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Is Billy Hamilton the Next Vince Coleman and Is That a Good Thing?

I have no pictures of Billy Hamilton to share but look at how fast this car is going.  Speed.  Get it?
I have no pictures of Billy Hamilton to share but look at how fast this car is going. Speed. Get it?

Earlier today Bret posted this article on the top 50 Dynasty League prospects and had this to say about Billy Hamilton:

Just look up Vince Coleman's 1987 season and imagine having that on your team - regardless of his positional eligibility

I did what Bret told me to do because I always do what writers tell me to do (and so should you!) and started to make a serious comp between Hamilton and Coleman. What I found was that the comp in terms of statistics was not only apt, it was downright eerie. I started to write a response in the comments section which started to become a very long retort and I told myself, "Hey, Idiot. You write for this website. Might as well make this an article and feed your ego that you're soooo special." So this is where we are at right now.

The first place that I looked was at Coleman's minor league numbers and see if we could get a reasonable matchup with Hamilton and I did. At age 21 in the Sally League in 1983, Coleman hit .350/.431/.399 with 0 HR, 145 SB, 31 CS, 85 K/56 BB in 513 plate appearances over 113 games. Hamilton is 21 at a moderately comparable level (the Cal League) and is hitting .331/.416/.447 with 1 HR, 82 SB, 17 CS, 39 BB/53 K in 319 plate appearances over 67 games.

Not a bad place to start, right? At the same age in reasonably comparable leagues (how much better could you really do with a 30 year gap?) they both hit for average, got on base, and stole a hell of a lot of bases. It gets even more comparable when you pace out Hamilton's numbers to a 113 game season:

138 stolen bases, 29 caught stealing, 62 walks, 85 strikeouts. He's almost identical to Coleman.

Vince Coleman was a Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, led the league in stolen bases six times over his first six seasons and was an all-around good player during his 13-year career. However, I can't help but wonder how detrimental Coleman could have been on my fantasy team, had I been in fantasy leagues back then or had the internet, which was invented by the Vice President until like nine years after Coleman debuted in the majors. I can't help but wonder that especially in a dynasty league where you're looking for players that can help you long-term, if having Coleman wouldn't have turned disastrous or been worth it.

The following numbers really worry me about the future prospects of Billy Hamilton.

Coleman hit .261/.323/.329 with 9 HR and an OPS+ of 82 over his first 754 games in the big leagues.

Of course, he also stole 549 bases for a rate of one stolen base for every 1.3 games, a number that could easily help you win a category every week. If you draft a player like Coleman or Hamilton, you've got a leg up on stolen bases in such a way that you can almost ignore drafting anyone else that rates highly in that category on the 20-80 scale. You could probably just get away with having a few guys that got between 10-15 a year and never worry about that one category. In addition to that, you're going to get between 90-120 runs per year, especially if Hamilton is hitting ahead of players like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

Not bad at all. But what is bad?

In his second big league season, Coleman's weak bat was really exposed when he hit .232/.301/.280 in 670 plate appearances. Think about how much a leadoff hitter that racks up stolen bases can bring down your hitting categories when he hits .230/.300/.280. This is a give and take situation where you are getting lots of help in one category, and then being dragged down in multiple other categories. Also, the position at which this production is being given is also very important.

Many shortstops aren't going to hit for a high average or high power, so comparable to other shortstops, Hamilton should come out ahead. But for how long can Hamilton stay at short? This is going to be detrimental to his short-term and long-term value. At second base, you can also get away with a line like this for awhile, but second baseman also tend to hit more long-balls in this era so now you're also missing out on the power category and Hamilton isn't going to hit more than a few home runs per year. In his minor league career, he has six home runs in 314 games.

When you push him to the outfield, this is when it really starts to become a problem.

Say that you are in a 10-team league, so you're typically going to have 30 outfielders starting in the league on a given day. At the bottom of that pile you might find guys like Michael Cuddyer, Lucas Duda, Alejandra De Aza, Hunter Pence and Nick Swisher. For example, Swisher is the 35th ranked outfielder in the majors in terms of wOBA and is hitting .264/.331/.486 with 10 HR, 42 RBI and 1 SB.

So whats better from an outfielder: .250/.310/.320 with 0 HR, 20 RBI, and lets call it 45 SB after 60 games or .264/.331/.486 with 10 HR, 42 RBI and 1 SB? That's about 4 stolen bases per week, which is phenomenal, but it's also 0 HR, 2 RBI, and a low average per week from an outfielder.

The outfield position is heavy at the top and deep into the middle, where you find guys like Josh Hamilton, Ryan Braun, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper leading the way, with players like Matt Holliday and Jay Bruce as elite second outfielders on your roster. Third outfielder can give you a little leeway and it is where you would find Billy Hamilton, but I'm not entirely sold as Hamilton being more than a third outfielder, if that is where he wound up.

As a shortstop, it would be elite. Hamilton could have as many as three times as many stolen bases at this point than any other shortstop in the game. So I would compare it almost like this: Take Jamey Carroll, who is hitting .259/.339/.307 with 0 HR, 22 RBI and add 45 stolen bases. Even with that line and no power, Hamilton would have to project as a top five shortstop this season if he could get on base 34% of the time. Things would of course get more dicey if he hit more like Cliff Pennington (.218/.277/.305) but I don't think that's going to happen.

I know that it's easy to get excited and envision Hamilton's Cal League numbers transferring over to higher levels, but considering that it's the Cal League and that large regression should be expected as he advances, I can't envision Hamilton as a .300 hitter at any point in the big leagues. That's why Hamilton would draw comparisons to Coleman and not comparisons to Rickey Henderson.

Coleman - A very good player for awhile in the major leagues.

Henderson - One of the greatest players of all time.

Though Coleman was a more prolific stolen base threat during the early prime years of his career compared to what Henderson did at the same stage earlier in the eighties (though Coleman could never match Rickey's 130 SB season or come close to it) Henderson also did everything else right. Henderson was a career .279/.401/.419 hitter that hit 297 career home runs and played for 25 years.

Coleman was a .265/.324/.345 hitter in his career that lasted half as long, though injuries and a bad attitude ended up being the total undoing of his career.

If Hamilton were projected to be a lot more like Henderson and a lot less like Coleman, I could justify seeing him as one of the top fantasy prospects in baseball, but I guess I'm just a little more down on Hamilton than most but it's not because I don't recognize the 80 speed. I do recognize that Hamilton will be the elite stolen base threat in baseball and that he'll probably be able to hit well enough to stay in the bigs for a long time. I recognize that if he can do that at shortstop, he'll be no worse than one of the better starting shortstops in fantasy baseball for awhile. But I also tend to believe that since he's not more like Rickey, you won't get those 10-25 home runs every year. You won't get those 90-120 walks every year. You won't get consistent hitting like Rickey had.

As an outfielder, I would tend to lean more towards a player that had a well-rounded game than one who was only elite in one category. I could see Hamilton working very well as your third outfielder, but I don't yet see the player that should be drafted anywhere near the top. As a second baseman, he'd be high quality and as a shortstop, I see a much higher ceiling, but I am not quite willing to be on him until he proves that he can stick at shortstop for the long term.

Speed is great, but in the long-term I'd be looking for a player that proves he can do a little bit more.

(Note: This isn't meant as like a counter-argument to Bret's ranking of Hamilton at six. It's just some number crunching and studying that I went through and how I saw it. Like Bret, I look forward to seeing what Hamilton can do at the higher levels before judging too much but in thinking to myself "Would I like Vince Coleman as a fantasy player?" I decided that it would be good for awhile, but not great.)