As we did with home runs and throws, we're going to use Statcast™ to take a look at 2016's most interesting moments on the basepaths. Why wouldn't we? Now that we can measure lead distances and run times in ways we've never been able to before, the stories start to write themselves.
Immediately, however, there's a complication: Billy Hamilton. In much the same way that you can't write about pitch velocity without being overwhelmed by Aroldis Chapman data, this article could very easily be "20 ways in which Hamilton is the fastest man you've ever seen play baseball." Hamilton's speed is such that he has the fastest tracked times on...
• Home to first (non-bunt), 3.61 seconds
• Home to second, 7.28 seconds
• Home to third, 10.45 seconds
• First to third, 5.24 seconds
• First to home, 8.23 seconds
... plus probably about 10 other things, not to mention that he held the record for the fastest home-to-home on an over-the-wall home run, until Adam Rosales took that in the final week of the season, and he made what very possibly was the best catch of the year to his blazing speed. So let's just agree to agree that Hamilton is the baddest runner around, and do our best to find some non-Hamilton running feats. There are other players, you know.
SMALLEST LEAD ON SB of 2B: BILLY HAMILTON, 6.7 FEET, JULY 23
Video: ARI@CIN: Hamilton's speed makes up for shortest lead
We said this wouldn't be entirely about Hamilton. We did not say there wouldn't be any Hamilton, and this one was too fun to not dive into. What's the tiniest lead you can get and still be safe? "I bet it's Billy Hamilton," you're thinking, and of course it is, "but it won't be impressive if it's just because the catcher airmailed the throw."
A valid concern, but fortunately for us, Tuffy Gosewisch's throw was actually on target. So: With a full 83.3 feet to go, and lefty Robbie Ray on the mound and a decent 77.2 mph accurate throw from the catcher, how did Hamilton make this happen? We'll explain, but first, realize how small of a lead Hamilton had when Ray made his first move. He's basically still chatting with Paul Goldschmidt:
If you watch the video, however, you can see that he's not standing by first base for long. In part due to Ray's slow delivery (he brought his knee all the way up to his chest), and because Hamilton is out of this world, he gained a full 12 feet between Ray's first step and the ball being released. He could start in the dugout and be safe.
LARGEST LEAD ON CS of 2B: RYAN HOWARD, 19.2 FEET, AUG. 19
Video: STL@PHI: Yadi nails Howard stealing despite huge lead
The obvious next question, then: If Hamilton had the shortest lead on a successful steal, who had the largest lead and still got tossed out? Just as it wasn't surprising to see that it was Hamilton above, it's probably not surprising to see Ryan Howard, who hadn't even attempted a stolen base since 2011, here.
Stealing bases isn't Howard's job, and so it's not that interesting that a big man got thrown out on the bases. What is interesting is why he was even going in the first place, and it's entirely because the Cardinals let him take as much of a lead as he wanted to. Remember when we said Hamilton had 83.3 feet to go? Howard cut that down to just about 70. Just look where he was when Adam Wainwright began his delivery:
"They're not holding Howard at first base," noted the Phillies radio broadcast on WIP, "and there's a pretty good chance he won't try and take the bag." No kidding. Again, it had been more than five years, dating to June 26, 2011, since he'd tried. The broadcast, speaking for all of us, wanted to see it anyway, imploring the "big fella" to "get out there."
Get out there he did, but even fast runners have a tough time beating Yadier Molina. Despite a bounced throw that was scooped by Kolten Wong, Howard was easily out. The lesson here: If a team isn't worried at all about the threat of you running, there's probably a good reason for it.
FASTEST SECOND-TO-THIRD: STEPHEN PISCOTTY, 1.25 SECONDS, JUNE 3
Like we said, we're doing some cherry-picking here simply to get some non-Hamilton plays, but this one's actually pretty fun because there's so much to unpack here. Are you more shocked that the fastest second-to-third time came from Piscotty, a power bat not known for his speed? Or that literally any ballplayer could get from second to third in a mere 1.25 seconds, when even Hamilton requires 3.6 seconds to get from home to first?
As you may have imagined, there's a catch, a pretty big one, starting with the fact that the clock doesn't start when the runner's foot leaves the bag. If the image above that shows where he was when the pitch was released isn't a big enough hint, then do note that the game situation was two outs, two on and a full count. As any ballplayer knows, that's a "run with the pitch" situation, and that's exactly what Piscotty did. Not only that, Johnny Cueto's notoriously wiggle-filled release isn't exactly speedy, so by the time the ball actually left the pitcher's hand, Piscotty was 51 feet away from second.
That's another way of saying "more than halfway to third base," and remember that he was also already at full speed. That gives him a big advantage over the running time of a hitter, who has to twist himself into running position, drop the bat and get moving with 90 feet ahead. So is this a "fair fight?" No, of course not. Piscotty's not the fastest man in baseball, or even close to it. But because he was able to gain so much ground before the play "began," he made it to third in an obscenely low time.
FASTEST SECOND-TO-HOME: MATT DUFFY, 5.46 SECONDS, MAY 1
Video: SF@NYM: Duffy records fastest second to home in 2016
This is a similar play, and it might illuminate how hard it is to find things that Hamilton doesn't dominate in, because it requires some deep digging. Again, there's a full count with two on and two out, and again the runners are off with the pitch. So again, the runner gets an extremely large lead -- 32 feet off second when the pitch is thrown, in this case.
That's not quite as big as Piscotty's, and it's part of why it still took Duffy just more than two seconds to get from second to third. Without the enormous lead in his favor (though still running at full speed), it then took him 3.4 seconds to get from third to home, just beating Juan Lagares' throw from the outfield.
The lesson on these two plays: 90 feet between bases is a suggestion. If you can make it a lot shorter than that by the time the play (and, by extension, the clock) gets moving, you've done yourself a tremendous favor.
FASTEST HOME TO FIRST BY RH: BYRON BUXTON, 3.72 SECONDS, JULY 15
Video: CLE@MIN: Buxton's time to first base fastest in 2016
FASTEST HOME TO THIRD BY RH: BUXTON, 10.69 SECONDS, JUNE 3
Video: TB@MIN: Buxton reaches 22 mph on a triple
If there is a competitor to Hamilton for the title of Baseball's Fastest Man, it's not Trea Turner or Mike Trout or Dee Gordon. It's Byron Buxton. We showed you that in part when we looked at 2016's most extreme homers and showed that he had the fastest home-to-home time we've ever tracked, and he shows up repeatedly on these lists if we make one small consideration to get past the Hamilton factor: Sort by right-handed hitters only.
Though Hamilton is a switch-hitter, most of his great running times come from the left side, and that makes sense, because lefties simply have a shorter distance to go. If we just look at righty hitters, then Buxton's ranks are stunning. Not only did he have the fastest home-to-third time, he had the top four of them, and six of the top 10. That's all the more impressive given that he played just half the season, and carried a .247 OBP into what became a red-hot September.
Not enough? He had the nine fastest home-to-second times on doubles, again among righties. He was the fastest righty to get from home to first. We could have showed a dozen different videos here. It's possible that not enough people noticed Buxton's speed, given his poor start and the last-place Twins team he played on. He showed in September that the bat is for real; he showed all year that speed never slumps.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.