Billy Hamilton is fast and good at stealing bases. Every article about him could probably be whittled down to those points. It would start with that sentence, there'd be all manner of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and it would end with that sentence. Yes, yes, that's why we're interested in the fellow.
The fast part is easy to understand, but there are a lot of fast players. There are a lot of really, really fast players. Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout probably won't agree to a footrace on pay-per-view, and that likely means they hate capitalism and our freedoms, but it's hard to see how Hamilton can be that much faster than both. Yet neither one of them came close to setting minor-league stolen base records. There's more to it than just being fast.
At Baseball America, J.J. Cooper looks at what's behind the steals, and he talks to people around the minor leagues about what it takes to swipe a bag:
Ever wonder how the relatively slow-footed Joey Votto could steal 24 bags in 31 tries in Double-A one year? If the pitcher is 1.5 seconds or more to the plate, he's practically inviting an average runner to take off on him. A pitcher taking 1.6 seconds to the plate might as well just tell a speedy runner to go ahead and stand on second base.
The article is fascinating, but it's also a good reminder to hold off on those predictions that Hamilton is going to immediately challenge Rickey Henderson's stolen-base record. The major leagues are filled with the catchers who could throw better than their peers, as well as the pitchers who could keep runs off the board, which likely included some skill at holding runners close.
Hamilton should still be amazing to watch, but we don't know just how amazing until he plies his trade against the best anti-theft devices baseball has to offer.