As you've surely seen with our introduction to the new Statcast™ outfielding metric "Catch Probability," we're now able to put a catch percentage on every batted ball to the outfield based on the distance a fielder needs to cover and the time (from pitcher's release) he has to do it in. We can use that to do things like run down Billy Hamilton's five hottest catches of the year, and we hope to use it to make grading the skills of an outfielder a little bit easier.
As has been brought up as we've discussed this around the office and with people inside the game, sometimes a batted ball can potentially be caught by more than one outfielder. For example, when Addison Russellhit a sacrifice fly to scoreKristopher Bryant and give the Cubs a 2-1 lead early in Game 7 of the World Series, it was an easy play for center fielder Rajai Davis, who had an 89 percent Catch Probability. But it was also an easy play for left fielder Coco Crisp, given a 97 percent Catch Probability, because he started 87 feet away from the ball as opposed to Davis' 103 feet.
There's obvious analytical implications to this, knowing that the center fielder is generally in charge of calling off his corner outfield mates, and how that impacts who "should" catch the batted ball. If an outstanding center fielder with great range like Hamilton can get to balls that his teammates could also get to, then we need to account for that as we work towards assigning defensive credit and value. But when the topic came up, the first thing that came to mind was a name, a fictional one at that: "Kelly Leak. This is Kelly Leak."
If you're familiar with 1976's "The Bad News Bears," then you know exactly what we're talking about. If you aren't, well, then we implore you to go watch one of cinema's classic baseball movies immediately. As made famous by Jackie Earle Haley, Leak is a Harley-riding troublemaking teen with an interest in loan sharking who also just so happens to be the best athlete in town, a fact that manager Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is all too happy to take advantage of when he's attempting to find ways to get his ragtag team to win at all costs. That includes grabbing every ball he can, even if it means showing up his teammates to do so.
So we thought, well, what's the point of having all of this data if we can't use it to have some fun? To that end, we ran a query asking a simple question, which boils down to: "How many times did a center fielder make a catch that was a Two-Star or harder play for him on a ball that was also a Zero-Star play for the corner outfielder?" That is, can we find plays where the corner outfielder would have had a Catch Probability of higher than 95 percent while the center fielder had to go farther to make a tougher play?
As it turns out: Yes, we can. More than a dozen plays fell into that category in 2016, and that's only looking at center fielders making the harder play, because assuredly there were some examples of corner outfielders taking charge as well.
So who "stole" the most plays? Over the two years of the Statcast™ era, we've seen more than 40 plays that qualify, with five center fielders having done it at least three times. Ender Inciarte and Kevin Kiermaier have done it three times apiece, while Michael Taylor and Juan Lagares have done so four times apiece. But standing alone at the top is the man in the video that leads this article: Odubel Herrera, six times.
We should clarify again that these are plays that fit our criteria, but that doesn't necessarily make them bad plays. The center fielder, obviously, is supposed to call off his counterparts when the situation warrants it, so the point here is not to call out the center fielder for the decisions he makes.
Still, when you take a look at some of the examples, it's pretty fun to see how the other guy reacts. For example, in the Aug. 24 play shown in the video at the top of the article, is there anything more wonderful than the "you have absolutely got to be kidding me" look that left fielder Aaron Altherr (97 percent Catch Probability) flashes Herrera (86 percent)?
Or take the broadcast call from Herrera's May 28 catch in Wrigley Field, which begins with "lifted in the air to left field, not deep, David Lough is there, " the same as a million other lazy fly balls sound...
… and ends with "he made that more dramatic than it needed to be," and "there will be a conversation… this is basically straightaway left field." Understandably so -- Lough (99 percent Catch Probability) had to run only 62 feet, while Herrera (83 percent) ran 102 feet to make the grab.
It's not just Herrera, of course. Here's Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin making what actually turned out to be a quite difficult catch (44 percent Catch Probability) by running 78 feet to jump in front of right fielder Ben Gamel, who had a 96 percent Catch Probability due to the fact he began just 52 feet away from the ball's projected landing point.
"Almost a two-car pileup out there in right field," suggested the broadcast, which pointed out that Gamel was playing just his third game in right field for the Mariners after having been acquired from the Yankees a few days earlier, and perhaps hadn't quite gained a level of communication with his new teammate yet.
So far, we've just shown examples where the play was still made, but we can't go through this and not share a play where things end poorly, can we? It actually ended up being more difficult than expected to find a qualifying play that wasn't converted for an out, but a good example might be on this low-probability Bobby Wilson fly to left field in Minnesota last April. Center fielder Danny Santana was 81 feet away from the ball (75 percent Catch Probability, given the 4.8 second Opportunity Time), while left fielder Oswaldo Arcia, just 53 feet away, had a 97 percent Catch Probability.
It did not end well:
Leak wouldn't have let that drop, most assuredly. One wonders if Herrera may have made certain that it didn't as well.