How Billy Hamilton Stole Joey Votto Five Bases

Little less than a year ago, I wrote a post here called What Happens When Billy Hamilton is on Third Base? Answer: not much! Slightly more detailed answer: less than I was expecting!

What I’d expected, rather, what I’d hoped for the sake of an interesting post, was that every time the Reds had runners on first and third with Hamilton being the guy on third, that the guy on first would just take off every time. Like, no matter what, no matter who you are or what situation the game’s in, just run. It’s Billy Hamilton on third base for crying out loud. If they throw down to second, we’ve got ourselves a run. If they don’t, hey, free steal!

It happened less often than I wanted it to. Which, I thought was kind of peculiar. Couple other things popped up — teams altered their defensive alignments slightly, it made a rundown between first and second turn into a run and a runner on second — but for the most part I came away empty-handed and sad.

I understand this isn’t relevant to anything that’s going on right now. I also understand that my first two post ideas this morning failed miserably and around noon I started to panic, so I opened up the TextEdit document on my laptop titled “rainy day topics.” It isn’t raining outside, but I do need to get my Christmas shopping done today, so this is what you get. “joey votto stealing with hamilton on third” it says here next to this bullet point. Not sure where this came from. Guessing someone tipped me off on this. Wasn’t totally sure what it meant, but I had a pretty good idea.

The last time Joey Votto played a full, healthy season before this most recent one, he stole six bases. Over his previous three seasons, he’d average six steals a year. In 2015, Joey Votto stole 11 bases. Eleven minus six is five. That’s some math. Hey, what’s up with those extra five steals?

When you see something new happen early in a season, you wonder if it’s a sign of things to come. If it’s something that player thought about or worked on in the offseason, and now that he did it once, successfully, early on, if he’ll keep trying it again.

April 10 is pretty early in baseball’s regular season. The Reds had only played three games, and they’d won them all, and they were feeling pretty cool, probably. In that fourth game, they were trying to win again, but they weren’t doing it just yet. Things were tied up, 4-4, with one out in the eighth inning, and this guy called Billy Hamilton was standing on third base. He’s crazy fast, but the guy at the plate was Todd Frazier, and he’s not crazy fast. With Joey Votto standing on first base, that means a double play was somewhat probable and the Reds might not have a better chance than this one to score. The pitcher, Jordan Walden, bounced two pitches into home plate, and Votto had a discussion with his first base coach.

VottoDiscussion

I don’t know exactly what Votto’s saying here, but you seem him motion toward second, where he probably realizes he could have been standing without any risk, and then he motions toward third, where the reason he could be at second without any risk is standing, and he motions toward home, where the reason would go if the Cardinals decided to throw to second base on an advancement opportunity by Votto.

This happens on the very next pitch:

VottoSB1

Votto had a reaction:

VottoReaction

If anybody is a professional lipreader, or even a really good amateur one, and wants to tell me what Votto’s saying in these .gifs, feel free.

Now, I got real excited seeing that Votto did this so early in the season, but less excited when I saw that he didn’t do it again until August 12. Say, can anyone check if Billy Hamilton reached base between the dates of April 10 and August 12? Might be worth looking into.

That was unnecessary, I apologize. All in good fun here! Anyway, on August 12, Hamilton tagged from second base on a ridiculously shallow fly ball to center field and advanced to third on a throw home, cutoff by the pitcher at the mound. Votto remained at first base, and then this:

VottoSB2

My favorite part about this .gif is how long it takes Votto to reach second base. He didn’t think for a second the Padres would actually throw down, so he took his leisurely time getting to the bag. It’s almost like he’s baiting a throw.

A month later:

VottoSB3

It’s the Cardinals again. Broadcasters pick up on it:

That’s a smart play by the Reds, because I think they were taking a calculated risk that the Cardinals were not going to throw through. Billy Hamilton is a completely different situation when you’ve got a speedster like him at third base. Any kind of a muff on the throw and he comes in to home, or if he even reads a throw right, he could beat that first-and-third defensive play.

As these words are coming from the broadcast booth, the camera cuts to Hamilton. He senses he’s being talked about:

HamiltonReaction

In the same game, just two innings later, the Votto-Hamilton pairing strikes again:

VottoSB4

Note the little point by Hamilton once Votto reaches second base, as if to say, “I got you.”

And then, after two in the same game, just two innings apart, this happens on the very next evening:

VottoSB5

Again, look at how much time Votto takes getting down to second, trying to bait Molina into a throw. At this point, the Cardinals must be getting frustrated, but what can you do? It’s a lose-lose for the defense, making it a win-win for the Reds.

The fact that this happened so early in the season was encouraging, but it turned out that hope was somewhat misleading, considering it didn’t happen again for another four months. But then, Votto took advantage of Hamilton’s presence on third base four times in a month near the end of the season, reinvigorating my desire for the Reds to do this every single time Hamilton is on third base with a runner at first next year. Even in the midst of a miserable season, Billy Hamilton was able to gift Joey Votto five steals, and gift the rest of us with an offseason of hope.

We hoped you liked reading How Billy Hamilton Stole Joey Votto Five Bases by August Fagerstrom!

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

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Elam Noj
Member
Elam Noj

With as many interesting pieces that the Reds have/had, (i.e., Hamilton’s speed, Frazier’s power, Votto’s complete hitting, on the hitting side and Chapman and Cueto on the pitching side, not mention some defense) it’s a shame they lacked the supportive cast in order to do anything with it. And now they are in bottom dwelling limbo.

Anonymous
Member
Anonymous

Throw in Zack Cozart’s no-bat, great-glove weirdness, too