These rookies are early Statcast standouts
Anything feels possible in a small sample. A No. 9 hitter can have a four-hit day. A struggling pitcher can have a clean inning. The slowest runner can pull off a delayed steal for his one theft of the season. But that's not entirely true. Not every pitcher can pump 97. Not every hitter can hit the ball with a 115 mph exit velocity or put one in the seats 450 feet away.
That's where Statcast can come in. Even when we're looking at certain numbers in a small sample, they can still tell us a lot about a player's capabilities. That's especially true for Major League rookies who don't have years of data at the top level. For those players, these first two weeks of the 2021 season aren't the be-all, end-all, but they can certainly be constructive about what could come next as they establish themselves in The Show.
With that in mind, these are some of the rookie Statcast standouts from April 1-14:
Home run distance
White Sox DH Yermín Mercedes, 485 feet -- Let's start loud. Mercedes has done plenty to grab headlines in the opening weeks of the 2021 season, including going 19-for-38 (.500) through his first 11 games. Nothing makes fans stand and pay attention like the long ball. The White Sox slugger's 485-foot blast off a hanging slider from Royals right-hander Brad Keller on April 8 remains the longest homer hit by any Major Leaguer this season. Giancarlo Stanton's 471-foot shot on April 5 ranks second. Ronald Acuña Jr.'s 495-foot homer last Sept. 25 was the only one longer dating back to the start of the 2019 season. Mercedes, who has three homers and is slugging .816, is showing real pop -- the type that makes sure this former Minor League Rule 5 pick is getting in the Chicago lineup every day.
Homer off the fastest pitch
Marlins 2B/SS Jazz Chisholm Jr., 100.4 mph -- “To me, it felt like he was on the lighter side.” That's what Chisholm said about his April 10 homer to Citi Field's right-field upper deck off Mets ace Jacob deGrom. Whether what the Marlins infielder was saying was gamesmanship or a true assessment doesn't matter to Statcast. The truth of the matter is that deGrom's 100.4 mph heater was the hardest-thrown pitch that has been taken out of the yard so far in 2021. It's also the only triple-digit pitch deGrom has thrown in the Statcast era (starting in 2015) that has been taken deep by an opposing batter. He's thrown 58 such heaters by the way. Chisholm can hit for power. He can hit velocity. Both are reasons why he could be a big part of Miami's future.
Hard-hit balls and average exit velocity
Pirates 3B/OF Phillip Evans -- Evans has been a pleasant surprise in Pittsburgh. The 28-year-old rookie is 13-for-38 (.342) with three homers, two doubles and a 1.076 OPS through 11 games. To borrow a term from Chisholm, there's nothing light about those numbers either, when you factor in Statcast. Evans is tied for 26th among qualified hitters with 17 hard-hit batted balls (i.e. balls with an exit velocity above 95 mph). That's the same total as two players you may have heard of in Nolan Arenado and, oh, Mike Trout. His 92.8 mph average exit velocity ranks even higher at 17th, one spot above Bryce Harper. Evans isn't a huge elevator of the ball, but he makes a lot of contact (11.1 percent K rate). The fact that it's such hard contact is a major point in his favor.
Average Sprint Speed
Rangers OF Leody Taveras, 29.4 ft/sec -- Speed doesn't lie. There is no luck involved. No one trips into an elite sprint speed. That's what makes diving into the Sprint Speed leaderboard so much fun and why it's all the more telling that Taveras ranks fifth on that board in the early going. For context, that's only one spot below Byron Buxton. Taveras is also Buxton's equal when it comes to Bolts, or runs that exceed the elite level of 30 ft/ sec, with five each. Barring an injury that hinders his speed in some way, the Rangers outfielder should fit in here comfortably going forward, and that's no surprise for a player who entered the season with a 70 grade on his run tool, according to MLB Pipeline.
... and arm strength
In fact, Taveras' best tools coming into 2021 were on the basepaths and in the field. His plus grades on both of those sides of the game made him a borderline Top 100 prospect. Beyond the speed aspect, he has also gotten to show off a promising arm during his time manning center for Texas. On Opening Day, he uncorked one throw toward home that measured in at 97.3 mph off the crow hop. That made it the third-hardest throw by an outfielder so far this season. (The toss was cut off, but the speed with which it came in kept Jorge Soler from scoring from second on a single up the middle.) In the same game, he also unleashed another 96.3 mph throw, sixth-hardest by an outfielder on the young campaign. If Taveras can manage to be even an average hitter at the top level, the rest of his game could make him close to a star.
Four-seamer whiff rate
Marlins LHP Trevor Rogers, 51.1 percent -- Just to reiterate, these are numbers prior to Rogers' start against the Braves on Wednesday. No one has gotten a stiffer breeze off their four-seam fastball than Rogers has in the early going. When batters swung against the southpaw's 95.5 mph average heater, they missed the ball over half the time. For reference, deGrom is second when it comes to four-seam whiff rate at only 39 percent. Rogers thrives on the fastball because of its running action, spin rate and command. The Miami left-hander has increased the usage on his fastball from 54.2 percent in 2019 to 59.1 percent this season, and that further reliance on the heat has helped him fan 16 batters over 10 innings in his first two starts.
Overall swing-and-miss rate
White Sox RHP Michael Kopech, 23.7 percent -- It's important to note that whiff rate and swing-and-miss rate are two different things. Whiff rate measures swing-and-misses per swing. Swing-and-miss rate is swing-and-misses per total pitches thrown. So in this case, almost one-quarter of Kopech's offerings so far this season have resulted in batters taking hacks and not making contact. That's seventh-best among the 391 pitchers with at least 50 pitches thrown in 2021. Kopech's ingredients for success are no secret. The right-hander averages 97 mph on his fastball and pairs it with a nasty slider that hitters can't pick up either. He's already a dominant reliever as such, and if he maintains his health, the White Sox might want to give him another look back in the rotation as the summer goes along.
Highest average pitch velocity
Indians RHP Emmanuel Clase, 100.1 mph -- The hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball isn't deGrom or Aroldis Chapman. It's the recently graduated Cleveland prospect who might throw the most insane pitch in the sport. Clase has averaged 100.1 mph on his cutter, making him the only Major Leaguer to average triple-digits through the first two weeks of the season. Again, that's a cutter, not a straight four-seamer. Despite missing the entire 2020 season after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug, Clase has moved into the back of the Cleveland bullpen with ease, recording two saves over his five appearances. With heat like this, those save opportunities will keep coming.