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Sliding Billy or the Man of Steal

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  • Sliding Billy or the Man of Steal

    So... over at the 19th c. forum, people are putting up their all-time Jurassic era teams, and not one single person does not have Billy Hamilton starting in the outfield and (if they wrote a batting order) leading off, and on this forum, Rickey's doing quite well on the "best position player" threads, so I'd like to know what y'all think- who was a better leadoff man, Billy Hamilton or Rickey Henderson?

    I go for Billy. They were both so outstanding at what they did that it's rather silly, of course, but as a pure leadoff man, I think Billy had the edge. Rickey in numbers was a better pure base thief, but I don't think that's fair to Billy, since he was the first great one ever- pioneering the slide into base (hence Sliding Billy). During the fleet part of Billy's career, when he had three straight 100+ steal seasons, the stolen base rules were not the same as the modern ones, and his totals are inflated, however, the first year of the modern rules- 1898- he still managed 54 in 100 games, even though by that time his legs were mostly shot from injuries.

    But in terms of getting on base and scoring runs (what I assume are the leadoff man's primary functions (actually, I suppose they're everybody's functions))- nobody in history was better than Billy, but no wonder, when you combine a .344 lifetime average with five times leading the league in walks (in 11 full non-injury seasons), you get the 4th highest OBP all-time (he led the league there five times as well). In fact, Billy's career mark of .455 is way better than Henderson's best single season (.439 in 1990, the only time in his long career he led the league).

    Billy also managed to straddle two eras better than anyone- his first batting title came before they moved the plate back and his second one afterward (and his .400 year). His only full season of the 1890's that he didn't finish in the top 6 in hitting was 1897, but he still led the league in runs (152) and walks. His single season mark of 192 runs scored seems likely to last forever, and he is one of three (as far as I know) players post 1876 to reitre with more runs scored than games played. Rickey managed to finish in the top five in batting just 3 times in his career, and the comparisons in OPS+, rc/27, etc. all give Billy the nod.

    So, I look forward to reading all of the counterpoint arguments for Rickey.
    46
    Billy Hamilton
    26.09%
    12
    Rickey Henderson
    73.91%
    34
    "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.

  • #2
    Hamilton's a great/ underappreciated player, but with all due respect to him- I'd still go with Rickey- more power, played in a far more competitive era. We simply don't know how good of a player Hamilton would be in the modern era, but I would guess that the chances that Henderson would have been greater in the 1890's had there been no segregation of course, than Hamilton being a terrific player today would have to be in Rickey's favor, though that's all speculation of course.

    Throwing out adjustments, league quality, park effects, and all that, anyone else think that IN THE CONTEXT OF THEIR OWN TIME, the Philadelphia outfield of Hamilton, Delahanty, and Thompson might be the greatest outfield ever in terms of having a great player at each position?

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    • #3
      Originally posted by oscargamblesfro
      Throwing out adjustments, league quality, park effects, and all that, anyone else think that IN THE CONTEXT OF THEIR OWN TIME, the Philadelphia outfield of Hamilton, Delahanty, and Thompson might be the greatest outfield ever in terms of having a great player at each position?
      Looking at the raw numbers, the 1894 version is certainly hard to beat.

      Comment


      • #4
        Buzz,

        Please check my post in 19th century forum, I have Billy Hamilton starting in CF AND have him batting leadoff. I'm pretty sure there are quite a few other posters who have Sliding Billy starting in CF, but I'm not sure if he would be the consensus pick from all the votes, which is a surprise. I think Sliding Billy Hamilton is one of the most underrated players of all time, and I think he is THE BEST leadoff hitter of all time. He still holds the runs scored in a season record, and I think always will.

        In a project I am working on, I have complete bases per game (total bases plus walks plus steals divided by games played) and Billy Hamilton is 5th all time, trailing only Ruth, Gehrig, Bonds and Williams.

        I think Rickey Henderson is underrated also, but also put him as the 2nd best leadoff man all time, behind Billy Hamilton.

        Comment


        • #5
          Two things: One, remember that SB's weren't counted the same in those days as they are today.

          Two, I'd take Hamilton over Rickey as a leadoff hitter. When the guy can hit .344, what are you going to say?
          "Simply put, the passion, interest and tradition surrounding baseball in New York is unmatched."

          Sean McAdam, ESPN.com

          Comment


          • #6
            I have to agree that the phrasing of how often people were voting for Billy Hamilton is awkward, though not inaccurate (actually, it says everybody's voting for Billy, but it took me a while to realize that).

            Anyway, as for leadoff hitter, I've got to go with Rickey. Rickey did his thing for 25 years, and still is reasonably close to what Billy did in 14 (Rickey 123 relative OBP, 74 steals per 162 games; Billy 128 relative OBP, 93 steals per 162 games). That doesn't give Rickey any credit for doing it against opposition most observers agree was stiffer. But if we go to Rickey's first 14 years, Rickey narrows the gaps to 125 to 128 in relative OBP and 91 steals per 162 games to 93. I think that the combination of Rickey's ability to keep doing it for 11 more years plus the league strength argument clearly put him ahead.

