Before the season started I attended a meeting with the fantasy writers and editors to discuss where to rank the rookies heading into the season. The most contentious debate centered around Billy Hamilton. The big question: There was no denying his potential fantasy value due to his stolen bases, but would he even hit enough to remain in the majors all season?
When Hamilton got off to a terrible start -- he was hitting .140 through the first two weeks -- the doubters looked justified. But since then? Hamilton has hit .344 over his past 61 plate appearances. Now, that doesn't mean any more than his bad first two weeks but his overall line of .260/.297/.385, while not great, is at least good enough to keep him in the majors.
Of course, being good enough to avoid a demotion to the minors isn't that same as adding value to your club. Hamilton is a mediocre 12 for 17 stealing bases and that .297 OBP isn't exactly what you want from your leadoff hitter. He's been upstaged somewhat by Dee Gordon, another speedster who is hitting .322 with 24 steals in 27 attempts for the Dodgers.
Why has Gordon been better? The two actually have similar walk and strikeout rates:
Hamilton: 4.4 percent walk rate, 16.7 percent K rate
Gordon: 5.5 percent walk rate, 15.3 percent K rate
The difference? Gordon has hit the ball in the air 17.9 percent of the time compared to 35.1 percent for Hamilton. Gordon has three more infield hits and two more bunt singles than Hamilton. Turn those five hits into outs and Gordon is hitting .289 and nobody is calling him the most improved player in baseball.
Anyway, if Gordon's improvement is for real, it's a reminder that success doesn't always happen overnight for this type of player. They have to learn to embrace their skills, learn when to hit the ball on the ground, master small ball and learn when they can occasionally muscle a ball up.
We don't have answers yet on Hamilton. In the end, maybe he will be Vince Coleman, or worse, Vince Coleman Lite.
Let's just hope Hamilton stays away from the firecrackers.