If you were to ask baseball fans who they thought was the fastest player in the game was, some of the usual suspects would come up. Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, or even Jarrod Dyson would be commonly suggested. But, we need not overlook the quietly emerging speed merchant, Billy Burns, who stepped up for the A’s last season to have a solid rookie year.
Now speed is one of the hardest things to gauge in baseball since there are plenty of guys that are fast, yet are bad base runners. But, Burns has quietly surfaced as one of the fastest and efficient players in the game. Burns was a 32 round draft pick by the Nationals in 2011, and it is safe to say that expectations were not set too high. He only stands at 5’9 and 180 pounds, so power was never going to be his game, but throughout his minor league career he has improved his game in every aspect.
He came over to the A’s via trade in 2014, and shown continually progression. He eventually forced Oakland to call him up in 2015, where he would go on to actually place fifth in A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
Fantasy owners always want to draft multi category producers, but those type of players are few and far between, not to mention usually drafted pretty quickly. However, there are also some players that excel in one category.
Like many other owners, I have been infatuated with drafting Billy Hamilton the last couple of seasons, with the idea that by taking him I would basically guarantee winning the SB category every week or for the season. Unfortunately, Hamilton seems to forget that he cannot steal first base and owning him as become more of a detriment than an advantage thanks to his other horrid peripheral stats.
This is why Burns offers owners the chance at getting a player that should steal close to 50 bags, but also not kill you in any of the other categories. If you were to line up Hamilton and Burns next to each other and told them to race, Hamilton may win. But, Burns is the better baseball player.
Unlike Hamilton, Burns has shown the ability to be to get on base. Even though Burns had about a 5% walk rate in 2015, he did have a .334 OBP which aligns with his .332 career rate. Now I will concede that Hamilton may steal more bases next season but what is more valuable, a .220 hitter than steals 50 bags or a guy that steals 40 and bats .270?
That may be a cut and dry example that ignores their other counting stats, but it is a good representation of the fantasy value that each player brings. Digging deeper into Burns batted ball data is it vital to see whether or not he can continue to hit going forward.
With speedsters it is vital for their batted ball data to maximize the potential to get on base and create chaos. The one thing that plagues Hamilton is that he hits way too many fly balls, career 37% FB rate, but fortunately for Burns his FB rate comes in at only 28%. That plays a huge part in the ability for Burns to ability to stay from automatic outs as fly balls are usually easier to convert than ground balls against players with speed.
Burns was also no slouch in squaring the ball up though either as he had a 21.6% LD rate and a 56% medium level of contact rate in 2015. Combine that ability with his GB rate staying around 50%, and you have a hitter that should not have a problem posting a consistent AVG and offer plenty of steals.
While Burns certainly has some potential and upside going forward, there are some areas where Burns can continue to improve. In the minors Burns had consistently posted a BB% that was over 10%. That was cut in half last season, largely thanks to him becoming more aggressive at the plate and usually trying to attack the first pitch. So if he can get closer to his walk rate that he showed in the minors, it should help drive up his counting stats even more.
Owners should not expect a power uptick as his five homers last season were a career high and two more than he had posted over the course of his first four seasons. Some detractors like to also point to his .294 AVG last season as hard to repeat thanks to his .339 BABIP.
While that is above the league average of .300, speedsters often buck the trend of a high BABIP being used as a way to deem a player getting lucky. Look no further than fellow speedster Dee Gordon, who has posted a .346 and .383 BABIP the last two seasons. Players that can successfully slap the ball all over the field, bunt well, and beat out infield hits are going to have high BABIP because they turn usual outs into base hits.
The outfield position in baseball is deep every season, but Burns brings a decent blend of speed and average that can be a welcome addition. Burns will bat leadoff for the A’s so his counting stats should be alright even though Oakland does not exactly have an offensive juggernaut.
Target Burns as an OF3 or OF4 next season and look to pounce on him in the middle of the draft. He can supply plenty of speed while not killing you anywhere else, this season looks like the year where he puts it together and breaks out so do not miss out.
2016 Early Projections: .285/2 HR/50 RBI/40 SB/75 R/.725 OPS