Billy Hamilton’s left thumb, which was broken on Sept. 6, probably still hurts. But the former Taylorsville High star can still swing the bat. And he can still run. Hamilton’s blazing speed was on display Sunday against Boston at Great American Ballpark, first when he tripled to drive in a run and later when he escaped a rundown between first and second base and wound up scoring. On that play, Hamilton dashed to third on a bad throw and scooted home when the Red Sox neglected to cover the plate. “In my whole career, that’s one of the best ones …,” Hamilton told The Associated Press. (Boston would win the game, however, 5-4 thanks to some heads-up baserunning by Mookie Betts.) Hamilton has played twice since coming off the disabled list last Wednesday. He is 3-for-8 with a pair of runs. He still leads the National League with 58 steals, two ahead of Miami’s Dee Gordon. Hamilton is batting .250 (.301 on-base percentage) with 10 triples and 84 runs in 134 games in his fourth season as a Reds regular.
The Billy Hamilton highlight reel, filled with daring stolen bases, ridiculous diving catches and great throws, added something new today: a walk-off home run. The Taylorsville High product swatted a Josh Hader fastball over the left-field wall at Great American Ballpark as Cincinnati beat Milwaukee 5-4. It was not only the first walk-off ever for Hamilton but his first right-handed homer of the season. The 160-pound leadoff batter and center fielder, who also picked up his 12th assist in the game, has four homers his season and 17 career bombs. “I’d rather throw a guy out than hit the big homer, but I’ll take both of them,” he told The Associated Press. On the season, he is batting .250 with 36 RBIs, 82 runs and an MLB-best 58 steals.
Billy Hamilton went from the batter’s box to third base in 10.62 seconds on a triple in Cincinnati’s game against San Diego on Monday night. According to mlb.com, that’s tied for the third fastest time this season; the ex-Taylorsville High star already claims the two fastest times. Hamilton presents a bundle of compelling — and sometimes head-scratching — numbers. To wit:
44 – Stolen bases, best in the majors. His career-best is 58, which he’ll probably surpass.
9 – Triples this season, second in the big leagues and a career-high. Oddly enough, he has only 12 doubles.
70 – Runs this season, which is tied for 18th among MLB qualifiers. This despite the fact he is hitting just .251 with a .299 on-base percentage; 136 players have a higher OBP.
.340 – Batting average in the first inning. His triple on Monday came in the first – as the leadoff batter — and he would score the first run in the Reds’ 11-3 victory at Great American Ballpark.
.367 – Batting average on the first pitch. He has a homer, three triples, three doubles and seven RBIs when he puts the ball in play on the 0-0, which he has done 49 times in his 438 at-bats. As a leadoff batter, he is normally expected to work the count.
.219 – Batting average as a right-handed hitter. That’s his natural side. He is batting .265 as a lefty, where he gets most of his ABs. The Reds made Hamilton a switch-hitter after drafting him.
P.S. Former first-round pick D.J. Davis has perked up a bit at Class A Dunedin in the Toronto system. The former Stone County High standout is batting .343 over his last 10 games, raising his season average to .247. He has 28 stolen bases. This may be a critical year for the 23-year-old Davis, drafted in 2012, after he batted just .197 at the high-A level in 2016.
It’s not often you run across the name of Hughie Critz in a story these days. The Starkville native last played a big league game in 1935. But ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, in a piece about Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, notes a link between Critz and the current Cincinnati star. Hamilton, with 40 runs in 54 games, is on pace to score 109. His on-base percentage is .305. Since 1920, Crasnick writes, only two players — Tony Armas in 1984 and Critz in 1930 — have scored 105 runs or more in a season in which they had an OBP of .305 or lower. Critz, who started that 1930 season with the Reds and finished it with the New York Giants, scored 108 runs with an OBP of .292. The diminutive infielder had 172 hits and 30 walks, and he stole only eight bases. (Hamilton, probably the fastest player in the game today, has an MLB-best 28.) Not to diminish Critz’s accomplishment, but it should be noted that the 1930 season came at the height of a “lively ball” era that saw huge offensive numbers posted across the board. Critz spent most of that year with the Giants, who had three players you might have heard of – Bill Terry, Mel Ott and Fred Lindstrom – who drove in over 100 runs each and also scored 100-plus. Critz, a Mississippi A&M (State) alum, batted .268 with a .303 OBP over an outstanding 12-year career in which he scored 90 or more runs five times.
