Stealing a Base, with Billy Hamilton and Jose Molina

Typical  Billy Hamilton story outline: Ordinary introductory paragraph noting Hamilton’s speed when running the bases. Reference to Hamilton’s record-breaking stolen-base numbers in the minor leagues. Note regarding Hamilton’s immediate base-stealing success in the majors. Cautionary remark pertaining to Hamilton’s limited offensive potential at the plate. Renewed appreciation of footspeed. Statement that Hamilton could be one-of-a-kind, at least for his generation. Explanation that — while base-running scores tend to be close to zero — Hamilton looks like an actual valuable weapon. Insert joke that Hamilton is so fast he’s already finished reading this article.

Run-of-the-mill paragraph pointing out how slow Jose Molina is. Note that Molina is perhaps the game’s slowest runner. Obligatory reference to Molina’s high-quality pitch-framing. Joke that Molina slows the game down in more ways than one. Acknowledgment that no one expects catchers to be able to run; decent speed is just gravy. Acknowledgment of Molina’s relatively advanced age. Note that this is not intended as a criticism. Statement that this is just a fact, to which Molina would certainly admit without shame.

Predictable musing about how Hamilton and Molina might compare.

It feels natural, it feels too easy to write a post comparing Billy Hamilton’s and Jose Molina’s speed. It feels like the sort of thing a million people would think to do, and for me that’s kind of a turn-off. But, still, here we are. It’s fun to compare opposites, even if it isn’t necessarily creative. You know who’s really fast? Peter Bourjos. You know who was really slow, and probably still is really slow? Bengie, another Molina. Here’s a quick post comparing Bourjos running and Molina running. This isn’t trailblazing: this is following a path. It’s probably already been written up and described in hiking manuals.

Hamilton’s been in the majors for just a few weeks, and as Sam Miller recently pointed out, he already has more career big-league steals than J.J. Hardy. Granted, Hardy is still active, so he could catch up, but as unpredictable as baseball is, I’m going to guess that won’t happen. Hamilton is out of control, in that he’s completely under his own control. Hamilton takes bases when he wants to take bases. I don’t know if he’s baseball’s fastest runner, but he’s probably already baseball’s best runner.

Jose Molina is not. The Fan Scouting Report asks for an evaluation of speed. It’s on a 1-100 scale, basically. Last year, Adam Dunn got a 20. Raul Ibanez got a 22. Prince Fielder got a 25. Here are the most recent Molina speed ratings:

  • 2009: 16
  • 2010: 14
  • 2011: 11
  • 2012: 15

Interestingly, Molina has 17 career steals. He has two this year, and he had three last year. He has a career high of four. Molina still has more career steals than Hamilton, for the time being. It’s not, however, because Molina is deceptively fast. It’s that Molina is a heads-up player, and he takes advantage of opportunities given to him because the other team doesn’t expect him to go anywhere, on account that he is Jose Molina. Teams seldom hold him on because he’s Jose Molina. Teams seldom pay attention to him because he’s Jose Molina. Teams still don’t worry about him, even though he has demonstrated he will run. That’s how much teams expect Jose Molina to stay put. You don’t judge books by covers, or countries by maps, but you can look at Jose Molina and reach a conclusion about how he moves.

Let’s get to the comparison part. This is Hamilton stealing a base and Molina stealing a base. I’m not trying to reach a broader conclusion. I was just interested in seeing the differences. I think my favorite Hamilton steal so far was one of his steals against the Houston Astros, when the Astros pitched out. You’re going to see that one. My favorite Molina steal so far was from this past April, against the Texas Rangers. The Rangers didn’t pitch out. You’re going to see that one. Times are approximations, based on frame rates and math. Let’s watch Billy Hamilton go.

HamiltonSBAstros.gif.opt

This was a pitch-out. The pitcher got the ball to the plate pretty fast. The catcher got the ball down to second pretty fast. The throw could’ve been better, but the throw wasn’t bad. Hamilton was safe, because — from first move — he reached second in roughly 3.1 seconds. Every so often, Hamilton is probably going to stumble or maybe he’ll get bogged down in some wet dirt. But he should average about 3.1 seconds from first to second, which is going to make him almost impossible to throw out. It’s going to require either perfection on the battery’s part, or a mistake on Hamilton’s.

