7/7/2014 1:07 P.M. ET
Statcast highlights Hamilton's game-changing speed
Reds outfielder's quick acceleration helps him reach first on infield hits, patrol center
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
If you've been around baseball for any length of time, you've likely heard the expression, "It's a line drive in the box score," referring to a softly-hit base hit. The point is that even if the player almost made an out, instead he's credited with a hit.
That's the way it's always been in baseball. The end result is all that shows up in the stats. The outfielder who covers a ton of ground but comes up just short of the catch gets no credit. The batter who hits a deep drive to the wall makes an out if the ball was caught, just like the guy who hit a weak popup.
But with MLBAM's new Statcast technology, that can change. We're going to be able to track the "almosts." We'll know the difference between the player who came up inches short and the player who wasn't even in the picture.
In the latest round of Stacast clips, we take a look at three plays involving Billy Hamilton, the Reds' sensational rookie speedster. In two of the plays, Hamilton comes up short -- but still impresses.
All three plays took place in a mid-June series between the Reds and Brewers at Miller Park.
In the first inning on June 13, Hamilton tried to make something happen and very nearly succeeded. He put down a bunt against Matt Garza. Aramis Ramirez made an excellent play, moving quickly, scooping and firing, and still the throw beat Hamilton by just the slimmest of margins.
"It's part of his game," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "The other part of it is [Hamilton has] actually increased the size of the infield as a hitter, in the sense they don't have nearly the same amount of infield coverage there."
We'll get to Hamilton's stats in a moment, but take note of Ramirez. He does nice work and it's almost not enough.
Ramirez's first step is measured at minus-1.7 seconds, which is to say he's charging long before the ball hits Hamilton's bat. His route efficiency of 96.5 percent, a measure of the actual distance traveled against the minimum possible distance traveled, is pretty solid, considering he's moving before he even sees which way the ball is moving. And Ramirez's release time is 0.48 seconds.
And yet, even knowing the bunt is coming, even making a slick play, Ramirez almost doesn't get Hamilton. That's because Hamilton can fly. He reaches 21.9 mph, which is just blistering.
That 21.9 mph top speed is more than 32 feet per second, or 10.21 seconds for 100 meters. That's dazzlingly fast, and a better representation of what Hamilton can do than the earlier look we took at him, when he was running on a wet track.
Later in the same game, there's no "almost" about it. Hamilton steals third against a right-hander, and he does so easily. That's a maximum degree of difficulty -- going to third against a righty, when the pitcher knows you're going to try to do it.
Now, Jonathan Lucroy doesn't light up the stopwatch or radar gun with his throw, but still, he doesn't do a poor job. He manages a release time of 0.77 seconds and a velocity of 68.6 mph on his throw. Those are both slower than the plays by Anthony Recker and Travis d'Arnaud we examined in an earlier round of clips, and the location on the throw is not ideal.
Still, the play is not close. There's no doubt Hamilton is going to be safe. He gets to 21.2 mph, despite having less distance for acceleration than he did on the bunt, and he still reaches an eye-popping speed. And once Hamilton is at third, it sets up all kinds of potential havoc.
"When he's at third base, he does a lot of good things," said Price. "It takes away breaking balls, splits and below-zone pitches that guys like to throw. They know that on a short wild pitch or passed ball, he's going to score -- another reason we like to run with him a lot and steal third base, especially with one out."
Finally, we take a look at Hamilton on defense, where he's still learning the outfield -- he came up as an infielder. That shows in his route efficiency, which comes in at 97.4 percent, less than Yasiel Puig and quite a bit less than Andrew McCutchen in plays we examined in the last round of clips.
However, it's not terrible, and Hamilton's speed is remarkable. In comparison to the Puig and McCutchen plays, Hamilton has less distance to accelerate and reaches a much higher speed. He reaches 23.3 mph, which is more than 34 feet per second, or 100 meters in 9.60 seconds.
Hamilton comes up just short of catching the ball, but he gets there. And with a little more refinement of his route running and his reaction time, which should come with time and repetition, Hamilton's speed will play even better in the outfield.
Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.