Stealing Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton’s Stolen Slugging Percentage

Since his promotion to the Major Leagues in 2013, there is no player potentially more exciting than Billy Hamilton. Considered the fastest man in baseball, Hamilton appears able to steal bases at will, embarrassing even the likes of the mighty Yadier Molina. However, the key word regarding Hamilton has always been “potentially,” for Hamilton also has struggled mightily to get on base, and as the cliché goes, “you can’t steal first base.” Most observers have argued that if he can just achieve a .300 On-Base Percentage, he would be a force in the lineup. Happily, Hamilton has recently turned a corner and raised his OBP to a respectable .323 (through 8/21), and in doing so, we’ve seen stolen bases by the bushel.

Billy Hamilton
Faster than a speeding bullet…

Why is it, however, that even a .300 OBP would be sufficient for a good season from Hamilton? For most players, a .300 OBP wouldn’t be anything special, and would actually reflect a pretty average hitter. The obvious reason is that once Hamilton gets on first, he has a much better chance of getting to 2nd, or even 3rd, under his own power by stealing bases. And of course, he can more easily advance on the bases than just about any other player. In fact, one of the exciting things about watching Hamilton on base is to see him advance on plays you’ve never seen a player advance before. But is there a simple way to see at a glance how much Hamilton’s stolen bases improve his overall offense? One way to do it would be what I would call his “Stolen Slugging Percentage.”

Adding Up Bases

First, let’s be clear on what Slugging Percentage is. It’s a pretty simple stat: you take the total bases that a player’s hits produce (single=1, double=2, triple=3, and home run=4), and divide by his at-bats. So if a player is 30-for-100 with 30 singles, his batting average and Slugging Percentage are the same: .300. If he hits 15 singles and 15 doubles, his batting average stays the same, but his slugging percentage rises to .450 (15 singles x 1 + 15 doubles x 2 / 100). It is a quick and easy way to show that doubles are better than singles, triples are better than doubles, and chicks dig the long ball.

Slugging Percentage is admittedly a blunt instrument, for it says that a double is exactly twice as valuable as a single, a home run is exactly 4 times more valuable than a single, etc. Studies have shown that this isn’t completely accurate (for example, when calculating WAR, home runs are not valued as 4 times a single, but instead approximately 2.38 times more valuable). However, Slugging Percentage gives a general idea of a player’s ability to rack up bases while at the plate.

A Base is a Base is a Base

Knowing that Slugging Percentage uses total bases, I wondered what would Billy Hamilton’s Slugging Percentage be if his stolen bases were included in his total bases? In other words, if Hamilton hits a single, then stole second, in many ways this would equivalent to him hitting a double (but not exactly equivalent – a double with a man on first can be very different than a single with a man on first). Currently, Hamilton’s stats look like this (through 8/21):

At-bats Total Bases Slugging Percentage (TB/AB)
363 130 .358

In other words, no one would confuse Billy Hamilton for Giancarlo Stanton.

However, let’s look at what happens when we add Hamilton’s stolen bases to the total bases. First, we should decide which stolen bases we should include. For example, if Hamilton hits into a fielder’s choice, then steals 2nd, should we include that as another base? How about if he walks, then steals? Should that be counted as well? Here is a breakdown of his stolen bases by scenario:

Stolen Base After Hit Stolen Base After Walk Other
35 15 3 (two after fielder’s choice, one while pitch running)

In the end, I decided to only count those stolen bases that occurred after a hit or a walk. Why? Because I can. Since this is a made-up stat, I can make it up anyway I want. I figured that if Hamilton got on base by some skill of his own, I would add any of those stolen bases to his total bases.

Now let’s update Hamilton’s “Stolen Slugging Percentage:”

At-bats Total Bases plus stolen bases Stolen Slugging Percentage
363 180 (130+35+15) .496

A .496 Slugging Percentage – now that looks respectable! For comparison, let’s see who this year has a .496 Slugging Percentage…

Not Billy Hamilton
Destroyer of balls…Giancarlo Stanton

That’s right, the Home Run Derby Champion Giancarlo Stanton has a .496 Slugging Percentage. Perhaps someone could confuse Billy Hamilton for Giancarlo Stanton after all! And since Stanton has zero stolen bases this year, his “Stolen Slugging Percentage” would remain at .496. (Admittedly, Stanton, other than hitting 4,000 home runs in the Home Run Derby, has had a down year).

Billy Hamilton: Master Thief

My conclusion: Billy Hamilton is exactly the same type of hitter as Giancarlo Stanton. Okay, maybe not. But his ability to steal bases adds tremendous value to his overall offense, so that even a relatively average OBP can result in significant value for his team.

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