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MLB Statcast (TM) Sprint Speed: Indians Bradley Zimmer Is A Gazelle

Statcast(™) has rolled out yet another fun feature, this time having nothing to do with the ball or the bat specifically.

Sprint speed is Statcast’s (™) newest front facing toy we get to see and it confirms a lot of things we already knew and some surprising things.

Billy Hamilton is the fastest player in baseball based on this metric at 30.1 feet per second – surprise!

Sprint speed has been determined by a sample of competitive plays where a player attempted to take two or more bases and takes their top speed in a one second window.

There’s a whole primer on it here and it’s pretty fun.

For the Indians, what this metric confirmed is that Byron Buxton is fast too, the second fastest player in baseball and they’ve seen first hand when they hit a fly ball that feels like a hit only to be dejected by the Twins center fielder.

What it also did was show that Bradley Zimmer is the Indians fastest player. Again, not a big surprise. And while he had a reputation of stealing bases in the minors and patrolling center field like a gazelle, this also rates him as the third fastest player in baseball at 29.8 feet per second. His top end speed is a bit of a surprise and more of an argument to keep him in centerfield everyday.

League average is 27 feet per second and while Zimmer’s 2.8 positive difference from league average seems nominal on the surface, a near three second window increases his advantage hugely to go from 1st-to-3rd on hits, when stealing bases and running down fly balls in the outfield. That near three seconds has a huge difference on those types of plays.

It also helps us explain why Zimmer has an 18.8 in UZR/150. Fangraph’s BsR (Base running) takes into account steals, taking the extra base and how baserunning contributes to runs scored, which helps us understand how good players are at running the bases but doesn’t really take into account speed. Now we can use Sprint Speed and combine it with BsR and look at who gets the most out of their speed and who is maybe a poor baserunner but fast.

Zimmer is the fastest Indian by far. Daniel Robertson at 28.3 is the second fastest player and is currently not on the 25 man roster but based on this is at least a viable pinch runner.

Coming in at above league average in Sprint Speed are

The slowest (Edwin Encarnacion – 25.1 f/s) should not shock you. Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Yan Gomes also a little over half a second under league average.

Some have wondered if the Indians miss Rajai Davis’ speed and steals this year and that the Indians aren’t running the bases as well to manufacture runs. Well, Sprint Speed probably proves this.

The Indians have seven runners this year above average in Sprint Speed but only four are regulars and Jackson is a semi-regular. In 2016, the Indians had nine players above average in Sprint Speed and were led by Davis’ 28.4 f/s (which is pretty impressive compared to Zimmer’s 29.8 accounting for their near 10 year age difference). Tyler Naquin, Kipnis, Lindor, Brandon Guyer, Chisenhall, Almonte and Coco Crisp, who were all regulars to semi-regulars last year, all finished above average.

Sprint Speed can probably be a good predictor of defense and steals as well as part of helping us understand the aging curve. Without the explanation of an injury, a drop in Sprint Speed could also tell us something about players starting to hit a potential decline. Sprint Speed has data going back to 2015 and here are the qualified tracked Indians from the current 25 position players and their speeds and differences year to  year.

In red you’ll see times below league average of 27 f/s and red also represents a loss in speed while green represents speed above the average of 27 f/s as well as gains in f/s. The navy blue represents no change or the players who didn’t have any plays to track.

Lindor, Almonte and Perez improved from ‘16 to ‘17 but nobody on the team has improved since 2015 who was still on the team from 2015. Despite being hurt last year, Jackson maintained his above average time and is just barely above average this year but now two injuries (toe, quad) and age may catch up with that.

Jackson and Encarnacion were the only one who lost a full second and while Encarnacion’s foot speed wasn’t factored into the Indians $60 million contract they gave him, if his speed is declining on foot, it’s something worth watching to see if it’s part of a bigger physical decline as he is now 35 years old as well as Jackson.

Sprint Speed is a very fun that I recommend you play around with because we want the MLB and the Statcast(™) guys to give us more front facing tools like this to use as evaluation and predictor tools.