Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton was at it again Monday, swiping four bags in Cincinnati’s 11-7 win over Minnesota to raise his stolen base total to 40 this season.
Unsurprisingly, that puts Hamilton in the league lead for steals and no one is particularly close. Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon is second with 26, 14 back of Hamilton. Gordon led baseball in stolen bases last season with 64 while Hamilton was tied for second with 56.
Here’s the stat that will really knock your socks off though: Hamilton’s 40 steals are more than the combined totals of 15 major-league teams. That’s right, Hamilton has stolen more bases than half the teams in the big leagues. That’s obviously a long list of teams, but it starts with the Atlanta Braves, who have 38 steals, all the way down to the Los Angeles Dodgers who have the fewest in baseball at 14. In the middle are Angels, Nats, Yankees, Giants, Cardinals and others.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Hamilton’s thievery is how he has racked up so many steals despite a lowly .224 batting average and OBP of .273 in 67 games. Imagine how many more steals he would collect if he reached base at even a league-average rate, which is .314 this season in the NL.
I’ll start by stating the obvious: If Billy Hamilton could get on base at even a somewhat reasonable clip there isn’t a doubt in my my mind that Billy could steal 100 bases year in and year out. The guy is just that fast and that skilled. It’s hard to sit here and say that the offense goes as one man goes, but I don’t think anyone is debating that when Billy Hamilton is performing at a high level this offense is light years better than when he’s struggling to get on base even once a night. The problem with that is obviously Billy is struggling to get on base. Turn on the TV or hop on Twitter and somebody somewhere is sounding off about Billy Hamilton not living up to the hype and failing to get the job done, but keep in mind, Billy is still only 24 and in his second year in the Big Leagues. Most guys tend to struggle in their second year. Teams have an entire season’s worth of film and scouting reports to work with and as a hitter you have to be able to adjust to the adjustments teams are making towards you. I’m pretty confident that Billy will be able to make those adjustments and finally pan out to be the type of player we all know he can be, largely because he’s a phenomenal athlete- almost to a fault if we’re being honest. I’d be willing to bet that for most of Billy’s life he’s been hands down the best athlete on the field every time he laces ’em up and has been able to get by solely based on being a freak of nature for most of his career. That’s not going to cut it in the Big’s though. All the best players in the world are mechanically sound in addition to being tremendous athletes, something that is going to take some time for Billy to develop. Having said that, barring injury or any crazy, unforeseen circumstances, Billy certainly looks like he has the stuff to be the fastest player in the game for the next decade or so, in which case I’d bet my car that we’ll see Hamilton steal 100 bags at some point in his career. As frustrating as Billy has been at times this season (along with the rest of this club), the sky is still the limit for this dude. Let’s just hope that Billy will be able to smash records and make history while he’s still wearing a Reds uniform.
PS- With the calendar soon to flip to July, it’s not too early to start looking at Hamilton’s accomplishments in a historical context. Hamilton is on pace to swipe 86 bases, which would put him in a pretty exclusive class. There have only been 16 instances where a player has stolen more than 85 bases in MLB history and it hasn’t happened since Rickey Henderson got to 93 in 1988.
Kind of hard to believe that with all the great athletes the MLB has seen throughout the years that Rickey Henderson is the last guy to steal more than 85 bases all the way back in ’88, no?