At this point there’s little question about whether the fastest man in baseball, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, will break the minor-league stolen base record held by Vince Coleman.
Coleman set the record with 145 steals in 1983 and Hamilton already has 133 steals with 23 games remaining.
Hamilton’s season at Double-A ends on September 3, so once he’s done shattering the record will the Reds call him up to be a pinch-runner down the stretch? Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer asked Dusty Baker that question today and the manager hinted pretty strongly that Hamilton will be in the majors next month:
Possibly. Speed’s always an asset. Speed kills. I remember the Cardinals with Willie McGee, Vince Coleman and Ozzie [Smith]. Man. That was their slogan, speed kills.
Baker also praised Hamilton’s development beyond the ridiculous steal total:
You’ve got to be able to play your position. You’ve got to be able to hit and get on base. You’ve got to be fundamentally sound. He’s come a long ways in a short period of time. You’ve got to have a total game, which he has, and he’s chipping off the rough edges around his game.
Toss in the fact that Hamilton is hitting .312 with a .409 on-base percentage in 110 games overall this season and that certainly sounds like someone Baker would like to have on his bench.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.