Just How Tough Is It To Throw Out Billy Hamilton?

Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton has already proved to be quite a weapon since he was made a September callup. In his first start as a major leaguer, Hamilton went 3-for-4 with two walks, two runs scored, an RBI and four stolen bases in four attempts. The four steals gave him nine steals in nine attempts in eight big league games this year, putting him second on the Reds’ in steals this season behind only Shin-Shoo Choo’s 18.

Putting aside his 3-for-4 night, there are still plenty of questions about Hamilton’s bat and its readiness to handle big league pitching. But there is little doubt that Hamilton causes havoc when he reaches base. Looking at his four steals from last night just reinforces what we wrote about last year: Hamilton’s speed ruins the math of throwing out a base stealer.

Please go back and read last year’s feature on Hamilton and base stealing to get more detail, but we can illustrate pretty quickly how the math of throwing out Hamilton often doesn’t work out. On the three of Hamilton’s four steal attempts last night where the broadcast showed his steal from first move to sliding into second, Hamilton was consistently taking roughly 3.1 seconds from first move to tagging the bag. These were timed by counting frames of video. On a scout’s stopwatch, they would likely be timed at closer to a 3.0, as even with some anticipation, it takes time to go from seeing Hamilton start his steal to pushing the plunger on the stopwatch. If you want a fuller explanation of how each steal was timed, please see the note at the bottom of this story.

A scout said he and multiple other scouts timed Hamilton at  2.98-3.03 on steals last year. The same scout timed Rickey Henderson at 3.04-3.10 seconds from first to second in his prime. Yes, the scout said that Hamilton is faster going from first to second than the all-time stolen base champ.

If a base stealer can get from first to second in 3.1 seconds, the math of throwing him out becomes very, very difficult. With a slide-step, a pitcher can often cut his time to home to 1.1-1.2 seconds. Without the slide step, a 1.3 second time home is pretty reasonable. For any pitcher taking more than 1.3 seconds to throw home against Hamilton, it’s probably not worth even considering a pitchout.

Watching three of Hamilton’s steals from last night, the Astros’ didn’t do a terrible job in any aspect of trying to slow down Hamilton. On two of the three steals, the pitcher took 1.3 seconds from first move home to the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. On the first steal, the Astros’ did even better with Brad Peacock recording a 1.2 second time to home. All three times are quite reasonable and are signs that the pitcher isn’t especially slow to home.

On two of the three steals, helped by pitchouts, the Astros’ catchers ripped off 1.8 second pop times, which are extremely good for anyone not in the Yadier Molina category. The third steal came against a 1.9 second pop time, which still rates as above-average. Most teams consider a 2.0 pop time to be big league average.

Just 3.1 seconds. That’s all Hamilton’s opposition has to work with. If the pitcher can turn in a sub 1.2-second time to home, which almost invariably requires a good slide step, then a catcher with an above-average pop time (say 1.8 seconds) can throw Hamilton out. But even then it requires a well-placed throw so the fielder doesn’t have to spend a crucial tenth of a second to apply the tag. Anything more than that and Hamilton is going to be dusting himself off from scoring position.

Here’s a look at three of Hamilton’s four steals from last night and just how tough the Astros’ job was.

Hamilton’s First Steal

Billy Hamilton


Billy Hamilton’s time from first move to touching second base: 3.1 seconds.

Brad Peacock’s time home: 1.2 seconds.

Carlos Corporan’s pop time to second base: 1.9 seconds.

The math adds up as equal: 3.1 seconds for the steal and 3.1 seconds for the pitch and throw. But shortstop Jonathan Villar has to catch the ball on the shortstop side of the bag. It would have taken a perfect throw on the second-base side of the bag for Villar to throw Hamilton out.

Hamilton’s Third Steal

Billy Hamilton

Just before this steal, Astros’ reliever Josh Fields had given Hamilton what appeared to be his best pickoff move. Hamilton went back into first base standing up. Emboldened by that, Hamilton was off at first movement on the next pitch.

Hamilton’s time from first step to tagging second: 3.1 seconds.

Field’s time to home: 1.3 seconds

Carlos Corporan’s pop time to second (helped by a pitchout): 1.8 seconds.

If Fields was just a little quicker to home, maybe the Astros could have gotten Hamilton here. The throw was on the proper side of the bag, and the pitchout helped Corporan cut his pop time from 1.9 seconds to a blazing 1.8. But Fields’ leg kick  was the difference.

Hamilton’s Fourth Steal

Billy Hamilton


This is the steal that shows just how tough it is to nab Hamilton. The Astros again call a pitchout. Reliever Jorge De Leon is reasonably quick coming home and new catcher Matt Pagnozzi throws a well-placed strike, but it’s still not enough. When throwing out Hamilton, everything has to be perfect, even on a pitchout. De Leon’s throw forces Pagnozzi to reach to his glove side to catch the ball, which adds too much time to his pop time.

Hamilton from first to second: 3.1 seconds.

De Leon’s time to home: 1.3 seconds

Pagnozzi’s pop time (helped by a pitchout): 1.8 seconds.

The Astros knew that Hamilton was going to be stealing. But with righthanders on the mound, Hamilton’s ability to get back on almost any move they offer gives him the ability to take a lead to the edge of the first base cutout. That bigger lead is something he’s improved since his days in Class A. His confidence on the bases generally allowed him to take off at the first movement of the pitcher, without having to wait to see if he was throwing over. Add it all up, and he makes for a very difficult math problem for the opposition.

After attempting to time each steal with a stopwatch, it was found to be more accurate to time all three by counting the number of frames between each step of the play and then dividing by the frame rate of the video. The frame rate of the video capture varied by video from between 9.947 and 9.98 frames per second. Because it’s showing roughly 10 frames per second, all times recorded were rounded to the closest tenth of a second.