Billy Hamilton is the textbook definition of a one-trick pony, but it is one heck of a trick. Hamilton's one trick is his epic speed that can take your team from middle of the pack to 1st place in the Steals category all by himself. He stole 56 bases last year but is capable of doubling that to cross the century mark, something he did twice in the minors in shorter seasons. Hamilton swiped an incredible 165 bases in 2012, which broke the all-time professional record at any level.
So far in his young career, Hamilton's base-stealing prowess is accomplished purely by virtue of his blazing speed. He does not get good jumps and is terrible at reading the pickoff moves of opposing pitchers. He was picked off 8 times last year, which is the most in the majors since the turn of the millennium. Hamilton stole 56 bases and was caught stealing 23 times for a success rate of only 70.9%, which is below the league average of 72.8%. How does the fastest player that baseball has seen in a long time end up with a below average SB%? It shows he doesn't know how to steal bases properly. That is actually a good thing because he is going to learn as he gains experience, meaning he will steal even more bases than he already does. If he can increase his .292 OBP up to at least the .313 league average he could definitely approach the 100 SB plateau on a yearly basis.
The big question with Hamilton is will he ever be decent enough at the plate to make himself a non-liability in the four fantasy categories other than Steals. Hamilton's .250/.292/.355 slash line last year was very weak. After the All Star break he plummeted to .200/.254/.257. Out of all 148 qualified hitters in the 2nd half only Matt Dominguez (.472) put up a lower OPS than Hamilton (.511).
Hamilton did not play winter ball this offseason for the first time in his career. He spent the winter working with Cincinnati Reds minor league manager Delino DeShields, who was a heck of a leadoff hitter during the 1990's. Hamilton focused on improving his bunting and his hitting, specifically trying to keep the ball on the ground. He hit way too many fly balls and infield popups last season. Perhaps this will result in a higher BABIP than the .304 he delivered last year. A player with Hamilton's speed should have a high BABIP. Hitting the ball on the ground will likely lead to fewer home runs than the 6 he hit in 2014, but home runs are not Hamilton's game. If he is hitting the ball in the air he is doing something wrong.
Hamilton also had a very low 5.6% walk rate last year. He needs to get on base any way possible so he can utilize his speed on the basepaths. Pitchers are so unafraid of Hamilton's bat that they rarely throw him a pitch out of the strike zone. He had one of the highest strike rates in baseball, especially on the first pitch of his at-bats. Hamilton is not going to steal a ton of bases unless he has a high OBP. He is not going to have a high OBP unless he works a lot of walks. He is not going to work a lot of walks unless pitchers start throwing him balls. Pitchers are not going to throw him balls unless he proves he can do some damage on the strikes.
To put his hitting struggles into perspective, only 11 players had a lower wRC+ than Hamilton last year. We are talking about inept hitters like Zack Cozart, DJ LeMahieu, Andrelton Simmons, Derek Jeter, B.J. Upton and Domonic Brown. Pitchers are not afraid of these hitters. Hamilton needs to elevate his game out of this lowly tier if he is going to get on base enough to approach the 75-100 stolen base level.
Hamilton tied for 65th in the majors with 72 Runs scored. That is not very good considering he was a leadoff hitter.
Hamilton tied for 152nd in RBI and tied for 237th in Home Runs, which is not unexpected given his tool set. But it does reinforce that he is a strong liability in these two key fantasy categories.
Hamilton was 110th out of the 146 qualified players in Batting Average. His .250 AVG was bad enough to hurt his fantasy owners. In standard 12 team leagues the average team AVG was .265 in 2014. To lead your league in AVG you likely needed to have a team AVG north of .280 or better. So this is another category where Hamilton is a big liability, especially when you consider that as a leadoff hitter he gets more at-bats and therefore his AVG is more heavily weighted than other players'.
Hamilton tied for 2nd in Steals with Jose Altuve. Both stole 56, trailing only Dee Gordon's 64 SBs. There were 15 players that stole 30 or more, and 39 players who stole 20 or more. So while Hamilton provides a ton of value in this category it is not enough to dominate the category for his fantasy owners. If you want to win the Steals category you are going to need to draft a few more good speedsters in addition to Hamilton.
If you are keeping score you have noticed that Hamilton is great in one fantasy category (Stolen Bases), average in one category (Runs), and a liability in three categories (HRs, RBI, AVG). So the question becomes this: Is Hamilton's large surplus value in Steals enough to overcome his negative value in three categories?
In my opinion the answer is a strong NO, especially when you consider where you will have to select Hamilton in the draft if you want to get him. His ADP is currently 40th on CBS, 41st on Yahoo, 46th on NFBC and 57th on ESPN. That means you are going to have to draft Hamilton in the 4th or 5th round or else you will miss out on him. That is just WAY too early to draft a one-category player. He will earn you several points in steals all by himself. Assuming you have some other hitters who will steal a few bases but no other mega-speedsters, Hamilton is likely to gain you about 5-7 points in the steals category in 12 team leagues. However, he is likely to cost you at least that many points in HRs, RBI and AVG because he is far below average in all of those stats. Even if Hamilton were to take you from worst to first in Steals (an 11 point gain) he is going to give at least half of those points back in the other categories. I can see drafting a player like that in the middle to late rounds, but definitely not in the early rounds.
In order for Hamilton to justify a 4th round draft pick he is going to have to deliver significant offensive improvement across the board. If you draft Hamilton you are gambling that he will hit the ball much better than he did last year. It is fair to expect some minor gains in Runs and possibly AVG. As I discussed above, he might steal a lot more than 56 bases as well. He is unlikely to post gains in HRs or RBI. All things considered I would predict Hamilton will finish the season as a top 25 outfielder (he was 27th last year), a top 50 hitter (56th last year) and a top 80 player overall (84th last year). That is enough to justify a late 6th or early 7th round pick. If you can get him in the 8th round or later that would be a nice value pick. But his ADP results are showing across all league types he is being taken long before that.