The Cincinnati Reds are last in the National League Central division but have been a pain in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ side all season. Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton is a big reason that the Reds have crushed the Pirates in 2017.
Friday marks the fourth series meeting of the season between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. In those 10 games, the Reds have won all but two.
A big reason for the Reds’ success has been its offense. Despite a 54-74 record, Cincinnati is first among N.L. Central teams in slugging percentage, second in batting average and third in on-base percentage. The Reds have scored at least five runs in seven of their 10 games against the Pirates and have homered 13 times in that span.
At the front of this offensive onslaught is Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton.
Menace on the bases
Hamilton is best known across MLB for his blazing speed. The fastest runner in baseball once stole 155 bases in 2012 while playing for the Reds High-A and Double-A minor league teams. As a major-leaguer, Hamilton has stolen 237 bases in five seasons. That’s the 12th highest figure among active players, but every player above Hamilton has played at least seven seasons.
Hamilton’s speed has been especially noticeable against the Pirates. He has 46 steals in 54 career games against the Pirates, his best against any major-league opponent. The next closest is the Chicago Cubs, whom Hamilton has stolen 31 bases off in 56 games. Remarkably, Hamilton has also only been caught stealing by the Pirates eight times in 54 attempts.
This year, Hamilton has swiped eight bags against Pittsburgh, tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for his most against any club. However, he has only stolen a base in four of 10 meetings with the Pirates.
More than just speed
Hamilton has found a way to batter the Pirates in more ways than one. Hamilton is only slashing .247/.298/.327, very measly for a leadoff hitter. It’s not just a bad season either; Hamilton has never slashed better than .260/.321/.355 in any full season. He’s never been worth more than 3.7 WAR in a season nor posted a wRC+ above 79.
Yet, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Hamilton morphs into a hitting machine.
Hamilton has slashed .308/.351/.398 in 232 plate appearances against the Pirates. The only two teams that Hamilton has a better batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against (minimum 100 plate appearances) are the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. The latter may be aided by the Coors Field effect, where Hamilton has slashed .371/.391/.500 for far and away his best line at any ballpark.
Nonetheless, Hamilton has still been a monster at the plate against the Pirates. This year, he has had an “off-year” by his standards versus Pittsburgh. His .267 batting average and .283 on-base percentage are both his second-worst in a single season against the Pirates. Nonetheless, Hamilton has at least one hit in eight of the 10 meetings. That said, Hamilton’s .467 slugging percentage is his second-best ever versus the Pirates. On Aug. 1, Hamilton slugged his second-ever home run off Pirates pitching and his most-recent career home run to date of his 16 long balls.
Stopping Hamilton = win?
Needless to say, limiting Billy Hamilton this weekend is a must if the Pirates hope to take two of three from the Reds this weekend. Cincinnati has lost both games that Hamilton has failed to collect a hit against Pittsburgh. That said, shutting him down doesn’t guarantee victory.
Hamilton is a table-setter, not a run-producer. He’s done a great job at getting on-base, stealing a base (or two) and coming around to score against the Pirates. Getting Hamilton out is great because then Pirates pitchers have an out on the scoreboard and don’t have to constantly toss over to first or second to check on him. Hamilton is most dangerous when on the bases, not when at the plate.
Hamilton is not the focal point of the Reds offense even if he is a thorn in the Pirates’ side. The big boppers are Adam Duvall, Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart. These are the players that Pirates pitchers won’t give many good pitches to hit for fear that they’ll be hit over the fence.
Nonetheless, a Hamilton multi-hit game with a stolen base feels like a death sentence for the Pirates.