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Royals “looking hard” at outfielder Billy Hamilton

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Great speed, but a low on-base percentage.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are “looking hard” at free agent centerfielder Billy Hamilton, according to Rustin Dodd of The Athletic. The switch-hitter was non-tendered by the Reds last week after hitting .236/.299/.327 with 34 steals in 153 games. MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan expounded on the Royals’ interest in the 28-year old speedster, writing “there is a feeling with Royals officials that Hamilton’s skill set might play better at spacious Kauffman Stadium as opposed to the Reds’ band box of Great American Ball Park.”

The switch-hitting Hamilton is perhaps the fastest man in baseball, stealing 254 bases in just over five seasons with an 81% success rate. He was fifth in Statcast’s Sprint Speed last year. Hamilton is a tremendous defender, ranking as the fourth-best defensive centerfielder according to Fangraphs last year. He has been a solid 1-3 WAR player each season of his career, mostly on the strength of his speed and defense.

His bat is another matter. His best offensive season was in 2016 when he hit .260/.321/.343 with 58 steals. He was the third-worst qualified hitter in baseball by wRC+ last season, with Alcides Escobar-like numbers. He has a career .298 on-base percentage, with a below-average career walk rate of 6.9%. Hamilton has the fifth-lowest hard-hit rate in baseball since his debut in 2014. He has been a better hitter from the left-side of the plate, although with less power than from the right-side.

The Royals already have Brett Phillips and Brian Goodwin projected to split time in centerfield next year, but Phillips does have an option year remaining and could be sent to Omaha for more seasoning. Hamilton was arbitration eligible, and MLB Trade Rumors projected him to earn $5.9 million. Through free agency, I would expect Hamilton to cost $5-6 million on a one-year deal.

Hamilton’s bat prevents him from being a full-time player anymore, but he could have value in a part-time role, especially if they Royals get creative. The best case scenario is that Hamilton continues to be an elite base-stealer and defender that has a bit of value this summer, and the Royals flip him to a contender. The worst case scenario is that he blocks 24-year old outfielder Brett Phillips in a season in which the Royals need to figure out what they have in their young players. Either way, if the Royals bring him on, it may not win games or help the rebuild, but it sure would be fun to see him, Adalberto Mondesi, and Whit Merrifield flying around the bases.

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Should the Royals have interest in Billy Hamilton?

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