The son of former New York Jets backup Bob Burns, A’s prospect Billy Burns has running back blood, and now, in concert with an oft-praised inexhaustible drive and a couple other sharp tools, he’s used it to run his way into the big leagues. With the news that 4th outfielder Craig Gentry has suffered a broken hand, Oakland has called up the 24 year old outfielder to the big leagues.
Burns, who was acquired from the Nationals this past winter for reliever Jerry Blevins had been hitting .250/.333/.330 with 51 stolen bases with Double-A Midland prior to the call up. Last year, he swiped 74 bags – third most of any minor league player – and posted a .315 average and .425 on base percentage between Washington’s High and Double-A affiliates. MLB.com currently has him ranked as the 17th best prospect in the A’s system.
There was a time when Burns would have looked out of place on the Athletics, back when general manager Billy Beane was still notorious for his perceived aversion to the stolen base. In 2002, the year the Athletics won 103 games, they finished last in the majors by swiping 46 bags, 131 fewer than the MLB leading Florida Marlins. Oakland ranked in the bottom three in stolen bases for the next three seasons as well, bottoming out with 31 in 2005.
But Burns actually fits the perfect mold for the new Moneyball that puts a premium on defense and smart baserunning.
And Burns is a smart baserunner. 51 stolen bases is all well and good, but the more notable aspect from his stat line is actually the fact that he has been caught five times: a stolen base percentage of 91%. By contrast, famed rookie base-stealer Billy Hamilton has a SB% of 72% this year and Mike Trout, the newly crowned all time leader in stolen base percentage, has a career mark of 88%.
In the field, his arm is below average – part of the reason, along with a complete lack of power, that he fell to the 32nd round of the 2011 draft – but his speed endows him with enough range to play all three outfield position and cover as much ground as noted A’s glovemen Craig Gentry and Coco Crisp.
And when discussing moneyball, don’t forget plate discipline. The A’s reliance on the walk may not be as profound as it once was – as the rest of the league has wised up, on base ability can no longer be had for the discount it could in the early 2000’s – but they still have drawn the most free passes of any club and rank 4th in team on base percentage.
Burns fits well in this regard; over three and a half minor league seasons, he owns a walk percentage of 12.2% (MLB average is approximately 9%), though it took a slight dip to 10.4% this season. His professional on base percentage is .398.
Don’t expect a Billy Burns hit to leave Oakland Coliseum anytime soon, if ever; the A’s stadium is cavernous and he went three years and 1,485 plate appearances between his first professional home run in 2011 and his last one on July 14th.
Burns, though, has other tools – speed, range, patience, work ethic – in troves, and Beane may have turned another undervalued asset, a 32nd round draft pick traded for a middle reliever, into a major league contributor.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball scouted Burns and ranked him as the Athletics’ #10 prospect coming into the season.
“ I think he’s a fourth outfielder,” he wrote, summing up the 5’9 outfielder, “but a fun one.”