Now, Molina:

MolinaSBRangers.gif.opt

Here’s a high throw to second — and the quality of the throw matters — even though it’s Jose Molina running. From first move, Molina reached second in just about 3.6 seconds. So we’re looking at a half-second difference between Molina and Hamilton, which might seem small, given that we’re observing total opposite extremes. It is small, but in baseball, there are small differences between good and bad. Put another way, Molina got to second base 16% slower. That makes the difference seem bigger.

Incidentally, Molina has a career steal success rate of 71%. Yuniesky Betancourt‘s at 50%. Gerardo Parra‘s at 63%. Didi Gregorius is 0-for-2. Bourjos is at  76%. Baserunning is about more than how quickly you can move your legs. But anyway, let’s examine those Hamilton and Molina steals a little further.

I left out important details in my earlier descriptions. Here’s Hamilton, right around when he made his first move:

hamiltonsbastros

The Astros had already thrown over. Hamilton was being held on the bag. Everyone understood Hamilton was a threat, as evidenced by the pick-off and the subsequent pitch-out. Hamilton had to remain somewhat close to the base — and he had to be certain the pitcher was going home. It’s tricky, stealing bases when the world expects you to steal bases. This is why stolen bases in high-leverage situations are of particular note. Not everybody can pull them off.

molinasbrangers

And this is Molina, right around when he made his first move. Molina was not being held on, and there existed virtually no threat of an attempted pick-off. Molina could take a bigger lead, and, just as important, Molina could give himself something of a head start. You see in the .gif above, Molina started slowly walking toward second while the pitcher still had the ball. He never squared to the mound, meaning he never had to pivot and drive. He just started running. This is how Molina managed to be within half a second of Hamilton. He covered less physical distance, and he was able to get off to a cleaner start, because he didn’t have to begin by facing the pitcher. If Molina started in a crouch, facing the mound, it would’ve taken him more time to accelerate. What we don’t have is a clean comparison of Hamilton and Molina doing exactly the same thing. We’ll probably never have such a comparison, with steals, because people will always expect Hamilton to take off, and they’ll expect Molina to grow roots and loom where he is forever like a big oak.

In case you’re curious, as I was, here’s Molina’s position after the amount of time it took Hamilton to make contact with second:

molinasbrangers2

So, by this point, Hamilton was in there. Molina is beginning his slide, with second base and Ian Kinsler having come into the picture. This is the gap, despite Molina getting two different kinds of better head starts. You know what it means when a guy trying to steal gets thrown out by a mile? It means he was late by a few tenths of one second. Everything happens quickly. A half-second is meaningful, and by true talent in this instance, the difference is much greater than a half-second.

In conclusion: Conventional summary statement. Brief review of important details, for purposes of driving points home. Sentence about broader significance, given certain obvious and less-obvious implications. Convincing explanation that this is the most important piece of baseball writing of the young century. General expression of amazement.




Print This Post



Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


58 Responses to “Stealing a Base, with Billy Hamilton and Jose Molina”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jason Kates says:

    Generic comment.

    +40 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. JP's dropped balls says:

    Generic complaint that Fangraph’s hates the Tigers/Phillies/…

    +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Ian R. says:

    #6org comment on a piece that has nothing at all to do with the Mariners.

    +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. ettin says:

    Players like Hamilton, Gomez, and Trout are very fast and are probably at their finest in sprints (great for stolen bases).

    However I’d put my money on Bourjos running 1st to 3rd or 1st to home any day of the week. He’s money running the base paths and he cuts the corners of the bases like no one else. Awesome stride runner!

    As a side note Peter’s hesitation rounding 1st might have had to do with him thinking the ball might bounce off the wall and the fielder making a clean catch (didn’t happen) which might have impacted his intention of taking 2nd base. Just a thought!

