Hamilton takes Statcast crown as baseball's fastest
Major League leader in steals has established many top times on basepaths this season
By Andrew Simon
Jamaica's Usain Bolt reaffirmed his place as the world's fastest man Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro when he won the 100 meters for the third consecutive Summer Olympics.
When it comes to baseball, there also is no debate. Although an encounter with an outfield wall forced him from Monday's game, the Reds' Billy Hamilton has established himself as the swiftest runner in the Major Leagues. A quick glance at the stolen base leaderboard provides strong evidence for this, and it hardly takes a seasoned scout to notice Hamilton's speed with the naked eye. But thanks to Statcast™, there also is hard data to support the 25-year-old's gold-medal status.
Sprints are all about getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, and while baserunning is more complex, the goal is the same. Statcast™ hasn't tracked anyone who gets to his destination faster than Hamilton, considering a variety of starting and ending points.
Home to first
For the fastest hitters in baseball, it can take less than four seconds from the point of contact to charge the 90 feet to first base. One way to cut down that time is to create momentum toward first by dropping down a bunt, especially if the hitter is left-handed. That makes bunt plays a separate category of sorts, so let's focus on non-bunts.
On June 27 against the Cubs, the switch-hitting Hamilton batted from the left side against Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill. Despite leaning out over the plate to roll a low-and-away pitch to second base, Hamilton got out of the box in a hurry and bolted down the line, beating Cahill to the bag as first baseman Anthony Rizzo went for the ball. On the infield single, Hamilton's home-to-first time was a blistering 3.61 seconds, best on a non-bunt play this season.
Home to second
If Hamilton hits a ball that rolls all the way to the wall, he's going to smell a triple. That's what happened on June 24 against the Padres, when Matt Kemp couldn't cut off his line drive to right field.
Thinking three out of the box, Hamilton covered the first two-thirds of his journey in 7.3 seconds. That's the quickest anyone has gone from home to second this season, narrowly edging another Hamilton triple, this one on Aug. 13 at Milwaukee. In fact, Hamilton claims four of the top five times, with only the Twins' Byron Buxton interrupting him.
Home to third
The aforementioned triple at Miller Park came on a line drive to right field that bounced toward the corner before the Brewers' Hernan Perez corralled it. Thanks to Perez and cutoff man Scooter Gennett, Milwaukee's defense challenged Hamilton's quest for third, but 10.5 seconds after contact, he slid safely into the bag.
Once again, Hamilton's closest challenger is himself. On May 11 against the Pirates, he dashed from home to third in 10.7 seconds on another triple -- and took a wide turn around around the base before stopping.
Home to home
The fastest a player has circled the bases this season is 14.9 seconds, although the Yankees' Brett Gardner was thrown out at home on the play, attempting an inside-the-park homer.
Somewhat surprisingly, Hamilton has does not have one of those in his career, but what he does have is the fastest home run "trot" Statcast™ has recorded, at 16.2 seconds. This season, only eight players have run around the bases faster on a ball in play than Hamilton did when he hit one over the fence. That came April 11, when he took a Jon Lester pitch into Wrigley Field's left-field basket. Hamilton was even batting right-handed at the time, although he said later that he didn't realize the ball cleared the wall until he came around third base.
First to third/home
Going from first to third on a single is a common goal for baserunners, but going from first to home is a rarity. Hamilton managed to do the latter on May 7 against the Brewers, setting two season records on one incredible play.
With Joey Votto at the plate in the fifth inning, Hamilton was running on the pitch from Jimmy Nelson, which of course helped his cause. But many other players have been in motion when a ball was put in play, and none took advantage of it quite like Hamilton.
When Votto singled on a ground ball into left-center field, Hamilton sped around to third in a mere 5.2 seconds. With no outfielder able to track it down it quickly, he kept right on going and scored easily, with a first-to-home time of 8.2 seconds. Both numbers are the best in MLB for 2016.
That same speed also shows up when Hamilton tracks down balls from center field, and when he swipes bases. In the latter department, he is 51-for-58 (87.9 percent) this season, leading the Majors in steals, and only 10 players have more in total than Hamilton has of third base (19).
After a bit of a slow start, Hamilton has turned on the afterburners, going 42-for-46 in 59 games since May 30 and 32-for-35 in 33 games since July 5. Over that latter stretch, Hamilton has racked up six games with at least three steals, the most by any player in a season since all-time stolen-base king Rickey Henderson had six in 1991. Since 1913, the only players to accomplish that feat are Henderson (four times), Vince Coleman (three times), Ty Cobb (once), Ron LeFlore (once), Tim Raines (once) and Maury Wills (once).
It's just another feather in the cap of baseball's fastest man.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.