That’s a misnomer. We don’t need to project Billy Hamilton overall, that’s why there are projections systems. He won’t have much power, and he has elite speed, we can use his minor league walk and strikeouts and presto, bingo bango: projection.
Here’s the thing. Billy Hamilton has speed like you’ve never seen before. He set the record for minor league stolen bases. The real Billy Hamilton facts are so ridiculous you don’t even need to make up fake ones. The guy he beat out for the record, Vince Coleman, once rode the no-power, inconsistent-walks, too-many-strikeouts train to some seasons that any fantasy player today would love to own — even his first season, when he hit .267 and stole 110 bases (and he had better).
So perhaps, when Steamer projects Billy Hamilton to hit .245, perhaps it can’t account fully for Hamilton’s elite-elite speed. You don’t build a projection system to be right for the two dots way out out on the extremes, you build it for the heart of the bell curve.
Which brings us to this week’s roto-relevant research. Stephen Loftus at Beyond the Boxscore looked at players so fast they could ‘steal first.’ Using league-average infield hit and bunt hit rates, Loftus found the top 25 player-seasons by ‘added hits’ based on speed. The top five seasons belong to Willy Taveras, Ichiro Suzuki, Hunter Pence and Luis Castillo. Billy Hamilton is faster than at least half of them.
All of the top five seasons averaged .049 of extra batting average because of those hits.
Without knowing how Steamer projects batting average, we can’t just add that .049 back in and make Hamilton a .294 hitter in his first season, but it does go some distance to perhaps explaining the range in projected batting averages. ZiPs has Hamilton at .267, OLIVER at .261, and Bill James at .288.
You’ll notice that the projection systems hook Hamilton up with an average strikeout rate (20.3%-24.2%) and little power (.084-.096 ISO), so most of the batting average difference comes from the different projections for batting average on balls in play. His projected BABIPs range from .305 (Steamer) to .372 (Bill James). Four people in baseball beat that last number last year, just as a frame of reference.
Of course, Loftus’ stealing first findings are important to BABIP projections. But we can try to use an old xBABIP formula, combined with his findings, to project Hamilton’s BABIP.
xBABIP =0.391597252 + (LD% x 0.287709436 ) + ((GB% – (GB% * IFH%) ) x -0.151969035 ) + ((FB% – (FB% x HR/FB%) – (FB% x IFFB%)) x -0.187532776) + ((IFFB% * FB%) x -0.834512464) + ((IFH% * GB%) x 0.4997192 )
This formula has been updated since, but this one works for us because it uses percentages. We have Hamilton’s line drive, ground-ball, fly ball and infield fly ball percentages from his minor league career. If we substitute an elite infield hit rate into this thing, stolen from Loftus’ seasons, we might be able to see what it spits out for us.
Hamilton’s career minor league ground ball rate is 43.4%. Most years, that was below average for his league, and that’s below average for the major leagues,too. His fly ball rate was 34.4% (MLB ave: 34%). His infield fly ball rate was above average at every position, so we’ll call it 11% in the majors. Looking at Ichiro Suzuki for guidance (career IFH% – 12.5%), we’ll give Hamilton a 12% infield fly rate, which is almost twice the league rate (6.5% last year). Line drive rate is tough. His minor league line drive rate was 15.6%, but stringers in the minor leagues must be sticklers — the league averages were as low as 14.3% in some of his leagues (it was 20.9% in the majors last year). In his bigger samples, Hamilton was barely above average. Let’s give him a 20% line drive rate. The average HR/FB% for players with a .80-.99 ISO last year was 4.5%.
Add it all up, and you get… .331. The Fans have Hamilton for a .339 BABIP and a .261 batting average.
It’s not easy projecting elite players, but maybe the crowd got it right.