    I love Peter Bourjos!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • A says:

      Same here, man! It really sucks that he’s been injured most of the year, I haven’t got my Bourjos fix.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sean O'Neill says:

      I would wager anything that Hamilton is faster 1st to 3rd or 1st to home than Bourjos, and that’s no knock. Hamilton is a pure 80 as a baserunner. We’re talking about a guy who has tagged and scored from third on an infield pop-up to second. A guy who has tagged from second and scored on a pop-up to left field. A guy who ran an inside the park HR in 14 seconds last year (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2RTN3-RfgI&feature=player_embedded#t=0). He’s in his own class.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BenW says:

        Already this year he’s stolen 2 bases on pitchouts, scored from 2nd on an infield hit and scored from 2nd on a hit right at Puig. Dude can fly.
        In the minors while he was playing shortstop he caught a foul ball on the first base side. He was the only one who got to it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BenW says:

      Bourjos is fast, but Hamilton is other-worldly fast. Hamilton had 2 inside the park HRs in the minors that I could find video of in which he rounded the bases in under 14 seconds. Bourjos’ last year was something like 14.26

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Eric Hainline says:

        Let me help you with that:

        The fastest known inside-the-park home run is Billy Hamilton in AAA at 13.8 seconds all the way around. Here is the Baseball Prospectus review:
        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=17666

        And here is the original video:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHSeWzFBRy8

        The fastest recorded inside-the-park home run at the MLB level is Peter Bourjos at 14.02 seconds all the way around. Here is the Baseball Prospectus review:
        http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=13655

        The difference there is only 22 hundredths of a single second.

        Now here is why you should think about it a little before you think that there is some huge advantage for Hamilton: Hamilton is taking off from the left side of home plate, while Bourjos is taking off from the right side. And because Bourjos was expecting the left fielder to come up with the ground ball, he did not even kick it into high gear until he hit first base.

        If both guys started from the same point, and ran full speed all the way around, it would be very very close. And the math suggests that Bourjos might even win.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • BenW says:

          You realize that .22 seconds, while technically 22 hundredths of a second, sounds significantly shorter when you also realize that it is slightly over 2 tenths of a second. If you read the article you saw that the difference of roughly a quarter of that time was the difference between starting a slide and being on the bag already.
          Home plate is roughly a foot and a half wide. Cross the plate would take roughly .04 seconds at Hamilton’s speed of 13.8 seconds per 360 feet. That leaves another 0.18 seconds.
          So please provide the math that suggests Bourjos might even win, I would enjoy that.
          If you’re going to use conjecture like Bourjos probably didn’t even kick it into high gear until first I would counter that Hamilton likely slowed down at the end considering he was being told there was no imminent play.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • BenW says:

          Even the article you cited said that a difference of .22 seconds is remarkable, equating it to a full step or two.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Eric Hainline says:

          @Ben:

          The MLB video for Bourjos’ faster run does not include the full station to station replay, so I cannot time that better one. But here is another Bourjos inside-the-park, last season against the Twins.
          http://wapc.mlb.com/laa/play/?content_id=20541799&topic_id=8878746&c_id=ana

          Bourjos completes this circuit in ~14.2 seconds (hand timed).

          Bourjos starts running from the left side of the plate, after the momentum of his swing in pulling the ball carries him AWAY from first base. His THIRD step finally puts him in the same place that Hamilton is at when Hamilton begins to run. And Hamilton’s left handed swing, driving the ball into the right-center gap, carries his momentum TOWARDS first base. Hamilton has a clear advantage, AND a head start.

          Counting the FULL dimensions of the ENTIRE home plate and batters box areas, not just the plate itself, Bourjos has to overcome momentum and travel 77 inches to get from the middle of his batter’s box to the middle of Hamilton’s box.

          (The batter’s box is 48 inches across. So putting the torso in the middle at time of contact [being gracious] is 24 inches inside each box. And it’s 6 inches from box to plate on each side, and 17 inches across the plate. 24+6+17+6+24=77.)