Long, loud home runs – like the ones hit by Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier on Wednesday night – are exciting. Scoring from first on a single – as Billy Hamilton did – moves the needle even more. Ex-Taylorsville High standout Hamilton raced home on a two-out bloop hit by Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart in the ninth inning, giving Cincinnati a 4-3 lead – and ultimately a victory — at Cleveland. Hamilton’s ludicrous speed had already had an impact. He beat a throw to first base on a potential double play that would have ended the game. Initially called out, he was correctly ruled safe after replay review. When Cozart’s hit dropped in front of a sprawling Michael Brantley in left field, Hamilton scored easily. “Not many other guys are going to beat that ball out or score that run, but that’s Billy Hamilton,” Reds manager Bryan Price said in an Associated Press story. Despite taking an 0-for-4 Wednesday, Hamilton is hitting .295 over his last 10 games, boosting his average to .258. He leads MLB in steals with 23 and is second on the Reds in runs with 34 in 43 games. P.S. From the Didn’t See That Coming Department: Southern Miss, which had blasted Texas-San Antonio in a three-game sweep last weekend, lost to the Roadrunnners 9-2 in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament in Biloxi. Top-seeded USM (44-13) might not need to win the tournament to secure a host bid for an NCAA regional, but going 2-and-out could really hurt.
The major league single-season stolen base record has stood at 130 since 1982. No one has gotten within 20 bags of that mark in the 35 years since. Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High star, could get there. Who says? No less an authority than the player who holds the record: Rickey Henderson. In a recent interview with csnbayarea.com, the Hall of Famer had a lot of good things to say about Hamilton and his base-stealing philosophy, which Henderson said reminded him of his own: “I’m gonna run until you throw me out. And if you throw me out, I’m gonna get back up and run again.” Over his 25 years, Henderson’s steal success rate was 81 percent. Over his three-plus years, Hamilton is at 82 percent. They are master thieves. Of course, the big thing for Hamilton, as Henderson acknowledged, is getting on base enough to make it all work. Henderson had an on-base percentage of .398 in 1982, when he got his 130. Hamilton stole 58 bags for Cincinnati last season in just 119 games. His OBP was a rather pedestrian .321, his batting average, even after a strong second half, a lackluster .260. There are some who think Hamilton just isn’t going to hit enough to remain a regular, his defensive skill as a center fielder notwithstanding. After an injury-curtailed 2016 season, Hamilton hasn’t had an inspiring spring. He returned to the Reds’ lineup Thursday from several days off (sore Achilles’) and took an 0-for-3 as the DH. He is batting .211 (.268 OBP, 12 strikeouts in 38 at-bats) in 14 games. When the games start to count, he’ll need to step it up. Yes, a lot. While it’s true that the stolen base has been marginalized by a variety of factors in recent years, Hamilton — who swiped 155 bags in the minors in 2012 — has shown that it can still be a weapon. When he’s on base, you’re compelled to watch. Imagine what a thrill it would be to watch him make a run at Henderson’s record.
Things have not gone according to plan for Jarrod Dyson. He was supposed to play every day in 2016 as Kansas City’s right fielder. The former Southwest Mississippi Community College star, entering his seventh MLB season, deserved that shot. Everybody said so. Then Dyson got hurt (strained oblique), on his first at-bat of spring training. The Royals’ season was well underway when he returned. He got his start the latter part of April and hit .303 for the month. But then he began to slump. By mid-May he was at .215, and Paulo Orlando was hitting. Even when left fielder Alex Gordon went down with injuries, Dyson’s playing time wasn’t regular as rookie Brett Eibner stepped in. Now center fielder Lorenzo Cain is hurt. Dyson started in center on Wednesday – his 38th start — and went 2-for-4 with two walks in the 3-2, 12-inning win over St. Louis. He still sees a fair amount of playing time in his old role: pinch runner/defensive replacement/pinch hitter. And maybe that suits both him and the defending world champion Royals (41-36), who have rebounded from their sluggish start. Dyson, in 127 at-bats, is hitting .260 with 16 runs, 12 steals and seven assists in 51 games. P.S. Billy Hamilton’s season has run a little off-kilter, as well. On Wednesday, the former Taylorsville High standout was struck in the face by a deflected ball in the outfield and had to leave Cincinnati’s game. Reports seemed to indicate he is fine, though it would not be a surprise if he missed today’s game. Hamilton, batting .255, was on the concussion disabled list from June 10-16 and also missed three days while on the bereavement list. He had a shoulder injury at the end of 2015 that impacted his spring training work.