            Jim Albright
            Seen on a bumper sticker: If only closed minds came with closed mouths.
            Some minds are like concrete--thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.
            A Lincoln: I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

            Comment


            • #7
              As much as I admire Billy Hamilton, I've got to go with Rickey because:

              1) Rickey played in much higher quality leagues.
              2) Rickey won an MVP
              2) Hamilton's SB totals are greatly inflated due to the fact that going form first to third on singles we also counted as SBs.
              3) Hamilton had a short career and probably was never the best player in his league.
              Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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              • #8
                I'll go with Hamilton, although it is close. Billy has the better SLG and a far superior OBP. And of course Billy as a CF has to have more value than Rickey as an LF.
                Buck O'Neil: The Monarch of Baseball

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Babe is the best
                  Buzz,

                  Please check my post in 19th century forum, I have Billy Hamilton starting in CF AND have him batting leadoff. I'm pretty sure there are quite a few other posters who have Sliding Billy starting in CF, but I'm not sure if he would be the consensus pick from all the votes, which is a surprise.
                  Actually, it was that forum that prompted this poll. At the time I wrote it, every single person on that thread had placed Hamilton in their all-time 19th c outfield.

                  As to Henderson winning an MVP and Hamilton possibly never being the best player in his league, he could quite easily have won the MVP (if they had it) literally most of his seasons of the 1890's, particularly 1891. I find it hard to accept that he was not best player of his league caliber.

                  I've been thinking about inflated SB totals- I don't think it was as much as people imagine. In 1897, he stole 66 in 127 games, in 1898, under modern SB rules, he stole 54 in 110 (with roughly similar OBP). Ed Delahanty actually had his best SB year ever in 1898 at 58, a jump of 32 from the first to third era of the year before. Keeler and Jennings, however, had huge drops. Burkett dropped, but noit drastically. John McGraw stayed roughly the same and topped 70 the next year. I guess I bunch of it depends on the player.
                  "Here's a crazy thought I've always had: if they cut three fingers off each hand, I'd really be a great hitter because then I could level off better." Paul Waner (lifetime .333 hitter, 3,152 lifetime hits.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Bill James actually came up with a stat to judge who makes the best leadoff hitters. It is simple. Take the number of times a player has been of first base, and multiply by .35. Times on second, multiply by .55. Times on third, by .8, and his home runs by 1. That gives you an "expected runs scored" for the leadoff hitter. You can then convert the expected runs scored into runs scored per 27 outs, and compare that figure to the league of runs scored per out. Based on this method, the top leadoff hitters in history who batted leadoff are as follows:

                    1.Rickey Henderson 1.67
                    2.Tim Raines 1.64
                    3.Topsy Hartsel 1.61
                    4.Lenny Dykstra 1.59
                    5.Wade Boggs 1.57
                    6.Bobby Bonds 1.57
                    7.Augie Galan 1.57
                    8.Craig Biggio 1.55
                    9.Eddie Stanky 1.55
                    10.Pete Rose 1.54

                    Hamilton doesn't even make the top 10 (he's 18th I believe, speaking from memory). This really shows in ridiculousness of 1890s baseball, which was by far the highest offensive context era of all time. Hamilton's OBP projected to Henderson's era would be .402 (giving Hamilton a 25 point bouce for LQ), in a much shorter career than Rickey without near the decline phase. Henderson by a healthy margin. Hamilton's underatedness is overrated, and many have ridiculously overrated him becuase of his raw numbers, which need to be put in context because he A)Played in the #1 offensive era of all time, and B)Played in one of the weakest leagues of all time.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Billy Hamilton and his outrageous batting averages happened when the league moved the mound back. Nor were the batting rules formalized back then. Foul strike and so forth.

                      There is no way that Billy Hamilton would bat .400 nowadays or probably even 10 years or so after he did it. On top of that in his Boston years he played in a hitters park

                      I'd go with Rickey who actually stole 100+ base 3 times for real.

                      Lg Batting AVG for Billy
                      .280, .309, .296, 292, 290, .271, .282, .279
                      During Rickeys prime batting average was in the low .260's and sometimes dipped into the .250's.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by 538280
                        This really shows in ridiculousness of 1890s baseball, which was by far the highest offensive context era of all time.
                        I think the fact that Augie Galan comes in seventh on this list shows that this is a completely idiotic way of ranking anything.
                        "Simply put, the passion, interest and tradition surrounding baseball in New York is unmatched."

                        Sean McAdam, ESPN.com

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ElHalo
                          I think the fact that Augie Galan comes in seventh on this list shows that this is a completely idiotic way of ranking anything.
                          Why? Augie Galan was a great leadoff hitter. He walked a lot and had good contact hitting skill, which made for a .390 OBP compared to the league average of .341. His stolen base totals don't look impressive, but he was doing that in the 1930s and 1940s when players stole about as many bases as Duane Kuiper hit home runs (sarcasm). He led his league in stolen bases twice.

                          Go on to BBRef and look at his top tens in "leadoff" categories. He was top 10 in OBP 5 times, runs scored 6 times, walks 8 times, stolen bases 5 times, and times on base 5 times. Not to shabby for a guy with a short career. Obviously, Galan doesn't deserve to rate as high as he does by this method because three of his best years were during WWII, but while he was playing there's no doubt Galan was a great leadoff man.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ElHalo
                            I think the fact that Augie Galan comes in seventh on this list shows that this is a completely idiotic way of ranking anything.
                            Obviously you know next to nothing about Augue Galan. For all intents and purposes Augie was a fine player. No superstar but a very serviceable player.

                            He was a good leadoff man who did what a leadoff man is supposed to do. Get on base at a very good rate.

                            You are underestimating and over-looking a good player.

                            Yankees Fan Since 1957

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              --I agree Galan was a good player, who has been largely forgotten. That said, a "serviceable player" is not the description I'd look for in defending someone as the 7th best leadoffman of all time.

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