Billy Hamilton not properly valued

Billy Hamilton's elite speed makes him a value in fantasy drafts, even if he repeats his sub-.300 OBP. Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Every year, it's the same old story. Statistical projections for the upcoming season get made by multiple sources and generally speaking, there's not a lot of differences to be found since most of them are using similar time-tested formulas and calculations. That's why if you look around the Internet, while the numbers in each category may vary a little bit in either direction, you should expect to see similar projections from most reliable sources.

However, even given this predominantly level starting point to then go into the process of ranking players, you're not likely to see a lot of consensus as to how best to value those statistics in order to figure out which player to select when your turn comes up in your league's fantasy baseball draft. And after doing my own calculations, using the ESPN projections as my guide, there's one player in particular whose value is being severely underestimated.

Billy Hamilton is currently listed in the ESPN Top 300 as the No. 60 player overall, meaning that in a 12-team rotisserie snake draft, he'd be expected to be taken as the final pick of the fifth round. That simply boggles my mind, as in my personal rankings, I currently project him to be the No. 10 hitter overall. Throw in Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez as potential first-round pitchers, and we're looking at the final pick of Round 1 for the Cincinnati Reds outfielder.

The value of steals

What is it about stolen bases that people just don't seem to want to embrace as a legitimately valuable category? When it comes to standard rotisserie leagues, the category is worth just as much as any other, and yet the relative scarcity of the statistic doesn't seem to hit home with fantasy players. Take a look at the chart to the right, which shows how many players reached the listed milestones in either home runs or stolen bases last season:

Possessing one of the top three in stolen bases went much further toward winning you the stolen base category than having any of the top 11 sluggers, simply because of how top-heavy the category tends to be. To put it another way, in order for any home run hitter to match an equivalent percentage of the major league total as Billy Hamilton's 56 stolen bases last season, he'd have needed to launch 86 balls over the fence.

Certainly, any player who we legitimately believed to have a chance to reach that ridiculous power number would be the No. 1 overall pick, no questions asked, if for no other reason than hitting 86 home runs would also guarantee a minimum of 86 runs scored and 86 RBIs as well. Steals don't have any similar "automatic" statistical augmentation attached to them, so simply being a one-category producer isn't a good enough reason for me to be so high on Hamilton. But there is more to the story.

The sky's the limit

Last year's numbers were good enough for Hamilton to finish No. 34 on the ESPN Player Rater, and his 2015 projection isn't too far from what he did last season. However, there's no reason why we shouldn't expect far more from Hamilton this season than even these numbers indicate.

Let us not forget that 2014 was his first full season in the majors, and his second-half slump where he hit just .200 after having posted a .285 batting average at the All-Star Break may have simply been a function of his being a rookie. Plus, Hamilton is the first to admit that there's room for improvement.

He's spent time this offseason working out with Delino DeShields to focus on bunting more and getting better at base stealing, so that he can improve his success rate from last year's 70.8 percent. Even an improvement to 80 percent could result in a 70-steal season, assuming he continues to attempt steals at the same rate he did in 2014.

That number could get even higher, as could his batting average, should he follow Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price's advice and work on "getting more balls hit on the ground, more hard line drives, instead of balls in the air."

Plus, with a healthy Joey Votto around for a full season, the chances that the Reds will improve upon last season's dismal 13th-place National League finish in the runs scored category are pretty good. That could easily translate to Hamilton's run total increasing into to low-to-mid 80s, if not higher. Heading into spring training, Votto appears to be fully recovered from his knee issues and Price is "confident he's going to be ready to go."

And even in the worst-case scenario, where Hamilton's offensive numbers pick up where they left off in the second half of 2014, chances are that he still continues to play every day for the Reds, thanks to his defensive prowess. Hamilton was one of the three finalists for the 2014 Gold Glove in center field, and so long as his glove doesn't desert him, he'll get his at-bats.

So, why Hamilton?

Hamilton is not the only player who managed to steal more than 40 bases in 2014. So, why shouldn't we project all of the others in the first round for 2015 as well? To answer that, let's take a quick look at how the quartet of top base stealers from last season maps out for 2015:

Jose Altuve is projected to outperform Hamilton in four out of five categories, and while his batting average is expected to regress from last season's major-league-best .341, he's still projected to have a top-10 finish in that category. That's why I also have Altuve, last season's Player Rater champion, projected as a first-round draft pick on my list (as my No. 6 overall). The reason I'm not writing an entire article on Altuve is simply that I don't expect there to be as much outcry about that call, given his being ranked No. 19 overall in the ESPN 300, as there will be regarding Hamilton.

Moving on to Dee Gordon, I'd argue that his chances of approaching the projections listed above -- which would still have him ranked lower than Hamilton, in my opinion -- aren't a sure thing by any means. Now, if he were still on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who scored more runs last season than any other NL team not playing in Coors Field on a regular basis, perhaps I'd be more optimistic.

However, a change of scenery to the Miami Marlins leaves me doubtful that his run production will be there. Additionally, his .323 batting average on ground balls in 2014 was so much higher than his career .240 on similarly-hit balls prior to last season, that I can't help but think his 2015 batting average might end up regressing even further than the .263 projection.

Finally, there's Ben Revere, whose two home runs last season were the first of his career. There's nothing to indicate a repeat, and when you add to the fact that the aging Phillies may well score even fewer runs in 2015 than they did in 2014, even Revere's modest projections for runs and RBIs may be pie-in-the-sky.

The potential upside for Hamilton to improve upon his projected stats, along with the actual value of what I consider to be his worst-case scenario (barring injury, which let's face it, can befall any player at any time), leads me to value him as the final pick in the first round.

Now, given that I may be alone on an island here, there's a chance I might not pull the trigger on him, rolling the dice that I might be able to wait a few more rounds, fingers crossed that everyone else in my league fails to share my evaluation. In other words, because of where he's ranked in most places, I may not have to pick Hamilton in Round 1 in order to get him. That kind of thinking is an essential part of drafting.

At the end of the day, if push comes to shove and I'm sitting there with the wraparound picks in a 12-team league looking at not selecting again until pick No. 36 if I pass on Hamilton, I'm taking him. I'm not going to let somebody else steal my guy.