Last Tuesday, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton made his major league debut as a pinch runner in the seventh inning of a scoreless game against the division-rival Cardinals.
Hamilton rose to prominence in 2012 when he set the minor league record with 155 stolen bases, 10 more than Vince Coleman stole 30 years earlier. On Tuesday, everyone in the ballpark knew about Hamilton's speed, most of all pitcher Seth Maness and catcher Yadier Molina.
However, knowing did little to help them stop Hamilton from taking second base -- he was going to try to steal, and their ability to stop him would hinge on how quickly Maness could deliver the ball to home plate and how quickly Molina could receive the pitch and throw down to second base. (On average, one would expect a combined "pop" time of 3.18 seconds for Maness and Molina, -- the time from when the pitcher starts his motion to the time the throw reaches second base -- which is third-fastest among pitcher-catcher combos likely headed to October.)
Hamilton stole that base, and then another one the next night in extra innings. Baseball Info Solutions recorded times for those two steals, which produced an average of 3.37 seconds. Two times is not a lot to go on, but if that average is indicative of Hamilton's typical speed on stolen base attempts, then he is among the fastest players in the league. Of players with 10 or more timed steal attempts this season, only Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, and Jacoby Ellsbury have a quicker average.
Point is, Hamilton has put stolen bases back in the spotlight, and the baseball world is paying a lot more attention to thievery. As a result, starting pitchers and catchers who habitually take measures to curtail stolen bases stand to fend off better any onslaught -- or strategic use -- of speed in the postseason.
Pop times can offer a good starting gauge to evaluate the batteries that best discourage base stealing. Other factors, such as how well a pitcher holds runners on first base -- including pitchers' times toward first on pickoffs and how many times they throw to first -- also have a lot to do with suppressing a running game.
For our purposes here, we'll focus on pop times, so with that in mind, here are the five combinations of starting pitchers and catchers on likely postseason teams with the fastest combined pop times.