Billy Hamilton is a pretty lousy base-stealer. He doesn’t read pitchers particularly well, he gets bad jumps, and his slides go from smooth to awkward to downright disastrous. So it’s pretty amazing that he has 63 stolen bases through the first 57 games of the California League season.
He’s doing it on pure speed. There’s not much technique there. The man is just fast. Ridiculously, historically, ludicrously fast.
He’s dominating the California League with an OBP over .400 and, as of Tuesday, 50 runs scored. I suspect he’s not going to be in High-A much longer, so I made a point of going to see him when the Blaze came to San Jose to play the San Jose Giants. The Blaze swept the three-game set against the Little Giants, thanks in large part to Billy’s five hits, five walks, five runs scored, and six stolen bases.
This is an account of what I saw during the last game of that set, on the evening of June 1, 2012.
First plate appearance; first inning Result: Single, SB, advances to third on passed ball, scores
On the hill for the Giants was junkballin’ lefty Jack Snodgrass. His fastball topped out at 89 mph, and mostly sat at 84. He gets by on excellent control and mixing speeds to keep hitters off balance.
Hamilton stepped in against Snodgrass, and this is what happened.
Defending against Billy Hamilton is a losing proposition. His BABIP is .398. In April,Sam Miller and I watched Hamilton go 3-for-3 on three infield choppers. All three should have been routine groundouts. Hamilton beat out all three, and they weren’t even especially close.
“Infielders are playing Billy in a lot,” according to Blaze announcer Dan Besbris. “And not just at the corners. We’re seeing middle infielders playing at double-play depth with no one on.”
Hamilton’s chopper up the middle here probably would’ve been a hit no matter where the middle infielders were playing. So he’s on first, and everyone in the park knows he’s going.
“I’ve got the green light at all times,” Hamilton told me. “It’s helping me learn a lot. If I go and get thrown out, the coaches tell me what I did wrong.”
[:25] He takes off on the first pitch with a lefty on the mound, virtually no secondary lead, and a pretty lousy jump, and steals it easily.
[:35-1:03] Hamilton disrupts the opposition just by being on base. San Jose Giants shortstop Joe Panik is focused entirely on Hamilton, and Snodgrass and Giants’ catcher Susac may be, too -- we have no way of knowing if he helped “induce” the passed ball that allows him to advance to third, but it’s certainly possible.
[1:22-1:30] Hamilton scores easily on a 6-3 groundout.
Second plate appearance; third inning Result: Walk, CS.
You can skip this video, frankly, or just fast-forward to 1:50 if you want to see Hamilton get picked off. It’s pretty impressive, because he almost makes it to second safely on speed alone.
If you choose to watch the entire video of this plate appearance, here are some highlights.
[:00-:08] Stadium announcer mispronounces “contest” and I make fun of him.
[:22-:30] Guy one row behind me (GORBM) tells his friends about Mr. Hamilton. “This guy right here? He’s fast as crrrrraaaaap. He’s got like 40 steals in a 50-game season already.” The next time he would tell his friends about Hamilton, he’d stolen 50 bases. The next, 67.
[:50-:1:02] GORBM tells his friends about Turkey Mike’s barbecue. “Phenommmmmmmmmmmenal.”
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