CINCINNATI — In the Sabermetric/Statcast world that baseball has become, everything is measured.
You’ve got exit velocity.
You’ve got launch angle.
You’ve got catch probability.
And, of course, you’ve the acronym soup of stats: OPS, BABIP and WAR.
But it seems to me nothing quite measures accurately the impact Billy Hamilton has a game.
If you go by OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), Hamilton is terrible. His OPS was .628, fifth worst in the National League going into Tuesday. His average was at .252. His on-base was .304.
But he can change a game like few others because of his speed.
Take Monday night. St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez was working on a one-hit shutout. He had faced the minimum 18 batters going into the seventh.
Then Hamilton reached on a bunt single.
“Going into the at-bat, I knew I was going to bunt,” Hamilton said. “That’s what’s been getting me in the past. I didn’t know if I wanted to hit this pitch or bunt this pitch. You have to go into that pitch knowing you’re going to bunt.
“If you go in, ‘I want to bunt. No, I want to hit.’ The next thing you know is you’re late on pitches. You’re popping the ball because you’re late.”
Once Hamilton gets on, he changes the game.
“We talk about the types of pitches guys get to hit when guys are rushing the ball to the plate,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “Maybe throwing more fastballs to give the catcher a chance to throw Billy out.
“He’s a huge distraction. That may be more important than the stolen base impact.”
Martinez certainly was a different pitcher once Hamilton got on. Martinez fell behind Zack Cozart 3-1 before allowing a single. Joey Votto walked. An out later, Eugenio Suarez doubled and Martinez was done. The Reds went on to win 4-2.
My guess is Hamilton’s bunt single was more than the first domino, i.e, if he doesn’t reach, Martinez doesn’t give it up.
Again, it’s impossible to quantify it, but Hamilton being on base impacts the game in a dozen little ways.
“No one advances more bases than Billy Hamilton,” Price said. “I’m not talking about an overall number. I’m talking the amount of times he’s on base and he’s able to go from first to third where very few could, advancing on a short wild pitch or a bunt or a slow ground ball that might otherwise be an out.
“I think the other thing for Billy is what he does for the guys hitting behind when he’s on the base. If you have runners at first and third and choose to run, it’s very unlikely that catcher is going to throw through simple because of the probability of Billy being able to steal home plate. It’s hard to play the infield in with Billy on third because with hard contact, it’s going to be a rarity that you’re going to be able to get him unless the ball is hit right to a position player.”
Hamilton’s scored from second on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. He won a game by scoring from first on a single. The thing you see when you watch Hamilton play a lot is not only is he fast — by most measures the fastest runner in baseball — he trusts his speed and takes chances.
The play he scored from first on a single? A lot of runners could have made it — there wasn’t even a throw home — but Hamilton is probably the only runner who would have tried it.
Hamilton has also been very good this year at getting the Reds started well. He entered Tuesday hitting .333 with .412 on-base in the first inning. And when he’s gotten on, he’s gotten in more times than not. He’s reached base 21 times in the first and scored 15 runs.
Hamilton entered Tuesday 10th in the NL in runs with 38.
Of course, with Hamilton, everybody always wants more and everyone thinks Hamilton can elevate his game with bunting.
He’s attempted bunts for a hit 100 times in his career. He’s been successful 38 times. That’s in line with Juan Pierre, one the great recent bunters. Pierre had a .388 average on bunts. The difference is it was a major focus of his game.
“I didn’t focus on it a lot. I focused on hitting baseball first,” he said. “I’ve come back to the bunt a little more. The past few weeks I’ve gotten a few more bunt hits. It can take the pressure off me hitting.”
Hamilton seems to have found his bunting stroke. He didn’t have a bunt hit until May 20. He’s had three more since.
Hamilton is not bunting because of Reds’ edict.
“The part for me is he has a lot of elements to his game offensively to focus on,” Price said. “We saw the evolution of base-stealing at this level after 2014, the decrease in the balls in the air, the hard contact. There’s a lot to cover with young players, especially young players who being challenged by Major League pitching.
“(Bunting) was emphasized. But not overemphasized. We wanted to focus on him getting comfortable from both sides of the plate and get efficient, especially with strike zone command, which greatly improved.”
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.