The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Billy Hamilton”

Rickey Henderson Looks Good On the Dance Floor

There’s been a great deal of early season hype about whether or not Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton, who stole over a hundred bases in two consecutive minor league seasons, could match that feat as a rookie this season.  Of course, Hamilton will have to be able to reach first base a reasonable number of times to be able to do so.

Thus far, he is 0 for 2014, having reached base via a base on balls once in 13 plate appearances, without a single safe hit to his credit.  He was also thrown out in his only stolen base attempt.

Still, it’s very early in the season, and Hamilton did bat over .300 in a late-season trial last year, and he hit well this past spring training as well.

Some say Hamilton has the raw speed to steal over 80 bases, if not this year, then certainly in some future season.  That prompted me to research which player(s) was the last to steal over 80 bags in a year.  The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, back in 1988.  Actually, Henderson stole 93 that year for the Yankees.  Vince Coleman led the N.L. with 80 steals.  No other player has reached 80 steals since then.

For those of you who remember watching Henderson play baseball, especially when he was on the base-paths, you will remember that there have been few players like him who could create so much excitement in so many ways.  Rickey was never boring.

I have a Youtube clip of Rickey Henderson playing baseball, and another clip a bit below that of a song that I think goes well with Henderson’s style of play.

To match them up, first click on the bottom (Arctic Monkey’s) video (make sure the volume on your computer is turned up.)  Then go up and click on the Rickey Henderson video.  Be sure to click on the mute icon below the Henderson video to the left of the 2:21, or you’ll be listening to two overlapping videos.  Then click on the full screen icon on the far right,  and watch Rickey do his thing.  (The music lasts slightly longer than the Henderson video.)

Sorry about my lack of technical expertise, but I was born and raised in an analogue world.  I hope you enjoy this synthesis of modern music and classic, old video.

 

 

 

 

 

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Billy Hamilton, and the New Stolen Base Record

On Tuesday night, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, a shortstop with the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos, set a new professional baseball record for stolen bases in a season.  He now has 147 steals in 2012.

Hamilton broke the old record set in 1983 by Vince Coleman, then an outfielder on the Cardinals Single-A Macon baseball team.  Coleman, of course, went on to steal over 100 bases in each of his first three MLB seasons, and he led the N.L. in steals in each of his first six years.  He also led the N.L. in times caught stealing three times during that period (1985-90.)

Coleman went on to steal 752 bags in his career, sixth best all-time.  More impressively, Coleman’s successful steal percentage for his career was about 81%.

Yet Vince Coleman ultimately was not a very valuable baseball player.  His career WAR was just 10.5, and he never reached 3.0 WAR in any of his 13 seasons.  His career OPS+ of 83 is even less impressive.  Coleman never reached 25 doubles or even seven home runs in a season, and despite all the plate appearances he accumulated, especially in his first half-dozen years, he reached a hundred runs scored just twice.

All of which brings us back to Billy Hamilton.  (And yes, it is a bit ironic that he has the same name as a famous 19th-century baseball player who also stole a lot of bases.)

While his stolen base totals are impressive, there are four things that will enable Hamilton to be a truly valuable MLB player.

1 On-Base Percentage:  If he knows how to draw a walk (say, 70-80 per year), those walks will add significant value, as long as he can hit above .275.

 2) Gap power:  Even though reaching first base appears to be a virtual automatic double with him, he should still (in his prime) be able to drive the ball into the gaps and leg out at least 25-35 doubles and double-digit triples.  50-60 extra base hits per year should be his baseline.

3) Stolen Base percentage:  Loads of steals are nice, but the goal is not simply to reach second base (or even third base), it is to score runs.  A caught stealing is much more harmful than a stolen base is helpful.  If he can steal at something very nearly at (or, preferably, above) an 80% success rate, then all the running will be worthwhile.  If he gets caught 30% or more of the time, then this is all much ado about nothing.

 4) Defense:  Will his quickness on the base-paths translate into good range in the field?  Will he end up being a defensive asset?  If so, then he becomes much more valuable.  If not, then we are looking at a fast guy without a real position, and that means a glorified pinch-runner.

At least three out of these four aptitudes will be necessary for him to be a useful ball player.  Two will allow him to hang around for a while.  One means a future career as a pinch-runner who ends up back in Triple-A for good before he turns 30.  On the other hand, if he hits all four of the above benchmarks, then we might be looking at the next Kenny Lofton or Tim Raines.

It’ll be interesting to see how much the Reds allow him to develop as an actual baseball player before he is let loose on the base-paths.  They might be sorry if they rush this kid before he is ready, because though he’d be fun to watch with the one skill he was born with, he’ll be a lot more useful when he is truly Major League ready.

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