Bakersfield’s Billy Hamilton is all the rage thanks to an incredible start that has seen him steal 31 bases in his first 26 games this season. I think every baseball-related blog and website in existence has written something about him in the past two weeks, from us to the New York Times. He’s kind of a big deal.
Recently, though, I saw something on Twitter that didn’t call attention to his stolen base totals (fun fact about that: he’s four shy of 200 for his career; Anthony Gose, who is a month older, has 203). I can’t remember who said it, but the gist of the comment was that while Hamilton is an admittedly skilled thief, the really impressive number on his stat line is his runs scored – at the time, he had more runs than games played, which was viewed as a mighty impressive feat.
Is it though? I went through the Minors leaders at Baseball-Reference (as far back as 1963) and looked for two things: one, players who scored more than 130 runs in a season and two, players who scored more runs than games played (for the latter, I used 100 runs scored as a minimum).
(I tried my best to find everyone, but it’s difficult because there are still many seasons for which all stats are not available. Also, stats from independent leagues are not included in the minor league leaderboards at Baseball-Reference, so I had to go league-by-league to find them. Works well for the most part, but not if a guy split time between independent leagues or between an indy and an affiliated team.)
First, here is the list of players I found who have scored 130+ runs in a season since 1963:
148 – Gene Richards, Reno (California League, A), 1975
142 – Steve Douglas, Visalia (California League, A), 1978
141 – Billy Sample, Tucson (Pacific Coast League, AAA), 1978
138 – Gary Pettis, Edmonton (Pacific Coast League, AAA), 1983
138 – Scott Grimes, York (Atlantic League, IND), 2010
135 – Bill McNulty, Sacramento (Pacific Coast League, AAA), 1974
134 – Max Venable, Lodi (California League, A), 1978
132 – Mike Neill, Huntsville (Southern League, AA)/Edmonton (PCL, AAA), 1997
132 – Jack Perconte, Lodi (California League, A), 1977
132 – Lenny Dykstra, Lynchburg (Carolina League, A), 1983
132 – Billy Hatcher, Midland (Texas League, AA), 1983
131 – Ken Gerhart, Hagerstown (Carolina League, A), 1983
130 – Bob Brower, Oklahoma City (American Association, AAA), 1986
A couple interesting things about these guys:
1) Only Dykstra went on to have even a single 100-run season in the major leagues. He actually accomplished a 130-130 double when he scored 143 times for the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies.
2) Douglas and Grimes are the only players who scored 130 runs in a minor league season over the past fifty years but did not appear in a major league game.
3) Grimes is the only independent player I found who scored 130 runs in a season.
4) Wanna have a big run-scoring season? Play in the California or Pacific Coast League. Seven of the top nine run scoring seasons since 1963 spent the entire season in one of those leagues (most of Neill’s 1997 time was spent with Double-A Huntsville).
5) Also, if you can play in the Carolina League in 1983, that seems to be helpful.
Now, the 19 players who scored a) at least 100 runs in a season and b) had more runs scored than games played (organized by the difference between runs and games):
+23 – Ryan Stevenson, St. George (Golden Baseball League, IND), 2008 – 110 in 87 games
+17 – Jonathan Reynoso, Amarillo (United League Baseball, IND), 2008 – 102 in 85 games
+15 – Fehlandt Lentini, Calgary (Golden Baseball League, IND) – 112 in 97 games
+14 – Gene Richards, Reno (California League, A), 1975 – 148 in 134 games
+12 – Luis Terrero, Mexico City (Mexican League, AAA), 2011 – 109 in 97 games
+10 – Billy Sample, Tucson (Pacific Coast League, AAA), 1978 – 141 in 131 games
+9 – Steven Garcia, Visalia (California League, A), 1981 – 120 in 111 games
+8 – Bubba Bell, Lancaster (California, A+)/Portland (Eastern, AA) – 118 in 110 games
+7 – Zach Penprase, Fargo-Moorhead (Northern League, IND), 2009 – 100 in 93 games
+6 – Steve Douglas, Visalia (California League, A), 1978 – 142 in 136 games
+6 – Scott Grimes, York (Atlantic League, IND), 2010 – 138 in 132 games
+6 – Gary Pettis, Edmonton (Pacific Coast League, AAA), 1983 – 138 in 132 games
+5 – Ken Landreaux, Salt Lake (PCL, AAA)/El Paso (Texas, AA), 1977 – 124 in 119 games
+5 – Javier Robles, Angelopolis (Mexican League, AAA), 2005 – 101 in 96 games
+3 – Mike Neill, Huntsville (Southern, AA)/Edmonton (PCL, AAA), 1997 – 132 in 129 games
+2 – Rudy Law, Lodi (California League, A) – 124 in 122 games
+1 – Jack Perconte, Lodi (California League, A), 1977 – 132 in 131 games
+1 – Ken Gerhart, Hagerstown (Carolina League, A), 1983 – 131 in 130 games
+0 – Ben Grieve, Huntsville (Southern, AA)/Edmonton (PCL, AAA), 1997 – 127 in 127 games
A few notes on this group:
1) Of the players from the previous list, five didn’t make the cut here: McNulty, Venable, Hatcher, Dykstra, and Brower.
2) Nine of the players on this list have never played in the major leagues: Stevenson, Reynoso, Lentini, Garcia, Bell, Penprase, Douglas, Grimes, and Robles. Not surprisingly, five of them came from independent leagues.
3) Lentini played in 91 games for Winnipeg and Amarillo in the American Association last season and was just two runs short of appearing on this list a second time.
It will be interesting to see how Hamilton continues to fare in the runs scored category. Since that tweet referenced above he has dropped below the one run per game average, currently sitting in an 11-way tie for 46th place (counting the Mexican League) with 25 runs in 26 games. While the season is young, eight of the players currently ahead of him have more runs scored than games played.
As of now, Richards might be the best Hamilton comp on these lists. San Diego’s first pick in the Regular Phase of the 1975 January Draft, he spent the ensuing season with the California League’s Reno Silver Sox, hitting .381 and stealing 85 bases in 134 games. (Hamilton is currently hitting .382 and on pace for 166 steals. Yes, 166. He’s Millennium Falcon-fast.) Those numbers helped him put up his excellent runs scored total (148) and differential (+14, the best I found for any affiliated player) and are at least one reason to give Hamilton a fighting chance at setting some marks of his own.