These AL Central stars can flat out fly

May 15th, 2020

Modern-day metrics have afforded today's fans the opportunity to delve deeper into numbers and examine what they mean, beyond what's obvious by simply perusing a box score.

Among the beneficiaries of Statcast -- the automated metric tool introduced by Major League Baseball five years ago -- are the ballplayers who rely on speed to measure their value to a team. A player's running ability, and how it stacks up among his peers, can be examined by a metric called sprint speed, which is defined as feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.

In other words, arguments about who's faster end pretty quickly. It's all spelled out in the data.

This week's division notebook topic is Best Speed. In the American League Central division, most teams have a speedster who shows up high on Statcast's leaderboards, and are invaluable contributors to their clubs. In the White Sox case, they have a budding rookie who is expected to join these elite ranks as soon as the season commences.


Now that Delino DeShields is a member of the Tribe, Mercado may have some more competition for this title, but after last season, the 25-year-old was the obvious selection. In his rookie year, Mercado tied five players (including DeShields) for the 15th fastest sprint speed in the Majors, according to Statcast. His average of 29.5 feet per second ranked the fastest on the ’19 Indians squad and his 38 Bolts (where his sprint speed was at least 30 feet per second) were tied for the 18th most in the league. On the Tribe, Greg Allen was his only other teammate to have a tally in the “Bolt” category with 13.

"My biggest thing my whole career, even when I played shortstop, was my speed," Mercado said last spring. "That's what I’m going to try to use the most, whether it's on the field or on the basepaths, wherever it may be, I have to maximize that tool the most. I try to use that to my advantage." -- Mandy Bell

The buzz around the 2019 Royals’ Spring Training camp was: Who was the fastest Royal among Terrance Gore, Billy Hamilton or Adalberto Mondesi? Of course, because of injury concerns, a race never occurred. But there was a sense among many in the clubhouse that spring that while Hamilton and Gore possess elite speed, Mondesi might even be faster than both.

Mondesi has proven that elite speed in games. He stole 32 bases in just 75 games in 2018. Last season, in 102 games, he stole 43 bases. In a full season, many around the game believe Mondesi could steal 60-70 bases.

Statcast backs up the argument of Mondesi’s elite speed. His 29.9 feet/second average sprint speed in 2019 was ninth best in baseball, a tick ahead of Gore and Hamilton. Mondesi had 68 “Bolts” -- those runs about 30 feet/second -- which was second best in MLB, despite missing over a third of the season.

Whit Merrifield, who led the American League in stolen bases in 2017 with 34 and all of MLB in 2018 with 45, concedes he will never win another stolen-base crown with a teammate like Mondesi around: “With a guy like him, with speed, I can only hope to be second.” -- Jeffrey Flanagan


Goodrum has been at or near the top of the list for the Tigers in sprint speed in both of his seasons in Detroit according to Statcast. His 12 stolen bases led the team last year even though he missed the final month of the season with groin issues. He's 24-for-31 in stolen-base attempts in two seasons as a Tiger, and he could have a chance to expand on that if he can improve his on-base percentage. He missed the first stretch of games this Spring Training with recurring groin issues, but has been working out at his Atlanta area home and should be ready when play resumes. -- Jason Beck


Well, duh. One of the fastest men in the Major Leagues since he made his long-anticipated debut in 2015, Buxton has had an up-and-down start to his career as a hitter but has unquestionably been must-watch television on the basepaths and in the field. His game-changing speed has long been his calling card as a professional, particularly on defense, where his stellar range to the gaps and towards the infield helped to inspire the "nothing falls but raindrops" slogan for the Twins' outfield. Baseball Savant ranked Buxton third in all of baseball with a sprint speed of 30.3 feet per second on competitive runs in 2019, trailing only Tim Locastro of the D-backs and Nationals shortstop Trea Turner.

That speed has helped Buxton plenty in the field, netting him the AL's Platinum Glove Award in 2017, but his struggles with injury and inconsistency at the plate have prevented him from fully taking advantage of his wheels for more lofty totals in extra-base hits and stolen bases. But the tools are still there, as evidenced by his career-high 29 stolen bases in 2017 -- the only year he's come close to a full slate of games -- and career-high 30 doubles in 2019, when he started to hit the ball with more authority. All that remains is for Buxton to put it all together. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox:

Robert has yet to play a regular-season Major League game, a point frequently made in regard to MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 prospect overall. But anyone who watches Robert effortlessly glide around the bases in a Minor League or Spring Training contest, turning what looks to be a double into an almost routine triple, understands why the 22-year-old would get the nod for best speed on the roster.

According to MLB Pipeline, Robert has a 65-run grade. Of course, the five-tool talent also has 65 grades in the categories of power, arm and overall. Yoán Moncada, Adam Engel and Tim Anderson have exhibited great speed as part of the White Sox, with Engel using it to enhance Gold Glove-caliber play in center and Anderson’s 43 stolen bases over the last two years indicating he’s learning how to use that speed to his advantage. But Robert is not afraid to turn on the afterburners, as shown by his three stolen bases during limited 2020 Spring Training time and his 36 stolen bases posted across three Minor League stops in 2019. -- Scott Merkin