Byron Buxton made his first Five-Star catch of the year on Sunday afternoon, running in from center to rob Baltimore's Trey Mancini of what probably should have been a bloop single. It didn't look like much. Buxton didn't have to leave his feet or climb a wall. He didn't dive,
Byron Buxton made his first Five-Star catch of the year on Sunday afternoon, running in from center to rob Baltimore's Trey Mancini of what probably should have been a bloop single. It didn't look like much. Buxton didn't have to leave his feet or climb a wall. He didn't dive, or slide, or lay out. It looked like a pretty routine play, to be honest. It's somewhat of a hard sell to point out that it was actually fantastic.
This is, of course, entirely the point. Buxton is baseball's fastest man and baseball's best outfielder. Part of what made the play so great is that it didn't need to look great, because Buxton is that good. He made it look easy.
That's a big deal, perhaps bigger than you think. Based on how far Buxton was positioned away from the ball's projected landing point (92 feet) and how much time he had to get there (4.8 seconds), the play had a Catch Probability of just 21 percent, which is to say that eight times out of 10, other outfielders are unable to get there -- and when they do, it often requires a great deal of effort.
We know that simply saying "it was a great catch" isn't going to be good enough. We'll need to convince you with visuals. So, let's do exactly that. We know the distance and time data for every tracked batted ball dating back to 2015, when Statcast™ came online, and we can also narrow it down just by "center fielders coming in" as well, to make the visuals work.
Take, for example, this nice-looking Albert Almora Jr. catch to take a hit away from Stephen Piscotty in 2016. Almora started 90 feet away from where the ball would drop, and he had 5.1 seconds to get there, both numbers similar but easier than Buxton's 92 feet in 4.8 seconds.
Almora got there, because he's a good fielder. But because his route wasn't as true (while he needed to run 90 feet to the ball, he actually ran 95 feet), and because he's not quite as fast as Buxton (Almora's Sprint Speed was 29.8 ft/sec on the play, while Buxton's was 30.7 ft/sec), he had to make a nice dive to get there.
It looked nicer than Buxton's, but there's no extra credit here for style points. Buxton was faster, ran a better route (he needed to go 92, and went a nearly-perfect 93), and didn't have to dive.
But remember, we're not just comparing an easy looking catch to a diving one. Buxton's play had a Catch Probability of 21 percent, which means that the majority of the time, it's not made at all. And since you're obviously wondering what that looks like, we're happy to oblige you.
There are many such examples, of course. Here are two!
In April of last year, Greg Garcia broke his bat and dropped a similar bloop into shallow center field in St. Louis, giving Kevin Pillar a reasonably similar chance to the one Buxton had, with a Catch Probability of 16 percent, compared to Buxton's 21 percent. That Pillar was unable to get the 87 feet in 4.6 seconds (largely due to his below-average 26.3 ft/sec Sprint Speed) to make the play isn't an indictment of him, really; as the numbers show, it's a play not made over 80 percent of the time.
It's that he doesn't really get close that illustrates how good the Buxton play was.
Let's take you back to 2016 for another example, this time another bloop, this one off the bat of Boston's Xander Bogaerts. This time, it was Carlos Gomez, then with the Astros, who had a 24 percent Catch Probability chance, requiring him to go 97 feet in 5.0 seconds flat.
He didn't, of course.
Again: Those are hard chances! Most players don't get there, and they're not expected to. Buxton didn't just get to his, he got there without even making it look difficult. If there's a better definition of a "great outfielder" than that, we're not sure we've seen it.