12 September 2017

Trey Mancini is as Fast as Adam Jones

Baseball is a rather wonderful sport with a variety of ways to appreciate it.  It can range from a pure reactionary level of enjoyment with bias expectations at every turn, the pure notion of fanaticism, to heavily entrenched awareness of historical outcomes and uncertainties related to those potential outcomes.  One elusive area for many who appreciate the game has really been the scouting side.

Scouting to many is a black box.  A scout watches a player, tries to often qualitative evaluate ability and future ability.  That then is conveyed down a path to the public at large.  It can be frustrating to try to understand the process.  It is also curious how the public sphere of scouting resembles an echo box of scouting writers hitting and missing on the same exact players where one might consider there to be more variation.  Largely, the public industry has become rankings and enough of a description to be able to tweet out or participate on a message board with some manner of scouty credibility.

What has improved over the year is the technology and the ability to access that technology.  We can easily acquire fastball velocity, movement of pitches, and flight paths of balls.  We can see how able a player is at covering ground and making catches in the outfield.  We can see a player's coverage at the plate and exit velocity of batted balls.  We also can now see maxed out running on the basepaths to give us a good idea on player speed.

In the past, we have largely relied on play by play derived measures to develop speed metrics.  We look at stolen bases and caught stealing, we look at defensive range in the outfield, we compare ability to advance on batted balls, and how well a player stretches out hits.  Now, we have another tool in our tool belt and it does something grand: it measures a player's top speed on the basepaths.

Statcast measures sprint speed, the top speed a player achieves when maxed out running the basepaths.  For reporting, MLB requires ten events of maxed out running and calculates top speed by the fastest second.  What this can miss is acceleration.  Players may be able to reach top speed more quickly than others in the course of a 4 second or so run, but this metric gives us a good idea of top end running ability.

By looking at all qualified players this year, we can devise a frame of mind for a 20-80 scale.  My scale is based on the assumption that the average qualified baserunner is a 50 score.  I also assumed a more traditional take that every increase in score of 10 is equivalent to a standard deviation of the population.  We we wind up having is an average speed for a MLB player of 27.1 ft/s and a standard deviation of about 1.2 f/s.  This gives us the following tool grade table:

Grade Speed (ft/s)
80 30.7
75 30.1
70 29.5
65 28.9
60 28.3
55 27.7
50 27.1
45 26.5
40 25.9
35 25.3
30 24.8
25 24.2
20 23.6

Byron Buxton has recorded the highest average sprint speed with 30.2 ft/s, so this scale would see him as a 75.  As you would expect the possibility of a player being three standard deviations from league average would be pretty astounding, so even a player like Buxton is unlikely to be rated an 80 based on this methodology.

However, that is not true for 20 grade speed.  We actually have four who quality as 20 grade speed when rounded: Miguel Montero (23.8 ft/s), Juan Graterol (23.4 ft/s), Brian McCann (23.3 ft/s), and Albert Pujols (23.0 ft/s).  Graterol, McCann, and Pujols actually are recorded below the 20 rating, which shows that an extreme lack of speed can be made up for with other qualities and context.  Largely, being a designated hitter or catcher where speed is not completely required with some element that past success and a big contract can keep you on a roster for awhile.

Where do the Orioles stack up?

Speed (ft/s) Grade
Gentry, Craig 28.5 60
Beckham, Tim 27.5 55
Rickard, Joey 27.5 55
Jones, Adam 27.1 50
Tejada, Ruben 27.0 50
Mancini, Trey 27.0 50
Schoop, Jonathan 27.0 50
Machado, Manny 26.9 50
Smith, Seth 26.4 45
Trumbo, Mark 26.3 45
Hardy, J.J. 26.2 40
Joseph, Caleb 25.8 40
Castillo, Welington 25.1 35
Davis, Chris 25.1 35

I think a couple things jump out to me.  Trey Mancini may be able to unlock some potential in left field if he can figure it out.  I have been getting negative reports on his fielding ability and that his athleticism is decreasing.  However, if he can maintain a 27 ft/s sprint speed for a few years and improve through experience in left field, then he can be an average defender out there instead of the mess (with infrequent very nice plays) that we have witnessed this year.

The second thing that popped out to me is that the Orioles are not exactly a club that values team speed.

For the most part, the above graph does not show that speed means success.  Speed often means being terrible because speed is a young man's tool.  Fast teams are typically young teams and teams who employ young players tend to be terrible teams.  Still, one might be concerned with how uniquely slow the Orioles are.

Thinking long-term, I wondered how the Orioles have faired over the past few years.  Particularly, I wondered how established future Orioles have measured up.

2015 2016 2017
Tim Beckham 27.6 27.7 27.5
Adam Jones 27.7 27.6 27.1
Jonathan Schoop 26.4 27.1 27.0
Manny Machado 27.7 26.6 26.9
Mark Trumbo 27.1 26.7 26.3
Chris Davis 26.1 26.2 25.1

The sprint speeds tend to follow what we would expect.

  • Beckham shows solid average speed for a shortstop or second baseman, wherever he may finally wind up.  He does not shows any decreasing trend.  
  • Adam Jones went from about what one would consider a 55 rating to a 50 rating, which is a sizable drop.  He comes off as the fifth slowest CF in baseball for 2017.
  • Schoop's depressed 2015 was likely due to his knee injury.  On the slower end of second basemen, but not exceptionally so.  He also looks to have below average, but acceptable speed for a corner outfield position.
  • Machado is what we generally expected. He has bulked up and he is not the guy who stole 20 bases a few years ago.  He is settling into the 45/50 range, which he should maintain through his prime years.
  • Trumbo's numbers are what we have seen in the outfield this year.  As a RF, he would be tied for second slowest (with Nick Markakis) and just a tad slower than Seth Smith.  Although he seems to hit better when playing in the field, it seems the corner outfield will not be an acceptable place for him.
  • Davis dropped from slow to dreadfully slow this year.  That has shown up in his 2B:HR rates and his decreased movement around first base.  That level of speed erosion is troubling for a player who is in the second year of a very long contract.  The hope here is that Davis has a lower body injury that will heal this off season, but I have heard nothing about that.

Statcast's Sprint Speed will be something we should take a note of in the years to come to get a better handle on a player's physical abilities as well as maybe being an indication for injury.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am 56, and still faster than Trumbo and Davis!