In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a red “A” on her dress as punishment for committing adultery. Like Ms. Prynne way back in the 1600s, you too will be heavily penalized if you choose to cheat on your fantasy team by drafting Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Billy Hamilton — a man with a different red letter on his uniform.
Hawthorne’s critically acclaimed tale concerned itself with many moral indecencies. At the center of it all was the notion that adultery was a sin, and anyone who perpetrated this lascivious act would pay the consequences. Attempting to gain an early edge in the stolen base category is one of the most heinous fantasy crimes an owner can carry out (cue the Law & Order: SVU opening).
Last year, as a rookie, Hamilton was extremely overvalued in drafts, and he is again getting the same inexplicable treatment from owners in 2015. When taking a player like Hamilton, you’re essentially drafting for steals and runs, but his current ADP of 53 remains far too high for a player that is limited to two categories of production. To break down Hamilton’s worth, we don’t even need to touch on the stolen bases. He’ll get them — and get plenty. I’d like to focus more on the second of the two statistics he theoretically provides: runs.
Last year, the Reds had the second-worst wOBA in baseball (.294) and their 595 runs scored bested only the Braves and Padres. Sure, Joey Votto is back, but he’s nowhere close to the same player who won an MVP award in 2010, and he’ll probably never even be the same guy who hit .305 with 24 HR and 101 RBI in 2013. We need to face the facts — his knees suck, and the lineup around him won’t be able to protect him as well as they used to, something that always led to his remarkable ability to get on base. Votto isn’t the only aging and struggling player in Cincinnati. Brandon Phillips looks as if his career as an everyday second baseman is nearly over and their biggest acquisition of the offseason was 37-year-old Marlon Byrd. Jay Bruce will only turn 28 this April, but 2014 was by far his worst statistical year up to this point. Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco are two of the team’s bright spots, but neither of these guys will likely be enough to get Hamilton over the 100-run mark. In 152 games last year, the 24-year-old Hamilton only crossed home plate 72 times. Even with Votto back, and hopefully some improvement from Bruce, it’s hard to fathom more than 15-to-20 additional runs. Hamilton just simply doesn’t get on base enough. His .292 on-base percentage had him ranked 132nd of 146 qualified hitters, and folks, that is really, really bad. If you can’t get on base, you can’t score. It’s science. And even when he does get on base, he’ll be handcuffed by the poor batters hitting behind him in the order.
The big question is, can he improve enough in the on-base category to justify his early-fourth round draft position? My answer is an emphatic “no”. Is that to say he won’t get any better? Not at all. He’s young and his wheels give him opportunities to leg out hits that most other cannot. 2014 was his first full season in the majors. He can only go up from here. But unless you’re reading this article for keeper-league purposes, what he does this season is the only thing that matters.
Many owners will cite his improvement throughout the 2014 campaign, but what some perceived as improvement, was in fact regression, or just a simple case of one very lucky month.
He began the year with his feet in the mud, hitting just .251 with 1 HR and 10 RBI during the months of April and May. He had a 9/36 BB/K ratio during that period, and only scored 22 runs. But then June came, and his production increased. Hamilton hit .327 with 3 HR, 10 doubles, 18 runs and 18 RBI in 117 plate appearances that month. It was a great time for owners who likely had to fend off the haters since draft day. Alas, their place on top of the fantasy world would last but a mere few weeks, as the Reds’ center fielder came tumbling back down to Earth. The rest of the season was pretty darn terrible for Hamilton. He hit just .200 in the second half, and managed only nine extra base hits in 252 PA. This was coming on the heels of 13 XBH in the month of June alone! For shame! A highly elevated BABIP (.371) seemed to be the catalyst behind his tremendous month, and that number predictably dropped to .253 post-All-Star break. Both of those percentages are on the extreme ends of the BABIP scale, but even if he evens out to the league average, which is around .290-ish, it’s difficult to see Hamilton producing a batting average above .270. Now, .270 isn’t a bad mark at all when it comes with 15-20 HR and 70+ RBI, but that will never be the case with Billy Hamilton. He’s a 4-8 homer guy — 10 max — and he doesn’t get RBI chances as a leadoff hitter.
Hamilton is already a superb defensive center fielder, and makes numerous exciting plays on the basepaths, but he’s a dud for fantasy purposes. If you want steals, please, I implore you to wait, wait, wait, and wait some more. There are boatloads of guys available much later in your drafts who can help you in that category. Ben Revere has an ADP in the 10th round right now. He stole 49 bases last year and actually hit well. His .306 batting average was fifth in the NL. Denard Span hit .302 and scored 94 runs in an ever-improving Nationals’ offense and he’s just waiting to be plucked off the board as the 172nd-drafted player this season. Alcides Escobar and Leonys Martin are two more great examples of players still available after the 10th round who stole over 30 bases last year and offer around the same upside (or lack thereof) in the power departments. Why spend a fourth-round pick on Hamilton when you can satisfy your stolen base needs later?
Hester Prynne cheated on her husband and lived to regret it. Don’t let your carnal desire to dominate stolen bases blow your chances at the possibility of owning George Springer, Hunter Pence, Evan Longoria or Ian Kinsler (No.s 54-57 in ADP). Your fantasy team will thank you.
Follow SethDaSportsMan on Twitter at, you guessed it, @SethDaSportsMan, for quality fantasy sports advice and the deepest veneration of all things Nicolas Cage