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Billy Hamilton: A Good A’s-y Target?

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds
“All your fly balls are belong to me!!!”
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

You were hoping for Mike Trout? Someone whose strength is offense, defense, speed, power, OBP, and slugging? Sadly, the A’s are not in a position to seek out those players so they have to decide which combination of strengths and warts might still allow them to move forward — ideally smack-dad into relevancy on their way to contention.

Billy Hamilton, the speedy-to-put-it-mildly CFer for the Cincinnati Reds, hasn’t gotten a ton of air time on AN, but I see him as an excellent A’s target. Under contract control for 3 more seasons (his age 26, 27, and 28 seasons), he fits the requirement of helping the A’s get better both now and for what Oakland hopes will be run of contention beginning no later than 2018.

Hamilton’s strength and weaknesses are pretty clear, as he tends to fall on one end of the other of most 20-80 scales. He has 80-grade speed, period, and it helped him to steal 58 bases in 66 tries in 2016, 57 bases in 65 tries in 2015. Hamilton has also established himself as a premier defensive CFer — more on that in a moment.

On the flip side, a slugging contest between Hamilton and Billy Burns would be a competitive "tallest midget competition," with Hamilton bringing an alarming .334 career slugging percentage to the table. Overall Hamilton has not enjoyed much offensive success, sporting a career slash line of .248/.297/.334, which might also remind you of one William Burns.

So why then might he appeal as an every day CF target?

- Start with the fact that if he’s worth starting at all he’s worth starting every day, since he’s a switch hitter without a strong platoon split over his career.

- Then you look at a possible breakout season in 2016, in which Hamilton batted .260/.321/.343. If you believe that is a slash line Hamilton can replicate, now you’re talking about someone who, with his truly game-impacting speed, could be a worthy leadoff hitter or terrific #9 hitter.

- Remember that when a player is fast enough and/or is an accomplished enough base stealer, his value to an offense extends well beyond his slash line. When he was batting around .260/.321/.343 Billy Butler was utterly useless, but with that line Hamilton can be a force, turning singles into doubles, going 1B to 3B on hits that would stop many runners jogging into 2B, tagging up to score on fairly shallow fly balls, and so on. If he hits his career slash line, Hamilton is a negative, but if he hits his 2016 line he is a very useful offensive contributor.

- All the above being said, Hamilton’s draw is his defense. According to UZR/150 it’s not just good, it’s great, and it’s not just great it has been consistently great over a sample that is now 3,162 innings strong. Here are his ratings each season in the big leagues:

2013 (45 IP): +23.3
2014 (1,199 IP): +21.7
2015 (976 IP): +18.8
2016 (942 IP): +17.2

Career (3,162 IP): +19.4

I’m generally quite wary of trusting defensive metrics, but the consistency stands out: Hamilton is a significantly above-average defensive CFer no matter when UZR looks at him. (For those who like DRS, Hamilton is at 38 runs saved for his career.)

So what you have, in Hamilton, is a premier defensive CFer, under contract for 3 years, switch hitting, with no slugging whatsoever but a growing ability — you hope — to get hits and reach base at a modest level, with the speed to really impact games when he’s on base.

The risk, of course, is that you get a sub-.300 OBP player and then you have Sam Fuld. The upside is that you get an emerging .340 OBP player and then you have a fixture. The likelihood is that you get a low-but-not-horrible OBP player who anchors your CF defense and gives you a true running game — not a bad complement to the crew of Ryon Healy, Khris Davis, and Matt Chapman who will provide a lot of right-handed power without a ton of contact or speed.

Best of all the asking price for Hamilton figures to be that of a very good 4th OFer, as it was for Craig Gentry despite Gentry’s even more impressive defensive prowess (did you know that Gentry’s UZR/150s from 2011-2013 were +34.3, +30.6, +28.4?).

I don’t know if the A’s could pry Hamilton away for players only in that "second tier" range of prospect talent — would Chad Pinder and Raul Alcantara be enough, or too much, or just right? — or whether a "blue chip name," such as Grant Holmes or Richie Martin would need to be offered.

I’m interested in the community’s thoughts about what the asking price would likely be for the A’s to bring Hamilton to Oakland, and whether you would like to see the A’s pay it. For a team that needs to get a lot better on defense and lacks a leadoff hitter and speed, Hamilton is an intriguing fit. Add Dexter Fowler (FA) or David Peralta (trade) to patrol RF and you might really have something.

Plus Hamilton is just heck of fun to watch.