Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton (6) slides in to third base during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park.
Frank Victores/Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
CINCINNATI — There is no debate that Billy Hamilton is two steps faster than electricity. There is a time, though, when even electricity has to be unplugged.
Hamilton, a bolt of lightning on the basepath, has stolen 43 bases so far this season. And, alas, he has been caught 18 times.
Stealing bases isn’t as easy as it looks. Hamilton just makes it look that way. And the fact that a guy who runs like a gazelle shot with a dart in the posterior has been caught 18 times says it all.
For Hamilton, it is a learning process, a learning curve. Twice in the last week he has broken for second base before the pitcher made a pitch and was caught in a rundown.
"Billy definitely is in learning mode," said manager Bryan Price. "We want to liberate him, give him that freedom to run. But he needs to learn the discipline to know when not to run. And that falls on my shoulders because I can put the ‘hold’ on so he will not run.
"We’ve talked about the effect he has on our offense when he doesn’t run," said Price, realizing that when Hamilton isn’t terrorizing the base path the Reds offense seems stagnant and lethargic."
What many forget is that Hamilton is a rookie, a young player operating at a much higher plateau than when he played in the minors where teams had a better chance of catching a roadrunner than Hamilton.
"This is a whole different level of play, where these guys can do certain things, like vary their times to the plate, be quicker to the plate and he is being challenged at a whole different level," said Price.
Hamilton realizes it and knows he not only must get better at reading the pitchers but that he will get better.
And he doesn’t believe the pitchers in the majors are that much better at holding runners on than in the minors. Well, maybe a tad?
"Not really," he said. "What they do up here is hold the ball longer and I get too anxious, sitting over there waiting for a long time. It’s a learning process. It’s something I’m learning as I go along."
"I don’t watch much film, but (coach) Billy Hatcher prepares scouting reports and the paper I read tells me what kind of moves a pitcher has," said Hamilton. "He has it laid out for me. I don’t watch video much, not as much as I probably should."
Paper or video, there is nothing better than seeing things live so for Hamilton it is on-the-base path training.
"Saying and reading it is one thing, but seeing it is a lot better, which enables me to focus on it while playing the game. It is something you have to do — study and watch. I’ve been picked off lately, but it’s learning and I have get better than that. These guys do have better moves and they hold the ball longer and it’s just me getting out of my normal routine and switch to their game. Normally I’m relaxed over there and now I’m thinking too much about them holding the ball and stuff. Right now I’m in a good situation and I talked with a lot of the coaches and I’ll get better at it."
Price said he would like to see Hamilton better in situations and opportunities on which to run and said, "The process is in place and you’ll see an improved base runner over the course of the year."
Wlhen it was mentioned that it takes getting picked off to learn, Price shuddered a bit and then smiled and said, "You hate to say that, just hate to say that. But in certain cases yeah. What Billy is willing to do is put himself out there and test the waters. Others at this level might be more gun shy to put them in an environment to get picked off or caught stealing. They’re unwilling to take the risks.
"We don’t want to take risks that don’t make sense," Price added "There are times that as a young player he is going to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Some of the onus is on me. A lot of times I could have put the hold on him and didn’t in some of the times he has been caught."
Price knows, though, trying to harness Hamilton’s speed is taking away a valuable asset, one that put pressure on the pitcher and the defense. On the other side, when they wipe him off the base path fans can almost hear the pitcher’s sigh of relief.