Is Billy Hamilton's Offense Finally Catching Up to Everything Else?
They say you can't teach speed.
And it's true. People are either born fast, slow or somewhere in between. Sure, you can help a fast runner get faster, but at the end of the day, if a person can run really fast, it didn't happen because of practice. People with elite speed come out of the womb with the legs of a jackrabbit.
Cincinnati Reds' center fielder Billy Hamilton is one of those guys -- always has been. In the minors, he stole more than 100 bases a season. In his first few years in the big leagues, he routinely swiped more than 50 bags every year, and this year, he continues to do more of the same.
Hamilton has always stolen a ton of bases and played great defense, even as he often times was a black hole at the plate. This year has been no different. In the last two days alone, Hamilton has made two of the best catches you're going to see this year.
First, this incredible grab on Tuesday.
MLB's Statcast says Hamilton reached a top speed of 22 miles per hour (MPH), which is insane when you think about running that fast while trying to track a fly ball that is slicing away from you the entire time. He covered 123 feet during his sprint to the left-center field gap and had a route efficiency of 97.2%, meaning he took a pretty darn near perfect path to the ball.
Then, he did this on Wednesday.
Statcast says Hamilton reached a max speed of 19.2 MPH on this effort and covered 63.4 feet with a route efficiency of 88.7%.
They are two defensive plays that very few -- if any -- center fielders make. It is why Hamilton has been worth 14 defensive runs saved so far this season, second only to Kevin Pillar's 16.
But none of this is new. Billy Hamilton has been doing things like this ever since he came into the league in 2013. What is new is that his offensive game just might be catching up to his other insane skills.
His .261 batting average is nothing to brag about, but it is the highest of his career and 35 points higher than last year's .226 clip. His on-base percentage (OBP) has also jumped -- from .274 a year ago to .320 this year -- thanks to an increased walk rate (6.2% to 7.6%). It's the first time in Hamilton's career he's had an OBP over .300.
Again, not earth-shattering numbers, but it's definitely an improvement. It's what he's done in each half of this season that is particularly eye-opening.
His walk rate has doubled, and his batting average has spiked, as well. And when you can steal bases like Hamilton, many of those singles and walks into doubles.
One of the big changes is that Hamilton has been taking the ball back up through the middle more than ever before.
He's hitting to the opposite field with far less frequency since the All-Star Break, with a greater percentage of his batted balls going up the middle. That differs from his career norms and has allowed more of his balls to make it through the infield, defying defensive placement. It's one of the reasons his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has increased from .293 in the first half to .385 in the second half.
Hitting them where they ain't and improving one's plate discipline is a great recipe for getting on base more often, and it is part of what has made Hamilton even more dangerous over the last few weeks. In the midst of the second 2-plus WAR season of his career, if Hamilton can continue to make strides offensively, he can be an intregal part of the Reds' rebuilding efforts.