Theo's Thoughts

Baseball’s Speedy Sprinters

Hello and happy new year! With no light at the end of the lockout tunnel, there are no big trades to discuss, no free agents being signed to massive contracts – all there is is concern for the fast-approaching 2022 Spring Training. So, until the lockout ends, I will continue to analyze data from past seasons: this week, I’ll take a look at who are the fastest ballplayers, which is the fastest position, and more!

First, let’s look at the two most important metrics for determining how fast a player is: Sprint Speed and average home plate to first base time. According to Statcast,

Sprint Speed is Statcast’s foot speed metric, defined as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window” on individual plays. For a player’s seasonal average, the following two types of plays currently qualify for inclusion in Sprint Speed. The best of these runs, approximately two-thirds, are averaged for a player’s seasonal average.

  1. Runs of two bases or more on non-homers, excluding being a runner on second base when an extra base hit happens
  2. Home to first on “topped” or “weakly hit” balls.

The Major League average on a “competitive” play is 27 ft/sec, and the competitive range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite).”

To summarize, Statcast takes the feet/second times when players are running for two or more bases, or on ground/weakly hit balls. They take about 70% of the opportunities for each runner and find this average, resulting in “Sprint Speed.”

Average home plate to first base time is pretty simple; like Sprint Speed, it only includes times for “topped” or “weakly hit” balls, as it would not be useful if it included lazy jogs to first on routine ground balls or singles.

Now that we know what these two metrics mean, I collected 2021 MLB data and sought to answer the following questions:

Who is the fastest player in baseball?

Which position has the fastest runners?

Does age have to do with speed? (I am assuming the answer to be yes, as when a player gets older he loses pace).

Now, THE fastest player in baseball is hard to quantify, as one player does not have both the best home to first time and Sprint Speed: Byron Buxton has by far the fastest average home to first time (exactly 4 seconds, which is incredible), but his Sprint Speed is lacking. Therefore, the fastest player goes to none other than Trea Turner:

Turner’s sprint speed, 30.7 ft/sec, is tied with Tim Locastro for the fastest in the MLB. And, Locastro had a faster average home to first time: 4.07 seconds compared to Turner’s 4.13. So why Turner over Locastro? Well, Turner is an everyday player, while Locastro is a bench player known solely for his speed. This is shown with their varying number of “bolts,” which are runs above 30 ft/sec. Locastro had 36; Turner had 147. To put into context how absurd this is, the player with the second most bolts is Amed Rosario, with 67. That’s a difference of eighty!

Then I plotted a player’s age vs. his Sprint Speed:

The results did surprise me a little bit; I was expecting a steeper negative regression line, because the slowest players are typically the oldest (Albert Pujols, for one, with a league-low Sprint Speed of 22.4), and the fastest players are typically the youngest. The graph shows that players in their mid-30s and beyond lose speed at a moderate pace, whereas I had anticipated a more dramatic drop-off. Also, there is a bit of a selection bias, as slower, older players are more likely to be released, retire, etc–removed from the pool. Only the old, slow players with a special ability (Pujols’ power), stay in the Major Leagues.

Lastly, I compared position vs. Sprint Speed:

The difference in Sprint Speed between positions is not at all drastic, and the slowest and fastest positions make sense: C and DH are the slowest, CF the fastest.

I hope that this provided you a solid introduction to two of Statcast’s newer metrics (and its only two metrics on baserunning). It’s a fun topic to look at! Now excuse me, as I go watch the Trea Turner slide on repeat…


4 thoughts on “Baseball’s Speedy Sprinters

  1. Fun analysis. Would like to know stats of current versus former greats, i.e. Ricky Henderson. Likely these stats are not available very far back.


    Posted by BradT | January 9, 2022, 6:50 pm
  2. Who are the guys in the bottom right of the graphs — the slowest guys?!?

    Do you think someone will ever steal 100 bases again in a season? If not, then why?

    Great analysis Theo!


    Posted by Tribefan | January 10, 2022, 4:41 am
  3. Have to discuss old stats with the lockdown. Interesting article.


    Posted by Saundra Tobman | January 10, 2022, 4:00 pm

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