MIAMI -- Statcast is no stranger to Oneil Cruz’s arm. After all, the Pirates shortstop has routinely made some jaw-dropping fast throws this year -- like, faster-than-pitchers-throw fast.
It was no surprise, then, that Cruz broke his own record in Pittsburgh's 3-2 loss in 11 innings on Thursday afternoon for the hardest-thrown ball by an infielder this season. The latest throw, a 97.8 mph laser to first base for the first out of the bottom of the third inning of the series finale vs. the Marlins at loanDepot park, set the mark for the fastest recorded infield assist since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Cruz surpassed Padres infielder Fernando Tatis Jr., who previously held the record with a 97.3 mph throw on Sept. 20, 2020.
Let’s break down Cruz’s record-setting play a bit:
Luke Williams, Miami’s left fielder, hit a 73.7 mph grounder to Cruz between second and third base. Cruz covered 80 feet to get to the ball as Williams sprinted down the line at 30 feet per second, which is considered an elite speed in the Majors. Williams made it from the right-handed batter’s box to first base in 4.18 seconds, as Cruz took a couple of steps between fielding the ball and making the throw. With that kind of speed, Cruz’s throw needed to be on the money and quick.
Of course, fast throws are practically ensured when Cruz is at shortstop. He has another infield assist ranked in the fastest five: a 96.7 mph throw in his season debut on June 21, which at the time ranked as the hardest-thrown infield assist this year.
Cruz is reaching such breakneck speeds with his throws, he’s just two mph slower than the fastest pitch by any Pirate this year, a 99.7 mph four-seamer from right-hander Mitch Keller on May 1 vs. the Padres.
And on Thursday afternoon, Cruz’s 97.8 mph throw was almost 6 mph harder than the fastest pitch Pittsburgh starter Zach Thompson threw all afternoon (a pair of 92 mph four-seamers).
“I need to ask him how he holds that,” Thompson said. “See if he can help me.
“I don’t really worry about it too much [when the ball is hit to Cruz]. It doesn't really matter. I see -- once he fields it, I'm like, ‘OK, he's got it.’ No matter how fast the runner is. It's nice.”
Another fun tidbit: Cruz was acquired by the Pirates at the 2017 Trade Deadline in exchange for southpaw Tony Watson. The fastest pitch Statcast tracked for Watson was 97.7 mph. Cruz topped that.