MLB Metrics 101: Baseball's Best Athletes According to Statcast
Some baseball players run. Some catch. Some throw. And some hit the ball really hard.
But which players do all of the above? Sounds like a job for Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101.
Hello, and welcome back. This week's topic is a look at the 10 most well-rounded athletes in Major League Baseball, as defined by everyone's favorite super-duper measuring system: Statcast.
Here are the Statcast specialties that will be in focus for this exercise:
- Measurements of power, such as exit velocity and hit distance.
- Measurements of speed, namely sprint speed.
- Measurements of fielding ability, particularly catch probability and its accompanying rating system.
- Measurements of throwing ability, such as throw speed.
One word of warning is that there is no publicly available leaderboard for throwing data, so getting stats on players' arms is a catch-as-catch-can situation.
Another word of warning is there's no overarching equation that will narrow down this list of 10 from the least athletic to the most athletic. The idea is too nebulous for something like that. And while events of 2015 and 2016 won't be overlooked entirely, what players are doing in 2017 takes precedence.
Let's begin with honorable mentions.
Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Kiermaier is one of baseball's fastest sprinters, and he's known for having a rocket arm and a glove that can catch anything. Yet he's not among the leaders in high-difficulty catches in 2017, and his bat has lost thump to boot. He's a great athlete who's having a down year.
Starling Marte, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Starling Marte was a Statcast gem like few others in past years. He could run like the wind, throw darts and hit moonshots. But he's played only 33 games this season, for reasons that throw all of the above into question.
Ender Inciarte, CF, Atlanta Braves
Keon Broxton, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
Jake Marisnick, CF, Houston Astros
Per MLB.com's David Adler, Jake Marisnick is coming off a year in which he featured one of baseball's strongest arms. And he's now developing real power. But he's not especially fast by center field standards. Nor is he a standout with high-difficulty catches.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
The Mike Trout Conundrum
It sure feels like Mike Trout deserves a proper spot in this week's top 10.
After all, he is Mike Trout. He's on his way to becoming one of the greatest players ever, and he's on that path because of a seemingly impossible blend of power and speed.
At 6'2", 235 pounds, he has the build of a standard bulky guy at your local gym, and he uses it to smash home runs at an elite average of 105.9 miles per hour. The average MLB player hits homers at only 103.3 mph.
Meanwhile, Trout moves as if somebody strapped rockets to one of the standard bulky guys at your local gym. He sprints at an average of 28.3 feet per second. The average player sprints at 27 feet per second.
But, hey, even Trout isn't perfect.
He can still hack it as an everyday center fielder but has yet to make either a five-star catch or a four-star catch in 2017. He's also never been known for having a strong arm, and that's not changing.
Thus, a frustrating reality: Trout is at once an amazing athlete and an incomplete athlete.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins
There are regular catchers, and then there's J.T. Realmuto.
Even the video above doesn't do his throwing justice. Per Adler, he led all catchers in average pop time—the time the ball takes to go from the catcher's mitt to the fielder's glove—to second base on steal attempts in 2016. On one throw to third earlier this year, he recorded a Statcast-record pop time of 1.38 seconds.
In other words: He's both strong-armed and quick.
Realmuto's quickness also applies on the basepaths, where he sprints at an average of 28.6 feet per second. That makes him easily the fastest catcher in MLB and would indeed make him a fast runner at any position.
"I've always been fast, from playing football, basketball," he told MLB.com's Mike Petriello. "It didn't matter, whatever sport I was playing, I was always running. I tried to do my best to keep my athleticism with where it's at."
At the plate, the 26-year-old is more known for being a good hitter than a good slugger. But he's beginning to change that. He's already hit a career-high 13 home runs this season and has blasted them at an average of 104.2 miles per hour with a distance peak of 444 feet.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
It's not as hard as finding them behind the plate, but it's not easy to find well-rounded athletes at the corners. They tend to have one or two athletic tools but not all of them.
Unless your name is Kris Bryant. In which case, bravo, sir.
The reigning National League MVP has power in spades. Although he's hitting his homers at "only" 103.6 miles per hour this season, he's clubbed several in the 450-foot range. He also has a 495-foot homer on his record, a mark that's been matched or surpassed only twice since he hit it in September 2015.
