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If a guy can steal five bases in a single game, as Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN, did last Sunday against the Cubs, he doesn't need to do anything else to provide fantasy value - or so the thinking goes.
Hamilton is without argument the fastest player in baseball. After the first week of the 2015 season, he was on track to steal about 180 bases. He's cooled down since then, stealing 24 bases in 60 games played by CIN, with 19 of those SBs stretched out over a 59-game span if you discount his thievery against the Cubs (though to be fair, he missed a few games during that stretch, and entered as a late replacement in a few others). In any case, he had 31 total SBs heading into Tuesday.
I've never been a big fan of Hamilton, though I have acquired him for a couple of my fantasy teams the last two years just to use him as a lottery ticket - if my team is losing the SB category going into the weekend, I'll start him one or both days, assuming his lack of other fantasy contributions doesn't hurt me too bad elsewhere.
But therein lies the big problem with Hamilton. He owns a .221 batting average, up about 10 points over the last week or so, a .263 OBP, and only nine of his 47 hits on the season have gone for extra bases - HRs, triples and doubles all coming in at three apiece.
Hamilton's .568 OPS is one of the lowest among players with at least 200 at-bats. (The lowest I found was Melky Cabrera, OF, White Sox, at .557, and the third lowest, after Hamilton in second place, is Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox at .570, which tells you all you need to know about the White Sox this year.)
Hamilton doesn't even bunt very often, even though the Reds have been drilling him in the Little L.eague fundamental this season It seems like he should always bunt - who cares if the fielders know it's coming? Thinking really conservatively, he'd still probably beat out 25% of them - good for a .250 average at four at-bats per game - and could force errors almost as often.
While all this is true, Hamilton leads MLB in SBs, and his fantasy owners certainly have won that category more often than not with him on board. A lot of people believe in him - he's owned in 96% of Yahoo! leagues. It might be that fantasy owners feel there are few other options.
Except there are, and one of them is also named Billy. Billy Burns, OF, OAK, owns a .308 average, a .348 OBP and .737 OPS. He has 13 SBs in 40 games this season. However, it wasn't until the last month that Burns began starting more frequently and became OAK's leadoff man. Over the last 30 days, here's his line: .297, 38 hits, 16 runs, two HRs, 13 RBI, 11 SBs, .807 OPS (four triples probably help the latter figure).
Here's Hamilton's over the same stretch: .237, 18 hits, eight runs, zero HRs, 11 RBI, 14 SBs, .513 OPS.
You get four more SBs with Hamilton, but which player is a better overall fantasy value?
The best part is Burns is still only 47% owned in Yahoo! leagues.
* USA Today has a tutorial on BABIP and how to turn it into fantasy gold. I've always found BABIP to be one acronym too many for me to follow. Also, maybe I'm wrong, but isn't the basic idea behind it just to trust history? Do we really need more numbers and equations to express that? Anyway, enjoy!
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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