The Most Atypical Players in Baseball

Greetings! Yesterday, I wrote about how Billy Hamilton is a freak. If you didn’t read the post, let me save you some time. First of all, yeah, you kind of already knew that. But, statistically, he’s gone almost without comparison. I looked at all regulars and semi-regulars through age 25, going back to 1961, and I examined their batting, baserunning, and defense. Based on my analysis, Hamilton stands out, with his closest comp being Julio Cruz. To this point, he’s been a terrible hitter. He’s also been an elite runner and defender. Highly unusual!

Related to that, I felt somewhat inspired. That was a post about how Hamilton is atypical. Who else these days is atypical? Who these days is the most atypical? What follows is a quick and similar analysis. Of course, you haven’t seen the last of Hamilton’s name.

For this one, I considered just the last three years, and I set a minimum of 750 plate appearances. In the Hamilton post, I pulled numbers from Baseball-Reference, but this time I used our own data, since we’re not going deep into history. This is just about position players, and there are 299 of them in the spreadsheet. Once again, I examined batting, baserunning, and defending.

I put all three numbers over a common denominator, and then I calculated the averages and the standard deviations. For each player, and for each stat, I figured out the number of standard deviations from the mean, and then I took the absolute value to keep everything positive. The last step was adding up the three z-scores. To be consistent, I’ll call this final rating the Sim Score, again. The lower the Sim Score, the more typical the player, by this analysis. And, of course, the higher the Sim Score, the weirder the profile.

The average Sim Score was 2.4. The player with the lowest rating is Asdrubal Cabrera, at 0.2. You could consider him to be arguably the most ordinary player in baseball. Just behind him, Stephen Vogt and Marcus Semien, both at 0.4. It’s not about these players being bad. It’s about them just being across-the-board normal. Nothing there that’s particularly outstanding.

Okay, so, the other side is more interesting. Here are the 10 most atypical players, by this measure.

Top 10 Atypical Players
Player Sim Score
Billy Hamilton 7.6
Jarrod Dyson 7.0
David Ortiz 5.6
Victor Martinez 5.4
Nick Ahmed 5.4
Mike Trout 5.2
Miguel Cabrera 5.0
James McCann 4.8
Tucker Barnhart 4.8
Joey Votto 4.8
Uses data from 2014 – 2016, with a minimum of 750 plate appearances.

Nothing weird about finding Hamilton again, since a similar analysis identified him as being historically exceptional. There’s no consistent player type here. I don’t think Hamilton could be more different from Ortiz, but there they are anyway, two places apart. Hamilton has provided awful hitting, great running, and great defense. Ortiz provided awesome hitting, awful running, and awful defense (positional adjustment included). Ortiz is there for the same reason Martinez is there. For the same reason Cabrera is there. Trout, incidentally, is here because of his excellent hitting and above-average running. The defense has been basically average, but, whatever.

If you’re like me, you’ve gotten stuck on Dyson. We all probably expected to see Hamilton on top, but Dyson is close by, and then there’s a sizable gap before you get to Ortiz. Dyson didn’t show up in Thursday’s analysis because he barely even played in the majors before turning 26. And Dyson, now, is 32. I can’t imagine that his best days are in front of him, but he and Hamilton are extremely similar players. Much like Hamilton, Dyson doesn’t do much of anything at the plate, and his numbers would be even worse if he hadn’t been protected against most southpaws. But Dyson has rated as a phenomenal runner and defender, for years. He’s the kind of player who, a few years ago, we might’ve propped up as being severely underrated. He probably is underrated. It makes me wonder about the trade market.

It feels a little bit like center fielders are everywhere. Andrew McCutchen could get traded at any moment, and in our chats we’re always dealing with questions about Ender Inciarte. Dexter Fowler is a free agent, and Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez are free agents, and Hamilton himself could be available since he’s entering his arbitration years. I don’t think I’ve seen anything about Dyson, but he’s cheap, and he’s entering his final year of control. The Royals are neither good nor bad, and they might need to shift their priorities. Why shouldn’t some team take a shot on Dyson?

I’m actually thinking specifically about the Cardinals. The Royals could plug the middle with Billy Burns and/or Paulo Orlando. They’d survive. The Cardinals could use a strong defensive center fielder, and it doesn’t seem like Dyson would cost them very much. They could still protect him against lefties by platooning him with Tommy Pham, and then in those southpaw games, Dyson could enter as defensive relief. The last three years in center field, Billy Hamilton has posted a UZR/150 of +19. Dyson has come in at +27. DRS has loved Dyson, too, and even though he’s only getting older, we’d be talking about one year. One year, and the Cardinals could keep their most-prized young talent.

I know that Dyson doesn’t do much with the bat, and I know there are better players. I also know the Cardinals err against blockbusters, and Dyson would fit what they’re looking for. The Reds won’t give up Hamilton for cheap. There’s still too much promise there for that to happen. Dyson is less about promise and more about skills that have gone by potentially underrated. Bat him eighth or ninth and it’s not so bad. The pitchers would be grateful.

This post took a turn in the middle. What started out as a simple analysis turned into trade speculation, and I don’t want to make a habit of that. True to expectations, Billy Hamilton shows up as arguably the most atypical position player in the game. Nearest to him, though, is Jarrod Dyson, who’s older, but who’s remarkably similar. There are teams out there wondering what Hamilton might be able to provide to the roster. For those teams, it’s worth acknowledging there’s a cheaper alternative. Hamilton isn’t quite the only one of his type around.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

“This post took a turn in the middle.” Understatement.

However, that turn leads to another opportunity for you to swing at the horse: Which teams acquire freaks? You posit the Cards, certainly we could test that with the sim score you’ve created.

Rufus T. Fireflymember
7 years ago

Swing at the horse? Is that a thing?

7 years ago

The only way to beat a dead horse is to swing at it first

John Elway
7 years ago
Reply to  Barnard


John Autin
7 years ago

Rufus, have you ever been to this site?

(Don’t go before you’ve had your morning coffee.)

Rufus T. Fireflymember
7 years ago
Reply to  John Autin

@John– Wowza! Thanks. My moniker refers of course, to this fellow:

John Autin
7 years ago

Rufus T — Of course! And I would gladly join any club of which you are a member.

Brian Reinhartmember
7 years ago

It’s a thing in “Blazing Saddles”!

7 years ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

“We don’t need no stinking’ badges”