Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is 6-for-6 stealing bases in his first three games to start the season. According to Baseball Reference, Hamilton is the first player with six steals through his team’s first three games since Vince Coleman accomplished the feat in 1987 for the Cardinals. Coleman stole 109 bases that year, the last player to reach triple digits in stolen bases.
In 611 plate appearances for the Reds last season, Hamilton stole 56 bases but led the league in times caught stealing at 23, giving him an average 71 percent success rate. He hit just .250 with a .292 on-base percentage. It goes without saying that if he had been able to reach base a few more times, he would have more opportunities to steal bases. Hamilton hit .256 against Triple-A pitching in 2013 and .286 against Double-A pitching the season prior. He hasn’t yet shown himself to be the type of player who can hit for a high average or draw walks at a high frequency.
It isn’t totally necessary to hit for a high average to rack up the steals. Coleman hit just .232 in 1986 when he led the league with 107 stolen bases. However, he drew walks in nine percent of his plate appearances (Hamilton was below six percent last year). He also stole third base frequently and was quite efficient, going 76-for-84 (90.5%) at second base and 31-for-36 (86%) at third base. Hamilton stole third 14 times in 17 attempts last season, accounting for 21.5% of his stolen base attempts. About 30 percent of Coleman’s stolen base attempts were at third base.
There are many ways to accrue a lot of stolen bases. The two main avenues are bulk attempts and efficiency. If Hamilton doesn’t improve much in the average or on-base departments, he’ll have to attempt to steal with much higher frequency, especially at third base, and he’ll have to do so much more efficiently. But if anyone is going to reach 100-plus stolen bases, it’s Hamilton.