so are his struggles at the plate. Hamilton slashed just .236/.299/.327 in 556 PA in 2018, good for an .091 ISO, fifth worst among qualified hitters last season. He can’t hit, but he does have some skills that the Royals may value during their rebuild and I think he’s worth a flier. Let’s talk about why.

One of the more ironic things that I found while researching Billy Hamilton’s career is this: Billy Hamilton’s best career seasons came in 2014 and 2016, in which he posted 2.7 and 2.9 fWAR, respectively. Jarrod Dyson’s best career seasons also came in 2014 and 2016, in which he posted 2.4 and 2.7 fWAR, respectively. Billy Hamilton’s best career seasons involved hundreds more PA to get there, but that may actually be a bad thing considering the woes Hamilton has had at the plate. Oh, and Hamilton is six years younger than Dyson, by the way.

So anyway, if the Kansas City Royals do in fact make a move to acquire the former Reds center fielder, the goal would be to recreate Hamilton’s 2014 and 2016 seasons. How do they go about doing that, though? Let’s take a look at the numbers surrounding Hamilton’s worst and best offensive seasons.

  • 2014: 5.6% BB%, 19.1% K%, .105 ISO, 32.5% Oppo%, 20.5% Hard%, 41.5% GB%, .304 BABIP, 44.5% Swing%, 79 wRC+
  • 2016: 7.8% BB%, 20.2% K%, .083 ISO, 28.2% Oppo%, 19.1% Hard%, 47.7% GB%, .329 BABIP, 44% Swing%, 78 wRC+

Those are Hamilton’s best offensive seasons. Not great, but just good enough to keep him in the lineup for his base running and defensive ability. Here are his spray charts from those seasons:

2014
2016

Now let’s take a look at the numbers surrounding some of Hamilton’s worst offensive seasons in the big leagues:

  • 2015: 6.2% BB%, 16,5% K%, .063 ISO, 28.6% Oppo%, 19.1% Hard%, 42.6% GB%, .264 BABIP, 44% Swing%, 53 wRC+
  • 2017: 7% BB%, 21% K%, .088 ISO, 25.9% Oppo%, 16% Hard%, 45.8% GB%, .313 BABIP, 45.3% Swing%, 65 wRC+

Here are his spray charts from the 2015 and 2017 seasons:

2015
2017

On the surface, there aren’t any glaring differences between Hamilton’s good seasons and bad seasons. The most obvious statistical difference is Hamilton’s 2015 BABIP. We can probably chalk that up to bad luck on account of his Oppo% and Hard% in relation to other seasons. Here’s one thing I found though: Billy Hamilton, a switch hitter, has a much higher BABIP from the right side of the plate than he does the left side. He also has a much higher Oppo% and GB% as a RHH than as a LHH. Coincidence? I doubt it. Someone with Hamilton’s speed and lack of power needs to keep the ball on the ground and spread it around the field, and Hamilton does that much better as a RHH than LHH, thus has more success right-handed.

So, how could the Royals turn Billy Hamilton back into the two to three win player that he was a couple of years ago? Well, there’s a few ways.

Change his approach at the plate

Billy Hamilton was a...serviceable? Umm...better?...hitter at the plate when batting right handed in 2018. We already addressed some of the reasons why, mainly including his inability to hit the ball the other way and on the ground when batting left handed. So, one thing the Royals could potentially do to maximize Hamilton’s value would be to change his approach when batting left handed, and to limit his PA vs. RHP. In the era of launch angle and home runs, Hamilton needs to be focused on doing just the opposite in an attempt to increase his BABIP and thus his OBP. He can’t wreak havoc on the bases if he isn’t on base, after all.

Turn him into Jarrod Dyson

Jarrod Dyson was an integral part of the 2015 Royals World Championship group. He was one of the Royals most valuable assets in terms of fWAR/PA. Having another one of those guys on the big league roster would certainly be a good thing. The only issue with this option is that it would require Billy Hamilton to take on a part-time role. Jarrod Dyson’s offensive value was maximized by not playing every day. Had he been given 600+ PA, he almost certainly would have been exposed and his offensive flaws would’ve been more front-and-center. Instead, by limiting exposure to RHP, guys like Dyson and Hamilton can actually be more valuable with fewer PA. Would Hamilton be willing to accept a 4th outfielder role at this stage in his career? Do the Royals even need a 4th outfielder type during the rebuild? I’m not sure, but that might be the best way to maximize the value of one of baseball’s fastest players, should the Royals decide to give it a go.

One thing is for certain in my opinion, the Royals are currently in a fantastic position to go after a guy like Billy Hamilton. He fits the Royals mold of defensive minded players with elite speed, and would absolutely horrify opposing pitchers on the base paths alongside Adalberto Mondesi and Whit Merrifield. The Royals, currently rebuilding, would’t be banking on Hamilton to be a three or four win player in 2018. Rather, they could take their time helping him make the necessary adjustments to become that three or four win player that they could then trade for prospects at a later date. Could a contender sign Hamilton as a 4th outfielder? Of course. But if Hamilton wants to play every day, like I can imagine any 28-year old would want to do, signing a player friendly one or two year deal to play CF in Kauffman Stadium would present a wonderful opportunity to raise his stock before signing another, more long-term contract.