Over at MLB.com, Mike Petriello has been doing an interesting series of posts based around metrics from Statcast. If you're not familiar with Statcast, it uses fancy cameras and radars to track just about every kind of movement you can imagine on the field -- the speed of a throw, the ground covered by an outfielder, the distance of a home run, and more. The example that has gotten the most publicity so far is probably "exit velocity," which measures how fast the ball comes off the hitter's bat. Statcast was present in all 30 parks last year, and you can click here to read more about it if you're interested.
We're not here to talk about exit velocity today, though, but rather the speed of baserunners. Specifically, which players are the fastest running down the line to first base? Petriello explains that, in order to eliminate statistical noise, he's only considering "competitive plays," which are defined as "the 90th percentile speed for each player as a baseline, then ... the average of all tracked runs above that." In other words, these aren't the times when a player jogs out a routine fly ball; rather, it's isolating just the instances in which the player is busting down the line trying to beat a throw. Here are the results:
Best home-to-first averages on "competitive plays" (minimum 3 qualified plays)
1. [Billy] Burns, LH, 3.85 seconds
2. [Dee] Gordon, LH, 3.91 seconds
3. [Billy] Hamilton, LH, 3.95 seconds
4. Delino DeShields, RH, 3.96 seconds
5 (tie). Jose Altuve, RH, 3.98 seconds
5 (tie). Ichiro Suzuki, LH, 3.98 seconds (at 41 years old!)
Hey, look at that familiar name at the top of the list! A's fans already know about Billy Burns and his game-changing speed, but Gordon and Hamilton steal all the national headlines (that was a baserunning pun). Turns out that Burns truly does have a legitimate argument as the fastest player in MLB, even though Hamilton clocked the single fastest run of the season (3.52 seconds). Here's a video showing off Burns' wheels, with him beating out a tailor-made double play to drive in the tying run:
Of course, seeing a leaderboard naturally makes you wonder: Who is at the bottom of the list? Petriello was nice enough to include that in his post as well!
394. Wilson Ramos, RH, 4.89 seconds
395. Albert Pujols, RH, 4.92 seconds
396. Michael Morse, RH, 4.94 seconds
397 (tie). Billy Butler, RH, 4.95 seconds
397 (tie). Curt Casali, RH, 4.95 seconds
Welp, I guess we could have seen that one coming. Here's some context: Albert Pujols was 35 last season and has had serious foot problems for years. In 2013, he had surgery to repair a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, and last year his right foot got bad enough that he had to shift to DH full-time before having offseason surgery on the plantar plate. His body basically ends at his ankles, which are balanced on top of a couple hunks of indiscernible organic matter. And he's still faster than Billy Butler. The most damning example:
That is arguably the most inexcusable baseball play I've ever seen. It starts out as a routine GIDP, but the second baseman double-clutches, momentarily gives up on the play, then flips a half-assed off-balance throw to first and still gets the out. Any other runner in all of baseball beats out that throw; in fact, any other runner, and Jonathan Schoop probably doesn't even bother making a throw at all. And to top it off, the A's were leading 3-2 at the time and would have upped it to 4-2 if the GIDP hadn't been turned to end the inning (because the runner would have scored from third on the play). They later lost 4-3 on a walkoff solo homer. Last year wasn't all the bullpen's fault.
Sure, we haven't learned anything new here today. Burns is fast, and Butler is slow -- quick, someone inform the President of this critical new intel! But still, it's interesting to note that they aren't just fast or slow, but rather the fastest and the slowest in the whole sport. The players at both ends of the speed spectrum are teammates, and both of them are named Billy, and both of them were acquired by a general manager who is also named Billy, for a team that was once famous for playing Billyball in the 80s. Dolla dolla Billy, y'all.
By the way, if you're wondering about the rest of the team then you're in luck! Petriello included team rankings as well. You can probably guess that the rest of the A's players rank "somewhere between Burns and Butler," but specifically they clock in at fifth in MLB, behind only Houston, Miami, Boston, and Arizona (that's using 2015 stats to rank the current 2016 rosters).
Unrelated, from a different Statcast post by Petriello: Khris Davis has the weakest outfield throwing arm in baseball, measured in mph, and it's not even close. He's at 78.1 mph on average, and the next several guys ahead him are above 81 mph.