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Finding the biggest ‘sprint speed’ outliers

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Speed is obviously the biggest factor of stolen bases. But what players go against that?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Speed plays a major role in every baseball game. Perhaps not as much as other sports, but it’s surely a difference maker in the game. Speed is the difference between a hit or an out, a double or a single, or moving from first-to-third, or first-to-home, and the difference between a catch and a drop. Speed gives an added advantage on the base paths, whether it be the extra-base, the extra-run, or the prevented out.

All of this pertains to why tracking a player’s speed is important. With today’s tools, where everything is tracked, we are now able to judge a player’s speed through a variety of different metrics.

Recently, one of the more popular tools to look at a player’s speed has been the Statcast-tracked Sprint Speed. But as useful as the stat is, it’s hard to understand context with as new as it is. One thing that is universally known in the baseball world is speed relative to position. The faster players may play outfield or shortstop, while the slower ones may stick at catcher or first base. To assist in building up a better idea of Sprint Speed, here are the median Sprint Speeds (ft/sec) at each position, ranked in order.

  1. CF: 28.6
  2. SS: 28.0
  3. RF: 27.9
  4. LF: 27.8
  5. 2B: 27.5
  6. 3B: 26.7
  7. 1B: 26.2
  8. DH: 26.0
  9. C: 25.6

Now under general assumption, one would think that the higher Sprint Speed a player has, the more stolen bases they’ll have. And while that does ring true to a large extent, as the correlation between successful stolen base per stolen base opportunity and Sprint Speed is high (r=0.6), there are still plenty of outliers.

Using a simple regression formula, I found some of the biggest outliers on both sides (outperforming, underperforming stolen base rate relative to Sprint Speed).

To start off, here were the 20 biggest out-performers.

20 Biggest Sprint Speed Out-performers

Player Team Position Age Competitive Runs Sprint Speed (ft / sec) SB/SBO Expected SB/SBO Differential
Player Team Position Age Competitive Runs Sprint Speed (ft / sec) SB/SBO Expected SB/SBO Differential
Villar, Jonathan BAL 2B 27 205 27.6 21.74% 4.78% 16.96%
Marte, Starling PIT CF 30 277 28.6 18.44% 6.53% 11.91%
Hamilton, Billy CIN CF 28 202 30.1 19.32% 9.16% 10.16%
Ramirez, Jose CLE 3B 26 251 27.5 14.53% 4.61% 9.92%
Jankowski, Travis SD RF 27 175 29 16.22% 7.23% 8.99%
Smith, Mallex TB CF 25 254 29.8 16.95% 8.63% 8.32%
Gordon, Dee SEA 2B 30 299 29 15.08% 7.23% 7.85%
Anderson, Tim CWS SS 25 248 28.7 14.53% 6.71% 7.82%
Merrifield, Whit KC 2B 29 249 29 14.85% 7.23% 7.62%
Baez, Javier CHC 2B 26 270 28.9 13.46% 7.06% 6.40%
Inciarte, Ender ATL CF 28 289 27.9 11.20% 5.31% 5.89%
Molina, Yadier STL C 36 173 22.9 2.07% -3.44% 5.51%
Flores, Wilmer NYM 1B 27 164 25.7 6.90% 1.46% 5.44%
Pujols, Albert LAA 1B 38 168 22.2 0.62% -4.66% 5.28%
Pollock, A.J. ARI CF 31 186 28.2 11.02% 5.83% 5.19%
Braun, Ryan MIL LF 35 210 26.8 8.46% 3.38% 5.08%
Desmond, Ian COL 1B 33 316 28.1 10.64% 5.66% 4.98%
Turner, Trea WSH SS 25 257 30.1 14.10% 9.16% 4.94%
Cain, Lorenzo MIL CF 32 296 28.6 11.28% 6.53% 4.75%
Puig, Yasiel LAD RF 28 188 28.2 10.42% 5.83% 4.59%
Minimum 200 Competitive Runs Baseball Savant, Baseball Reference
  • I wouldn’t look deeply into some of the annual stolen base leaders (Billy Hamilton, Whit Merrifield, Jonathan Villar, Starling Marte). Their outlandish attempt rates are what bring them here.
  • The biggest surprise to me here was Jose Ramirez. First, he had a lower Sprint Speed than I would have thought. Second, he ran, and ran at a successful rate, despite his lower Sprint Speed. Probably a combination of good baserunning instincts and the Indians usual aggressive habits on the base-paths.
  • Ryan Braun posted a below-average Sprint Speed of 26.8 ft/sec. To the contrary, like his usual self, he racked up 11 bags in 16 attempts.

And now for the 20 biggest under-performers.

20 Biggest Sprint Speed Under-performers

Player Team Position Age Competitive Runs Sprint Speed (ft / sec) SB/SBO Expected SB/SBO Differential
Player Team Position Age Competitive Runs Sprint Speed (ft / sec) SB/SBO Expected SB/SBO Differential
Brinson, Lewis MIA CF 24 160 29.4 1.85% 7.93% -6.08%
Chapman, Matt OAK 3B 25 236 28.3 0.42% 6.01% -5.59%
Realmuto, J.T. MIA C 27 203 28.6 1.40% 6.53% -5.13%
Grossman, Robbie MIN RF 29 192 27.7 0.00% 4.96% -4.96%
Almora Jr., Albert CHC CF 24 235 27.9 0.56% 5.31% -4.75%
Escobar, Eduardo ARI 3B 29 229 27.8 0.74% 5.13% -4.39%
Bryant, Kris CHC 3B 26 155 28 1.14% 5.48% -4.34%
Castellanos, Nicholas DET RF 26 232 27.8 0.85% 5.13% -4.28%
Schoop, Jonathan MIL 2B 27 202 27.5 0.33% 4.61% -4.28%
Heyward, Jason CHC RF 29 223 27.6 0.57% 4.78% -4.21%
Andujar, Miguel NYY 3B 23 283 27.8 0.93% 5.13% -4.20%
Conforto, Michael NYM LF 25 217 27.8 1.12% 5.13% -4.01%
Canha, Mark OAK CF 29 161 27.6 0.83% 4.78% -3.95%
Ozuna, Marcell STL LF 28 248 27.8 1.39% 5.13% -3.74%
Mancini, Trey BAL LF 26 273 27 0.00% 3.73% -3.73%
Diaz, Aledmys TOR SS 28 182 28 1.78% 5.48% -3.70%
Marte, Ketel ARI 2B 25 279 28.7 3.02% 6.71% -3.69%
Frazier, Adam PIT 2B 27 160 27.3 0.68% 4.26% -3.58%
Pirela, Jose SD 2B 29 213 28.6 2.96% 6.53% -3.57%
Rendon, Anthony WSH 3B 28 224 27.3 0.78% 4.26% -3.48%
Minimum 200 Competitive Runs Baseball Savant, Baseball Reference
  • Lewis Brinson is the biggest outlier by a decent margin. After stealing bases at a fairly high-rate throughout his minor league career, he went on to only steal two in three attempts during his first full big league season. This probably mostly coincides with the Marlins being dead last in all of baseball in stolen base attempt rate.
  • Matt Chapman too seems to be an under-performer, going along with the A’s lack of aggression on the bases, as they posted the third-lowest stolen base attempt rate in the majors.
  • Robbie Grossman attempted one stolen base all year, despite owning an above-average Sprint Speed.

Outside of using the eye test, getting an idea of a player’s true speed before Sprint Speed came out was an almost impossible task. But now with these figures, we can truly know how much instincts actually go into a player’s base stealing abilities.


Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.