In 2015 only two players in all of baseball stole 50 bases. Dee Gordon swiped 58 for the Miami Marlins while leading the National League with a .333 batting average. Billy Hamilton managed to finish only one behind Gordon with 57 steals despite only hitting .226 and only playing in 114 games.
Both players’ top tool is without a doubt speed. Gordon and Hamilton are both former shortstops who moved from the position because of defensive concerns. Both players struggled to hit big league pitching early in their careers. Both players have virtually no power.
The difference between Gordon and Hamilton to this point is that Gordon has accepted his limited ability elsewhere and has decided to take advantage of his elite tool of speed.
Despite being a better base stealer and having more speed, Billy Hamilton has either failed to adapt or simply refuses to do so.
Hamilton actually walked in 6.2% of his plate appearances, while Gordon only walked 3.8% of the time. Neither of these numbers are particularly impressive, but, it does serve as an indicator that Gordon puts more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play.
Putting the ball in play is an obvious plus in any plate appearance for Gordon, who had a .383 BABIP in 2015. Gordon also struck out in only 13.9% of his PA’s while Hamilton struck out in 16.5% of his.
Perhaps most surprising was Hamilton’s BABIP of .264, a number that is alarmingly low considering his elite speed.
The biggest difference in the speedsters’ games is their propensity of hitting fly balls. In 2015 Hamilton posted a 37.8 fly ball percentage compared to Gordon’s 18.7%.
Having a tendency of hitting this many fly balls is a chief indicator in their differences in BABIP. Gordon’s line drive percentage of 21.5 wasn’t much higher than Hamilton’s 19.6% so it would appear that Hamilton has the ability to do what Gordon did in 2015.
So the solution for Hamilton seems simple, put the ball in play on the ground. His speed will allow him to leg out more hits and his fly balls are not turning into extra base production anyway, as shown by his .289 slugging percentage last year.
If Hamilton could hit .275 his stolen base totals would be astronomical. In the minors in 2012 Hamilton stole 155 bases in a season in which he combined to hit over .300 across two levels. And last year he averaged a stolen base every other game despite only hitting .226.
If he changes his approach Hamilton could become a productive leadoff hitter and maybe even challenge Ricky Henderson’s single- season stolen base record of 130.
Instead, as things currently stand, he’s a number 9 hitter in a National League lineup who needs to prove he can hit above .230 or he might even lose his starting job.
If he does lose his starting gig though, look at the bright side, he would make one heck of a pinch runner.