by: Mason Kibler
The objective in a game of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent.
I’ll give you a moment to process this groundbreaking analysis.
If scoring more runs is the objective of a team, then crossing home plate is the objective of every hitter. Most of the time, players need assistance from their teammates to accomplish this: via an RBI.
Sometimes, players can score by doing it all on their own: a homerun. In a lot of cases, teams are willing to forgive a low average in favor of being able to hit the long ball. Why? Because you will score more runs with a single player hitting 40 home runs and a .240 average than with two powerless hitters with a .280 average each. That’s why OPS is used in quite a few arbitration hearings.
Now that I’ve simplified baseball down to the point of seeming patronizing, let me explain why this matters so much to the Reds.
Billy Hamilton is perceived as a player who needs to hit .300. A leadoff-hitting, center fielder with great speed and little power. However, unlike every other player in the league, Billy converts his trips to first into more bases at a game-changing rate. This makes him a “power hitter” in my mind.
Take for example the infamous play from a few days ago in St. Louis. The video of him burning home on a shallow fly to right was viewed by millions. What most people didn’t see was him tagging from second on a ball hit not much deeper. Or him stealing--no, taking what was rightfully his--second base off of the best defensive catcher in baseball. The single that put him on first was worth three Todd Frazier singles. And, really, it wasn’t any different than a solo shot from Jay Bruce.
There is a statistic that is loosely measured, but generally written off by many analysts: Stolen bases per times reached (SB/(H+BB+HBP)). It could be written much more precisely; by adding in fielder’s choices and times reached on error, or subtracting extra base hits. But this stat usually floats around and doesn’t mean much, because every base-stealer falls in the same range, and the number varies depending on a wide number of circumstances.
If I were Billy Hamilton’s agent, however, I would print this number out on a sheet of paper and lay it on Walt Jocketty’s desk.
Since putting on a professional uniform, Billy Hamilton steals a base 51% of the time he reaches base. Not 51% of the time he reaches first base with second base open: 51% of the time he gets a hit, walk or hit by pitch. He has never had a season above Rookie ball under 50%. During his 155 stolen base season, he stole 63% of the time he reached.
You know the tiny crack that Omar Vizquel’s glove put in Sabremetrics? Well, Billy broke Sabremetrics.
To put this number into perspective, the MLB SB leader last year, Jacoby Ellsbury, had a 23% rate. Eric Young and Rajai Davis had the best rates at 40% and 44%, respectively, but they normally aren’t that high. Rickey Henderson in his career? 26%.
A lot of opponents to this statistic say that guys like Rickey had a lot more pop, and it isn’t indicative of the amount of times he stole from first. That’s a fair point, but with double the rate of the all-time stolen base and runs leader, Billy would circle the bags just as much given the opportunity. Remember, the ultimate goal of a hitter is to cross home plate. It doesn’t matter how you accomplish that.
Well, who cares? If he can’t get on base, he can’t steal bases, you say.
Let’s assume Billy achieves his career low rate of 50% this season. We’ll also assume he gets 500 plate appearances (~120 games), and maintains his career walk rate of 10%. If he keeps up his Mendoza-esque .200 average for the entire year, he’ll steal 71 bags. That’s good enough for 18 more than last year’s leader.
Hey, now. This is the majors. He’ll never keep up that kind of rate, you reply.
I know it’s a small sample, but as of this very moment--in 50 career MLB plate appearances--he steals a base 94% of the time he reaches (15 SBs, 12 hits, 4 walks).
What happens if Billy sticks to the 50% career low rate, and gets the same amount of chances as Drew Stubbs in 2011 (681 PAs). And, hell, let’s say he hits the same whopping .244 that our beloved Stubbs hit that year...
109 stolen bags. Good enough for 4th most in a season in the modern era.
And, according to his career strikeout rate, he would strikeout 50 times less than the 2011 season leader. I forget who that was.