          At the speed Hamilton was running in his record AAA trip, using your math (with which I agree) that .22 seconds is only 69 inches ahead of Bourjos. So Hamilton gets around 69 inches ahead of Bourjos, but starts with a 77 inch lead AND the momentum. Negate the head start advantage, and the momentum advantage, and Bourjos actually has the edge.

          In the new video I link to above again, since he expected the ball to be caught, you can clearly see that Bourjos does not kick it in gear until his second stride past first base. The timing supports this. He was 4.5 seconds from home to first, then averaged 3.23 seconds the rest of the way around. This includes a slide at home instead of full gallop, slowing him down considerably when measuring in 100’s of a second. So that is 14.2 including an about extra second doddling up to first plus whatever fraction is lost in sliding at the end. Bourjos is fast. Really, really fast.

          Bourjos is not the fastest from one base to the next. I concede that point. Arguably, he’s nto even the fastest station to station on his team (Trout). But I would suggest that if both Hamilton and Bourjos started at the very same spot, and both ran full speed all the way around the base paths, Bourjos would keep up. And, surprisingly, he would keep up to the extent that he might win now and then.

          To your point, since these are game situations and not a flat out foot race, things are not all equal. The one thing I noticed is that in Hamilton’s trip he goes from 2nd to 3rd in a blinding 2.89 seconds (hand timed, though). If Hamilton could sustain that around all 4 bases, he would make the circuit in only 11.56!!!

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • BenW says:

          A couple nitpicky things but we’re just both going to agree that Bourjos and Hamilton are both very very fast.
          – 3 steps by Bourjos at the beginning of his run could very likely be 1 step at the end of it.
          – It’s unlikely that Bourjos ran directly across the plate, so we would have to get trig involved if we want to find out the exact distance.
          – No comparison is going to be perfect. Even if we had first to third or first to home videos their leads would be different, but I’ll ask you this: when was the last time Bourjos scored from 2nd on an infield hit?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. John B Maurice says:

    Generic comment that it’s Obama’s fault

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Wot Wot says:

    Remember, Jose Molina has also stolen home in his career!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Richard says:

    Someone may want to check this, but by looking at Hamilton’s stat pages, I see he’s 12/12 on stolen bases, an accomplishment in its own right. But am I correct in that he’s been on first base exactly 12 times this year? Stealing 2nd every, single, time? I see 6 PRs, 4 singles, 2 walks = 12 time standing on first and 12 stolen bases.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Richard says:

      So he’s successfully stolen 2nd base literally every time he’s had an opportunity. Not sure if this is something that could possibly be tracked as a record or not.

      I’m terrible at putting my ideas into words, apologies.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jon says:

        It’s possible that is correct, however your logic doesn’t quite work out. Based on Hamilton being on base 12 times and 12/12 in steals, doesn’t mean he’s successfully stolen 2nd every time he’s had an opportunity to, because he could have stolen 2nd and 3rd at least once, and failed to steal a bag the same number of times, as I suspect is the case, but I’m too lazy to look at his play-log

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Terence says:

          I know he stole third against the Astros at least once.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Adam Dunn says:

          No he didn’t, he was going on a pitch Votto hit out to centerfield but had to go back and tag before taking third, not a steal.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jon says:

          Okay so after some investigation of play logs, it appears he’s actually been on base 15 times (6 pr, 6 hits – broken down into 4 1B and 2 2B – 2 BB, 1 reached on error) with 12 steals. However, if we’re only concerned with opportunities to steal 2nd, he’s been on 1st 13 times, with 12 steals. Interestingly, he hasn’t stolen 3rd yet (in the Astros game it was a wild pitch) although with his speed, I’m sure the returns diminish pretty quickly. Final interesting fact is that in the game against the Dodger’s that Hamilton stole 2nd and came around to score in the 10th, his SB increased the Red’s WP by 10%. Who says steals are undervalued?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ian R. says:

      In principle he could have reached on a fielder’s choice, though I’m not sure where you’d find that data.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Catoblepas says:

      man. that is what’s so crazy to me. EVERYONE knows he’s going when he’s on base and there is still nothing that can be done. for the record, i do think i recall one time where he stole second, then stole third, so it might not be literally true that he’s stolen every time he was on base, but it’s close enough to make the point.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ian R. says:

