Red Sox need a statistical infusion of speed on the base paths
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox are a slow team and are not even close to having the speed leaders at each position. The latest information is provided by the Sprint Speed Metric.
I already knew this current Boston Red Sox team was collectively a slow foot speed group. The proverbial molasses running uphill at almost all positions. No cleats for our guys, but lead-lined combat boots. A hippo stuck in quicksand can outrun our guys. Why all the negativity? Simple – the latest metric to leave me wondering if we put this much effort into advancing medicine the average lifespan would be measured in centuries.
The metric is known as the Sprint Speed Metric and has nothing to do with a telecom company. It is the latest tool in the Statcast toolbox and the measurement is based on feet per second (ft/s). In all of baseball, Billy Hamilton of the Cincinnati Reds is the leader with a 30.1 ft/sec. Second place belongs to the Twins Byron Buxton at 29.9 ft/sec. In last place is Albert Pujols at 23.3 ft/sec, so that Angel certainly cannot “fly.” The leaderboard provides access to all the pertinent information. The average is considered 27.0 ft/sec.
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Position by position, the Red Sox are shut out – similar to how they are in the All-Star voting. The Red Sox are not even close to the top in any position. Out team leader is Andrew Benintendi (28.3) and he is mired well behind other left fielders.
At second base, our gritty Dustin Pedroia (26.2) is next to last. Mookie Betts (27.8) may have a Gold Glove and a bundle of steals, but he is no Avisail Garcia (28.0) and (thankfully) no Jose Bautista (25.3). Even Hanley Ramirez (26.5) is seventh on the designated hitter leaderboard.
If you wished to have a race measured by a sundial, then have catchers Christian Vazquez (25.7) and Sandy Leon (24.7). Only six catchers in major league baseball are above the average line – no surprise considering the position.
This latest metric is an enjoyable read – not quite as exciting as watching a school board budget meeting, but, nonetheless showing what many already expected about certain players. The stat does not migrate into those very important issues such as the fact that pure speed does not necessarily translate into steals. A factor for sure, but even Charlie Finley’s experiment with a designated runner was rather tepid.
Herb Washington was a world-class sprinter and the mercurial Finley decided to hire Washington as his special weapon on the bases. The result was 31 steals in 48 attempts. Washington had the speed, but a limited ability to “read” pitchers.
Where this stat does present some interesting possibilities is the first to third or home situations. Or even second to home on a hit to the outfield. Fielders may have to be situational aware and simply plan if a ball comes their way. Much of that is already a logical foundation in baseball. No one really needed a stat to show David Ortiz was ponderous or Betts is quick on his feet.
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For years infielders would cheat a step or half-step knowing that home to first speed of a player could mean the difference between safe or out. Of course with a Mickey Mantle, such defensive measures could be life altering when Mick nailed one.
I imagine games will now be cluttered with a new addition to the statistical pile. When will it end?