Major League Baseball's Statcast tracking technology has been collecting a treasure trove of data to help us understand and appreciate different dimensions of the game. The latest tool for fans to fool around with? Sprint Speed. It validates what many of us already knew from watching the 2017 Miami Marlins, while also raising a few important questions.
Any MLB player with at least 10 "maximum effort runs" as a baserunner during the season is included on Baseball Savant's leaderboards (feet per second is the unit of measurement). Statcast uses the peak speed of those runs to arrive at these figures. The MLB average is approximately 27.0 ft/sec.
Entering play on June 30, the Marlins have 10 qualifiers:
2017 Sprint Speed for Qualified Marlins Players
|Sprint Speed (ft/sec)
|Sprint Speed (ft/sec)
And here is how each of them compares to their peers across the league:
J.T. Realmuto immediately leaps off the chart. It’s rare for any catcher to be an above-average sprinter, and even the few others who do barely cross that threshold. He has more than one foot per second of separation from the rest of the pack (Willson Contreras, 27.5 ft/sec).
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello reminds us that the potential All-Star was a high school shortstop before being drafted by the Marlins. He also cautions us that this kind of speed can’t last behind the plate, and Realmuto acknowledges that, too:
"Obviously, with catching, I'm going to slow down over time," said Realmuto. "I'm going to be less and less athletic the longer I catch. But my offseason is geared towards trying to stay as athletic as I can. In the weight room, I'm not trying to put on too much weight. I'm not trying to get too bulky. I'm trying to keep as athletic-fit as I can."
The Marlins haven’t been very creative with Realmuto’s skillset, as he has spent a grand total of two career innings at defensive positions other than catcher. In the midst of his best offensive season (.288/.347/.453, 109 wRC+), perhaps the team should consider reacquainting him with an infielder’s glove and giving him the occasional start at spots that are less physically taxing.
Statcast also supported Miami’s decision heading into spring training to swap Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich in the outfield. Yelich simply covers more ground, and that’s been consistently true since the technology was introduced several seasons ago:
- 2015 Sprint Speed: Yelich tops Ozuna, 29.0 ft/sec to 27.8 ft/sec
- 2016 Sprint Speed: Yelich tops Ozuna, 28.8 ft/sec to 27.8 ft/sec
- 2017 Sprint Speed: Yelich tops Ozuna, 28.6 ft/sec to 27.7 ft/sec
One letdown is that Ichiro Suzuki hasn’t reached qualified status yet this year. He still moves with the agility of a man half his age, but there’s no 2017 data to confirm it.
Keep in mind, Statcast measures players between the bases. Suzuki’s limited playing time (104 plate appearances) and production (.240 on-base percentage) means he might not arrive on the Sprint Speed leaderboard until after the All-Star break. He averaged 27.4 ft/sec in 2015 and 27.6 ft/sec in 2016.
Overall, the Marlins roster ranks as one of the sport’s fastest, so why not play more aggressively?
Even with Dee Gordon always getting a green light on the basepaths, they have combined to attempt only 54 steals through the first 77 games (MLB average is 58). Their 79.6 percent success rate is the highest in the National League. We can also quantify this cautiousness by looking at Extra Bases Taken (XBT). When presented with the opportunity to advance more than one base on a single or more than two on a double, the Fish take it 38 percent of the time (38 XBT%), again falling short of their competition (40 XBT% across MLB).
Teams that don’t seek veteran improvements at the trade deadline often fall out of contention during the second half of the season. However, Sprint Speed gives us reason to believe that the Marlins could be an exception if they maximize the production of their current players by simply embracing their athleticism.