Speed is the name of the game for Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds. Blazing speed and smart base running have made Hamilton a threat. A single easily turns into a double when Hamilton swipes second base. He can go first to third on hits that would force other runners to stop at second. It is almost surprising if Hamilton does not steal a base and score a run every time he reaches base.
The baseball adage that speed never slumps is true but in the case of Hamilton, he is having difficulty using his speed because he is not getting on base enough. Hamilton has played 208 career games entering Sunday, roughly one and a quarter seasons in the Major Leagues. He has collected 89 stolen bases, been caught stealing 27 times (76.7% success rate), scored 106 runs, 187 hits, 29 doubles, 11 triples, 9 home runs, and walked 46 times. However, Hamilton is a career .248 hitter, with a .290 OBP, and 151 strikeouts in 753 at bats. When he does hit the ball, Hamilton is batting .297 on BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play). It might be time for Reds Manager Bryan Price, Hitting Coach Don Long, and Assistant Hitting Coach Lee Tinsley to institute the Willie Mays Hayes rule on Hamilton. If he hits the ball in the air or strikes out, he owes them 20 pushups. If Hamilton can make more contact he can put more pressure on the defense to make mistakes while fielding the ball and/or once on base by stealing a base or three, or by taking the extra base.
Billy Hamilton has the talent to climb the ladder towards Rickey Henderson’s record of 1,406 stolen bases. Although it may be unfair to compare Hamilton to Henderson at this point in his career, it is a compliment this early in Hamilton’s career. After his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, Henderson had played 247 games, with 133 stolen bases, been caught stealing 37 times (78.2% success rate), scored 160 runs, 275 hits, 35 doubles, 7 triples, 10 home runs, walked 151 times, and struck out 93 times in 989 at bats. Henderson was batting .292, with a .392 OBP, and .314 BAbip.
Rickey Henderson was a great hitter and knew that his abilities with the bat were necessary if he was to utilize his legs. Hamilton has the lineup behind him to see pitches to hit. Opposing pitchers cannot take Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce lightly. Pitchers have their hands full with any of this trio at the plate, and having Hamilton on base only adds to the stress for each pitch. Do you want to give up a hit or a stolen base; this is the dilemma facing the other team when Hamilton reaches. Hamilton can change the fortune of the Reds offense by improving his ability to get on base. He knows what to do once he is on base. He just needs to increase the frequency that he is on base.