When the Royals signed Billy Hamilton on December 11 right after the winter meetings, the mistake had already been made. Hamilton is and was a no-hit center fielder who was actually getting worse. He’s the type of player that the more metrics you see, the worse he is. I actually wrote the Transaction Analysis on Baseball Prospectus for him, so this is a great opportunity to look back at what was written and see if anything didn’t pan out.
“...the fit in the lineup is tenuous at best. Hamilton is very consistent offensively, which there’s something to be said for, but the issue is that he’s consistently bad. His DRC+ by full season is 82, 76, 77, 73, and 78. It’s not recommended, but a team with some serious offensive weapons could probably handle that liability given his other strengths, but the Royals aren’t that team, at least they don’t seem likely to be.” -BP Transaction Analysis, 12/11/2018
Obviously DRC+ is the fancy new stat developed over at BPro, but you probably have a decent idea of what it represents even if you’re not familiar with it. Hamilton didn’t disappoint. I noted in the transaction analysis that the dimensions at Kauffman Stadium might help him a bit since there was so much room for the ball to roll. It’s hard for the ball to roll when it’s hit as softly as Hamilton hit it.
His average exit velocity was a career low. He didn’t have a single barrelled ball! But the Royals shouldn’t be surprised by this. So the contact is bad, but he’s not even making as much of that to take advantage of his speed. Take a look at the numbers in the now five-year Statcast era:
Billy Hamilton’s Ugly Statcast Data
Even with the lack of contact and the lack of good contact, Hamilton still has some value to a team because of his speed. He was 18-for-23 in stolen base attempts in 2019 with the Royals, which is probably not actually good enough given the rest of his game, but there’s something there, sort of. The metrics were very kind to him defensively as he was worth 9.9 runs on defense in Kansas City with a UZR/150 of 18.8 and 10 defensive runs saved. Many believed the metrics weren’t quite right about him since he didn’t pass the eye test and while I do agree that he was not nearly as good as I had expected him to be, the numbers matched up well with the entirety of his career, so there’s not really much of any reason to have doubted them.
But he did slow down with an average sprint speed of 29.5 feet per second, which was down from over 30 in each of the last three seasons. His time from home to first reached four seconds for the first time since that had been measured. Great speed yes, but maybe a step slower.
In all, it was really bad for Hamilton and the Royals. He hit .211/.275/.269 in Kansas City. He had 14 extra base hits, which is about 11 more than I’d have guessed without looking it up, so there’s that. He cost the Royals a little over $3 million, which would have been more if they weren’t saved by the Braves picking him up and assuming his contract, $1 million mutual option buyout and all.
If we’re grading the original sentiment from the signing, this line from the Transaction Analysis proved to be both obvious and prescient:
“While $5.25 million is a relative pittance in baseball terms, it’s far too much of the team’s supposed remaining budget for a player who is far more likely to be designated for assignment in August than traded in July.”
For all the talk of Lucas Duda being the reason the Royals jettisoned Brian Goodwin (and that’s technically accurate), the burning desire to have a player like Billy Hamilton on the roster (and Terrance Gore as well) was the real reason the organization deemed him expendable. They’d have been better served to just let Goodwin patrol center field, no matter how rough the defense was or just let Brett Phillips and his ridiculous defense play from the start. But they didn’t, so now we’re here, talking about the disaster that was Billy Hamilton and hoping that mistake doesn’t get made again.
What grade would you give Billy Hamilton for his 2019 season?
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