      Here’s another question. Suppose Hamilton reaches with two outs, but the next batter immediately ends the inning on the first pitch. Does that count as an opportunity to steal as far as Hamilton is concerned? He could try to steal on a pickoff attempt, I suppose, but other than that…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • SKob says:

        It does, but it’s also a week on the bench for the idiot who didn’t take a pitch with Billy on first!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Oppo Taco says:

          Not with Dusty in charge. He still has guys trying to bunt Hamilton over, it’s ridiculous. Although perhaps i’m underestimating Mr. Baker, maybe his plan is for Hamilton to reach home on the bunt?

          Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric says:

      As a Reds fan who treats just about every Billy Hamilton appearance as must see TV, the one thing you left out is his 1 ROE, Sunday against the Pirates. A slow roller to SS that the SS made a rushed throw on in the dirt. He may have beaten even a good throw. But that actually puts him at 13 times on 1st base (4 singes, 6 PR, 2BB, 1 ROE). He didn’t steal 3rd against the Astros, he had 3rd stolen but Votto flew out to CF on the pitch (Hamilton did make it back to 2nd, tag up, and end up on 3rd). He has yet to steal 2nd, all 12 stolen bases have been 2nd base. The only time he has reached 1st and failed to steal 2nd came yesterday. He had a 2 out single to center and Chris Heisey popped up on the first pitch of the AB to end the inning.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Richard says:

        I’ll admit I didn’t put much research into it, just looked at his fangraphs page quickly on my lunch break.

        Thanks for the info!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Baltar says:

      I would venuture that this is a record: 12 times on base, 12 steals of second.
      Just imagine what a star he would be if Charlie Finley’s idea of a “designated rabbit” had been adopted.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • TKDC says:

        We had this in middle school. We used the running back from the football team. He could get a terrible jump and nobody could throw him out. But that was middle school.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Gyre says:

      I’m pretty sure that he grabbed third in one of his early MLB games. I think he was on first with 2 outs, and the batter didn’t leave him a chance to go. But it’s like Rickey, I just expect him to be at second in a moment.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Billy says:

    Generic criticism of someone’s argument where I mention a “straw man” in an attempt to show that I am a brilliant intellectual with a good command of conceptual thinking and that I think I’m way smarter than the rest of you unwashed.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. jsolid says:

    who walked Billy Hamilton? my god, why would you ever do that?

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Academy Graduate says:

    Yeah, but can Hamilton do a double steal like Domingo?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. PackBob says:

    So in the time it takes Hamilton to go 90 feet, Molina goes 77.5 feet, disregarding the amount of leadoff from 1st base. Since there are speed ratings for players, you should be able to compare outfield coverage for players based on speed alone.

    In the pic of Molina, Kinsler would be Hamilton reaching a fly ball in 3.1 seconds showing how far Molina, if he played outfield, would be short of catching the ball. It would actually be more, given that Molina takes a running start stealing while Hamilton goes from a standstill.

    Take a player like Ibanez playing left field and compare him to a speedy outfielder, and there would be a huge amount of area he would not get to a ball where a speedy outfielder would. A fast player probably gets a quicker jump as well, and if he took better lines to the ball it would make the difference even greater.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TKDC says:

      But if the slower player takes better lines, the difference is less. How quickly the player gets a read on the ball also matters, and at the fringes, how well they catch balls at the very end of their ranges matters, too.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Brad Johnson says:

    Serious comment congratulating the author on anticipating my questions with perfect timing, i.e. Molina’s lead, Molina’s relative position when Hamilton would have reached 2nd, etc.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. But could he steal 2nd and 3rd on the same pitch?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. MrKnowNothing says:

    Reference to my fantasy baseball team.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Max says:

    Can’t steal first base

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Gyre says:

      Generic reply pointing out with Hamiltons speed, a foul tip that rolls alittle away will be said steal, after computing time for catcher to get to a clear throwing lane

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. evan lowe says:

    Wow this helped alot!!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>