That's just part of being a 6'5", 230-pound hulk of a man. An unexpected part, meanwhile, is that Bryant's wheels actually move pretty fast.
The 25-year-old's sprint speed of 28.3 feet per second ties him with Matt Chapman as the league's fastest third basemen. And he can go faster, as he's gone as fast as 28.6 feet per second this season.
Bryant's speed is part of the reason he's a quality defender despite his size. The other part is his arm. Statcast doesn't have much (well, anything) on it publicly, but it's regarded as yet another plus tool and looks the part on film.
Javier Baez, INF, Chicago Cubs
Bryant is a good athlete for a corner infielder. But for the best athlete at any infield position, another member of the Chicago Cubs takes the cake.
It's Javier Baez, whose existence is like if a live wire strapped on a uniform and took the field.
The 24-year-old is best known for his defense, where he can make a difference any way you please. His lightning-quick hands can make tags that even Statcast doesn't have numbers for, but it does have numbers for his arm and his range. He's thrown as hard as 94.8 mph and has ranged as far as 132 feet to make a catch.
"That was stupid good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the latter play, per ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers. "I don't know who else makes that play."
Baez's range stems in part from his speed. He has an average sprint of 28.1 feet per second, and he got up to 28.6 feet per second during his scamper around the bases at AT&T Park this week for an inside-the-park home run vs. the San Francisco Giants.
Marcell Ozuna, LF, Miami Marlins
And now on to MLB's many athletic outfielders, among whom Marcell Ozuna is an imperfect yet exciting member.
It should be clear from the video that Ozuna has his power stroke working in 2017. That blast at Tropicana Field traveled 468 feet, which ties a pair of Stanton dingers for the 16th-longest homer of the season.
That's just a taste of Ozuna's dinger-crushing prowess. His averages of 105.4 mph and 411 feet on his 26 homers rank prominently among the league leaders, and only three hitters have hit more 420-foot moonshots than he has.
At an average of 28.1 feet per second, the 26-year-old is one of MLB's fastest left fielders. He also has one of the better arms at the position. He was clocked as high as 90.2 mph last year, and per Petriello, that easily tops the average of 88.9 mph on "competitive throws." And he still has it this year.
Where Ozuna doesn't loom as large is in making difficult catches. But while his collection of four four-star outs isn't much, at least it's something.
Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasiel Puig still looks the part of an athletic wunderkind. But in truth, the 26-year-old's athletic pinnacle does seem to be behind him.
Since 2015, Puig's average sprint speed has declined from 28.4 feet per second to 28.0 feet per second. This may be holding him back on defense, where he's made a modest four outs of four-star difficulty this season.
But now, the pivot from bluntness to fairness: Puig still runs much better than the average player and remains capable of wonders on defense. Just within this week's time frame, J.D. Martinez can vouch for that.
Elsewhere, Puig still has a rocket arm and enormous power.
Puig's right arm produced the longest distance covered on an assist during the 2016 season and has been clocked as fast as 96.3 mph this season. That's faster than an average heater from Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole.
In the past, Puig's power showed up in games only on frustratingly rare occasions. That hasn't been the case in 2017. He's slugged a career-high 21 homers and averaged a 106.1 mph in exit velocity on them. He's also hit his four longest homers of the Statcast era, peaking at 450 feet.
In short: The "Wild Horse" lives.
Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper is basically a left-handed-swinging version of Puig. Plus a few upgrades.
Harper's average of 106.1 mph on his homers is the same as his Los Angeles Dodgers counterpart's. But since Harper has A) eight more homers, B) has an exit velocity that peaked at 116.3 mph and C) has multiples of at least 450 feet, the balance does tip slightly in his favor.
And while Harper's arm doesn't generate headlines like Puig's does, it's arguably just as good and maybe even better. Just this season, he's had throws clocked at 96.6 mph, 98.2 mph and at 99.7 mph. That last one was basically an Aroldis Chapman fastball coming from right field.
And although he spends so much time trotting that he often doesn't need to worry about running, that's another thing the 24-year-old can do.
His average sprint speed is a solid 28.0 feet per second, and he is capable of reaching another gear. He hit 28.6 feet per second on a triple in July. To wit, that's faster than Trout's cruising speed.
