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The Strike Zone

Watch: Billy Hamilton's game-changing speed changes another game

Billy Hamilton: Officially more valuable than Mr. Redlegs this season. (Al Behrman/AP)Billy Hamilton: Officially more valuable than Mr. Redlegs this season. (Al Behrman/AP)

When the Reds called up prospect Billy Hamilton on Monday, the hope was that manager Dusty Baker might be able to use Hamilton's elite speed, which resulted in a minor-league record 155 stolen bases last year, to generate a key run here or there, helping the Reds pick up an extra win or two as they chase the Pirates and Cardinals for the National League Central title. Last August, when Hamilton was finishing off that 155-steal season, Baseball Prospectus's Sam Miller calculated that Hamilton's value as a pinch-runner over the course of a month might add up to roughly a tenth of a win (0.11 to be exact), a disappointingly small result, but one large enough to support the thought that a well-deployed Hamilton could increase the Reds' win total by one.

On Tuesday, in his major-league debut, Hamilton pinch-ran in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the Cardinals, stole second, and scored on a Todd Frazier double in what proved to be a 1-0 Reds win. On Saturday afternoon, he did it again, pinch-running in the bottom of the tenth inning of a 3-3 game against the Dodgers for Ryan Ludwick, who led off the frame by drawing a walk off Brian Wilson.  On the second pitch to the next batter, Frazier again, Hamilton stole second.

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Two pitches later, Frazier singled to right and Hamilton raced around to score the winning-run ahead of an off-line throw from Yasiel Puig, giving the Reds a 4-3 victory and bringing them within 1 1/2 games of first place, now occupied by the Cardinals, who beat the Pirates again on Saturday.

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Hamilton doesn't get full credit for those wins, of course. Ludwick drew the walk, Frazier got the RBI hit, Mat Latos and four relievers held the Dodgers to those three runs, and various other Reds combined to score the first three Cincinnati runs, as well as back up those pitchers in the field. Still, Hamilton has already blown by Miller's estimate.

In the Reds' last five games, Hamilton has pinch-run four times. Each time he has successfully stolen second base, twice against the rocket-armed Yadier Molina. On three of those occasions, he subsequently came around to score a run, and all three of those runs effected a lead change in the game. On Tuesday, he scored the only run in a 1-0 win. On Wednesday, he scored the tying run with the Reds trailing the Cardinals 4-3 in the bottom of the 14th (the Reds lost anyway). On Saturday, he scored a walkoff run against the Dodgers.

Using the same Win Probability Added (WPA) stat Miller did his calculations with, Hamilton's contributions in those four trips around the bases have been worth 0.31 wins. By way of comparison, the only Reds hitters who have been worth more this season are Shin-Soo Choo (4.3), Joey Votto (3.2), Jay Bruce (2.5), and Brandon Phillips (1.6). That's because WPA credits players for increasing their team's chances of winning but also debits them for negative outcomes. That's how a player like Frazier, who, his two RBI behind Hamilton aside, could have 525 plate appearances but have merely broken even in WPA (0.0).

Hamilton has had no negative outcomes thus far, and that's how a player who has neither come to bat nor played the field in the majors and has only appeared in four innings all season has come to rank fifth among non-pitchers on the Reds in WPA. His total will decrease the first time he makes an out on the bases or at the plate, so Miller's estimate may yet prove correct, but at least in his first week in the majors, Hamilton has lived up to the hype.
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