If you haven’t seen the video of Billy Hamilton’s heist from Tuesday, please indulge before we continue:
The only thing missing is Carlos Beltran’s reaction. While you don’t need statistics to know just how amazing that catch was, they certainly don’t hurt. Per Statcast, Hamilton’s route efficiency was 97.2%, he topped out at 22.0 MPH and he covered 123.0 feet. Then, Hamilton did it again, this time to Mitch Moreland. While it wasn’t quite as impressive, that’s not saying much, considering the Beltran defrauding was most likely the catch of the year.
To be honest, I was already planning on writing an article about Hamilton before this, ever since I wrote about the Rockies’ rotation and was thinking about what some of the harder knock teams can enjoy right now even as they look forward to in the future. Hamilton is that piece for the Reds. Unless, of course, you are a terrible person and don’t enjoy the unique players who defy the odds and succeed at baseball where many thought they would fail, in which case feel free to move along.
You can watch Billy Hamilton’s defensive highlights all day long. It’s not just the eye test, obviously, as the stats back it up. This year, by Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, for all position players, he’s 11th by DRS by and 7th by UZR and, among center fielders, he’s in 2nd place by both defensive metrics.
He currently leads MLB with 53 stolen bases (with an 88% success rate, no less), so it might look like he’s on course to finish the season with 65. That would almost certainly be enough to take the top honors on the season, but it would only be the most bases snagged post-2010, when Juan Pierre took top honors with 68. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the fact that, of Hamilton’s 53, 31 have come in the second half in only 36 games. So, for the sake of argument/fun, if Hamilton keeps up the pace he’s had in the second half so far (which is pretty easy to figure out, since there are 36 games left), he would finish the season with 84 stolen bases, which would be the most since 1988, when Rickey Henderson had 93.
We always knew Hamilton was fast as hell. The question was whether or not he would be able to hit enough to make his defensive and baserunning contributions worthwhile. After his his somewhat ridiculous (and ridiculously small sample sized) 13-game debut in 2013, where he had an OPS+ of 150, Hamilton had some problems at the plate. His 2014, he hit .250/.292/.355 and his OPS+ was 81, but that was still enough to earn him 2nd place in Rookie of the Year voting, because of just how well he did everything else. 2015 saw him struggle even more, where he hit .226/.274/.289 for a 55 OPS+.
This year, though, he’s come somewhat correct and is hitting .261/.321/.353. His OBP has been trending up this season as a whole, and when you look at his 15-game rolling OBP, you can see just how much better he’s been as of late. The reason for that is simple, he’s finally doing what he’s needed to do, given his absolute lack of power: hit more ground balls.
Hamilton never had power, but, with the exception of his 2013 debut, he’s hit far less ground balls than even the average hitter, that is, until this year. This year, he basically traded out 7% of his fly balls for a 3% increase in line drives and and 4% increase in ground balls. Even though he’s striking out a little bit more, the tradeoff is still paying dividends for Hamilton. It doesn’t matter if Hamilton’s ISO is .090 ISO, the 7th worst mark in MLB, the more ground balls Hamilton hits, the more we get to enjoy this:
If he continues producing at the rate he has thus far on the season, he’ll certainly have an over 3.0 season by both fWAR and bWAR, making not only an extremely exciting player to watch, but also a very productive one. If he’s able to keep hitting the ball on the ground and maintain his OBP as of late, he could be even better. The Reds have had a rougher go of a rebuild than some of the other teams currently in the baseball basement, thanks to some poor decisions and luck on trade timing. Reds fans may not have a lot of reasons to be watching right this minute, but they have a player who could potentially break a record that’s older than the first Internet virus, and that’s worth tuning in for.