On that note: No, Harper isn't a better player than Trout. He's just more of a complete athlete. Not bad as far as feathers in caps go.
Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees
Here he is. The guy who's basically a bigger, better version of Stanton.
With respect to Stanton's MLB-high 38 homers and the ludicrous power he's used to hit them, it's likely that baseball has never seen anything like Judge's power.
Judge's 118.6 mph, 495-foot booming bomb (see above) is the single most impressive home run of the regular season. Throw his Home Run Derby into the equation, and you can gawk at a series of 500-foot blasts. The longest was 513 feet, which would be unbelievable if if didn't, you know, actually happen.
But as one scout said of Judge to MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince: "He's not just a big guy, he's an athlete."
Judge has an arm that can uncork throws as fast as 97.7 mph, and his average sprint speed is a solid 27.6 feet per second. That's 0.1 feet per second more than Stanton, and Judge has used his speed on defense, making six four-star outs and one five-star out. And one of the four stars just missed qualifying as one of the fivers.
Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
Listed at just 5'9" and 180 pounds, Mookie Betts is basically Judge and Stanton in miniature form.
The big difference is that the pint-sized 24-year-old is a superior defender. Despite averaging a modest 28.1 feet per second in sprint speed, Betts co-leads MLB with 20 outs of at least four-star difficulty.
All but one of them are four-star outs, granted. But in general, it's a tidbit that confirms what the eye test has to say about Betts' defense. He brings range, energy and instincts fit for center field to right field.
It's not just Betts' glove that opposing batters have to worry about. He also has a strong arm. He showed it off with a 93.1 mph throw in the 2017 All-Star Game, and he hit 96.8 mph on the gun just a month earlier.
At his size, Betts is capable of hitting the ball only so far. His personal best in the Statcast era is a home run of 433 feet. Not bad but rather quaint at a time when possibly definitely juiced balls are traveling extreme distances on the regular.
Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins
Just because Byron Buxton is hitting .221 doesn't mean he's not tons of fun in other ways.
The 23-year-old sprints at an average of 30.0 feet per second, a mark matched only by Billy Hamilton. And while Hamilton's certainly no slouch in center field, his defense doesn't quite match up to Buxton's.
See the ridiculous catch pictured above? That somehow rated as just a three-star out. Buxton has made more unlikely catches and lots of 'em. With 19 four-star outs and one five-star out, he's the guy tied with Betts for the MLB lead across those two categories.
Less visible this season has been Buxton's throwing arm, but it's definitely there. Per Adler, he placed in the top 10 among outfielders with an average of 94.8 mph on "competitive" throws last season. His best was a 99.4 mph seed that cut down Trout.
"It's near the top shelf," Twins manager Paul Molitor said of Buxton's arm, per Fabian Ardaya of MLB.com. "You're not going to see Mike Trout get thrown out too often on a base hit up the middle."
Also not so visible this season is Buxton's power, but it's there too. He may only have five homers, but those have averaged 105.4 mph in exit velocity and 426 feet in distance. The latter is elite territory.
Bradley Zimmer, CF, Cleveland Indians
Elsewhere in the American League Central, the Cleveland Indians have a center fielder who's a lot like Buxton. His name is Bradley Zimmer, and he's all types of awesome.
Kudos to Petriello for being first to highlight Zimmer as a legit case of a fabled "five-tool player." That encompasses running, fielding, throwing and hitting for power, and the 24-year-old does each of those things with the best of 'em.
His legs and arm are his most impressive assets. He sprints at an average of 29.8 feet per second, putting him behind only Hamilton and Buxton. And he's produced throws as hard as 96.6 mph and even 101.5 mph.
Zimmer's fielding and power don't stand out quite as much but shouldn't be downplayed. He's recorded four four-star outs despite only being in the majors since May 16. He's averaged 105.0 mph on his eight homers, peaking with a 112.2 mph clout that traveled 435 feet.
"Everybody talks about tools," Indians manager Terry Francona said in July, per William Kosileski of MLB.com. "He can show them in a number of ways, whether it's on the bases or hitting for power or making a catch up against the wall. It's pretty exciting to watch."