“Who’s the fastest Giant?” used to be the sole purview of drunken bar debates or topics on the local cable channel’s post-game show, but thanks to modern technology and the development of MLB’s Statcast, imagination or human interaction is unnecessary! Cold, hard data can give us all the answers we need, even for something like foot speed.
Over the winter, MLB’s Statcast department devised a new way of charting foot speed and visualizing that data. If you didn’t already know, Statcast has tracked the sprint speed of every player since its inception, and recently started breaking out 90-foot sprint distances.
For instance, the fastest player in baseball (for four out of the last five years) is Byron Buxton, with an average sprint speed of 30.4 feet per second. However, he was not the fastest player in the first 10 feet of a 90-foot run (base to base). Last year (most recent year the 90-foot splits are available), that went to the A’s Dustin Fowler, who clocked 10 feet in 0.78 seconds (Buxton was 0.81).
That five foot by five foot breakdown led to the creation of Statcast’s “foot race” visualization, which looks like this:
This is the Statcast’s team default example of their “product”. It should come as no surprise to you that Billy Hamilton is the fastest player in baseball, and this is a decent-ish mix of runner types across the board. But it’s not enough for our purposes. Let’s look at the Giants.
It should come as no surprise that Steven Duggar is the fastest player in the outfield. He’s also the fastest player on the 25-man roster at the moment. It should probably not come as a surprise to you, but just in case you were wondering, Statcast does not have run times for pitchers. Still, I think it’s a certainty that Steven Duggar is faster than any of the pitchers.
This was the most interesting race...
... because the Giants seemingly have the slowest infield in baseball. I’m basing that on the following: Belt’s 24.2 ft/sec checks in at 33rd in MLB (out of 39 first baseman), Panik’s 24.3 is 40th out of 40, Crawford’s 24.3 is 31st out of 31, and Evan Longoria checks in below that 27 feet/sec league average speed at 26.3 feet per second, making him 18th out of 38 (24.3 feet/second).
Pablo Sandoval is 38th out of 38 in third baseman sprint speed. Using last year’s sprint speed splits, though, we see that he’s about as fast as Yangervis Solarte? Is that right?
My goodness, it is. Solarte averaged 24.7 feet per second in 2017 and 2018. He’s at 25.6 feet/second right now in 2019, so, when they update the data, this visualization will change, but that’s an interesting development I hadn’t expected — thanks, data!
I just added in Austin Slater and Mac Williamson for fun. Austin Slater was one of the fastest Giants last season by per raw sprint speed (28.0 feet per second — well above league average).
Here’s the matchup that inspired this entire article. As soon as I saw that Statcast was doing foot speed sprints I needed to know just how slow Buster Posey — the youngest slowest runner to ever live — was in comparison to his teammates and, specifically, Old Man Kratz.
Posey by, like, half a foot! This is the biggest upset in Statcast history, according to me. Obviously, Statcast data is only based on the samples it’s given so, this isn’t set in stone, but, it looked like Kratz managed (last year, anyway) to get a slightly faster first step, by virtue of a 0.55 seconds in the first five feet — Posey was 0.56 seconds to the first five feet. But after that, Posey was ahead anywhere from 0.1 to 0.3 seconds until the last 20 feet or so when he got a 0.06 seconds’ worth of separation.
Posey’s 23.6 feet per second is in the bottom 4% of the entire league when it comes to pure, raw foot speed, however, and that’s using 2019’s numbers. In 2018, which is the data that gives us this particular race, he was at 24.8 feet/second. The league average is about 27 feet per second. He was over 25 feet/sec back in 2015 and 2016, so, yes, Buster Posey has gotten slower with age and post-hip surgery, so nothing really new here except for this fun new data-driven toy.
You can make your own visualizations right here via Statcast. In the meantime...
Do you believe in Statcast?
This poll is closed
Data is the devil, so a much stronger No.
Waiting for us to be enslaved by data bots in a Matrix-like scenario.