Reds minor leaguer Billy Hamilton is, by nearly all credible accounts, the fastest player in professional baseball.
And the 21-year-old shortstop is a pretty good prospect too, ranking among Baseball America‘s top 50 both last season and this season.
Last year Hamilton stole 103 bases in 135 games at low Single-A and was caught just 20 times, which is an incredible amount of running … until you look at what he’s done so far this year.
Hamilton has played 23 games at high Single-A and he’s stolen 29 bases. Seriously, he has 29 steals in 23 games. Oh, and he’s also hitting .398 with a 1.072 OPS. Hamilton is on pace to swipe 182 bases at an 83 percent clip, which is beyond absurd. And for his pro career he now has 194 steals in 270 games.
Also fun: There’s a Hall of Famer named Billy Hamilton who played in the late-1800s and was one of the fastest players in baseball. His nickname was “Sliding Billy” and he led the league in steals five times with 111, 102, 111, 100, and 97 bags, finishing with a total of 914 to rank third all time behind only Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock.
When the modern Billy Hamilton makes the majors in a year or two I’m going to be extremely disappointed in everyone if the “Sliding Billy” nickname doesn’t stick.
UPDATE: Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus has a bunch more crazy Billy Hamilton facts.
You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.
Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.
Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.
Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.