The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Billy Hamilton Has Skill That is Fading Away

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is currently the run-away leader in stolen bases in the National League with 19.  He is on a pace to accumulate 80 for the season.  He has finished in second place in the National League in this offensive category for the past three seasons.  However, while he has been a valuable asset for the Reds with his legs, his impressive capability has largely become a de-valued skill by many major-league clubs because of the emphasis on power hitting.

A look at the number of stolen bases over the past four decades shows a general decline in the use of the stolen base as an offensive tool.  In 1980 the average number of stolen bases by National League teams was 153.  The number dropped slightly to 149 per team in 1990.  Then in 2000 there was nearly a 33% decrease, to 102 stolen bases per team.  2010 saw another 10% drop.  In 2016 the average stolen bases by National League teams was 93.  The Baltimore Orioles, with 19, had the least of all major-league teams during the entire 2016 season.

Hamilton caught the attention of the baseball world when he stole 109 bases in his third pro season in 2011.  Then in the next season his tally jumped to 165, the most ever in organized baseball.  To put these two seasons into context, the only major-leaguers to attain the 100+ stolen base club were Maury Wills (104 in 1962), Lou Brock (118 in 1974), Rickey Henderson (130 in 1982, his third such season with 100 or more), and Vince Coleman, who accumulated 100+ stolen bases in three seasons during 1985-1987.

To illustrate the emphasis one major-league team put on the running game in the past, the Oakland A’s once had a player, Herb Washington, whose sole role on the team was as a pinch-runner.  A former world-class sprinter from Michigan State, he was hired by A’s maverick owner Charlie Finley to utilize his speed to strictly steal bases and score runs.  He appeared in 92 games in 1974, but never had a plate appearance.  He did wind up with 29 steals for the season, although he was caught stealing in one-third of his total attempts. He managed to score in nearly one-third of his games played.

Most major-league teams have forsaken the strategy of playing “small ball,” by scratching out a few runs with singles, advancing runners with bunts and sacrifice hits, and stealing bases.  Major-league clubs almost exclusively rely in the “long ball” for their offensive approach.  Now, each major-league team has only one or two players who can steal any substantial number of bases.  Besides the Reds’ Hamilton, Dee Gordon, Jonathan Villar, Jose Altuve, and Starling Marte are a few other prodigious base-stealers in today’s game.

However, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price certainly recognizes the dangerous threat to opposing teams he has in Hamilton, "It's an impact on our offense when he's on base, no doubt about it. He's a distraction to the pitcher -- not just at first base, but at second base as well. It opens up holes for our offense due to the need to keep the middle infielders close to the bag at second base to keep him close."

While Hamilton’s best weapon is currently his speed on the bases and as an outfielder, he’s potentially at risk of maintaining his roster spot down the road when the 26-year-old’s legs begin to wear.  He’s not a high-batting average player, with a career average of .248, and his career on-base percentage is only .299.  Yet he makes the most of the opportunities when he does get on base, and right now he is helping the Cincinnati Reds to a surprising second place in the National League Central standings.

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