This morning, Statcast released a new metric which tracks baserunner sprint speed. You can read more about the metric here, courtesy of Mike Petriello. To measure sprint speed, the Statcast team measures the fastest one second window during a player’s “competitive” run and reports that speed in feet per second. Beyond that, the metric is self-explanatory enough.
Today, I’m just doing a short introduction. This will pave the way for more in-depth analysis the next couple of days, in which I’ll attempt to decipher whether the St. Louis Cardinals are generating expected baserunning value (BsR, wSB, UBR, etc.) given their speed talent. To do that, we need to define their talent. So let’s do that.
Cardinals 2017 sprint speed leaderboard
Despite popular gripes about slow-footed players, the Cardinals actually have six of ten qualified players who have an above average sprint speed. For reference, the MLB average sprint speed in 2017 is about 27.1 ft/s. The fastest sprint speed this year of 30.1 ft/s belongs to Billy Hamilton. The slowest: Albert Pujols, at 23.3 ft/s.
To make sprint speed a little more informative, I calculated Sprint+ and pSprint+. Sprint+ scales sprint speed to 100 (MLB average), so every full point above or below is a 1% deviation from league average. pSprint+ adds a positional adjustment, so 100 is average for that player’s position. Using pSprint+, we see the Cardinals deploy only 2 players with above average speed for their respective positions, Tommy Pham and Aledmys Diaz. Five others are essentially average for their assigned position, and three are well below average.
While Sprint+ and pSprint+ work like wRC+, the range of sprint speed is relatively small compared to hitting metrics like wRC+. The best wRC+ among qualified hitters this season is Aaron Judge at 196, while the worst is Alcides Escobar at 27. Sprint+ only ranges from 111.3 (Hamilton) to 86.1 (Pujols).
This is in line with the modern view which suggests it’s harder to add value on the bases than elsewhere. Put simply, there are less opportunities to create value on the bases and the speed-talent gap is relatively small. The different between the fastest and slowest players isn’t as wide as the gap between the best and worst hitters or the best and worst fielders.
Notably absent from the St. Louis Cardinals leaderboard is Magneuris Sierra (notes on him in the linked article above). If Sierra did qualify, he’d have an average sprint speed of 29.9 ft/s. At 29.9 ft/s, Sierra would tie Byron Buxton as the second fastest player in the major leagues, trailing only Billy Hamilton. Sierra’s Sprint+ would register at 110.5. Assigning him to centerfield, he’d have a pSprint+ of 105.8.
Are the Cardinals getting slower?
Furthermore, the sprint speed metric has been retroactively applied to the 2015 and 2016 seasons. I compared each Cardinals player who qualified for the leaderboard the last two seasons to see how the team’s speed is changing, if at all.
The Cardinals have nine players who qualified in 2016 and 2017. Only one has gotten faster, and that’s Yadier Molina. Eight have gotten slower, and five have lost nearly a half-foot per second. Definitely not an encouraging sign.
Next, I compared the Cardinals to the rest of the MLB. I took a simple average of all qualified players on each team, and ranked them 1 through 30. The Cardinals ranked 16th in 2015, 20th in 2016, and 20th so far in 2017. Below average, but not terrible. That might say something about the team’s base-coaching and decision making, and I’ll be getting to that on Wednesday.
Lastly, here are a few links where I compared the sprint speed metric to other existing baserunning metrics. Feel free to ask me about any of those comparisons on Twitter (@zjgifford), and I’ll also have more on them as the week rolls along.
Thanks for reading!