Where do baseball's biggest speed demons live? You probably have a rough idea in your mind of which positions are home to the speediest players, just due to the types of players who get placed there, but by how much?It's not something you've ever truly been able to measure, until
Where do baseball's biggest speed demons live? You probably have a rough idea in your mind of which positions are home to the speediest players, just due to the types of players who get placed there, but by how much?
It's not something you've ever truly been able to measure, until now, as we've added Sprint Speed to the list of publicly available Statcast™ metrics. You can, and should, read the introduction here to get a sense of how it works, but the short version is that we measure speed in "feet per second, in a player's fastest one-second window," and 27 feet per second is the Major League average. The elite speedsters touch 30 feet per second, and the slowest of the slow are down around 23-24 feet per second. Olympian Usain Bolt, by comparison, has reached up to 37 feet per second in his first 40 meters.
As we noted in the introduction, "12 of the fastest 14 play center field; at the bottom, 24 of the slowest 25 are catchers, first basemen, or designated hitters," and really, isn't that exactly what you'd expect? Of course slower runners play positions that demand less speed. What's interesting, however, is to look at each position and see where the outliers are.
While we said the Major League average is 27 ft/sec, that's across all baserunners. Per position, center fielders average 28.2 ft/sec, and catchers and designated hitters are just below 26 ft/sec.
But what about the spread within positions? For example, the leaders at third base and right field are barely ahead of their competition, but the leaders at catcher, first base, and shortstop are practically miles ahead of anyone else. There's an interactive tool for this, feel free to give it a spin.
So, who are the leaders and trailers at each position? Let's take a spin through the Majors, with the fastest positions first.
(A note on how we defined positions, in the age of increasing versatility: A player's primary position is simply the position where he's made the most starts this year. So even though Jason Heyward, for example, has started 10 games in center field, all of his baserunning time is considered in right field, where he's made 42 starts so far.)
Video: OAK@MIN: Statcast™ analyzes Buxton's speed on triple
1. Billy Hamilton, 30.1 ft/sec
- Byron Buxton, 29.9
- Bradley Zimmer, 29.8
Position average: 28.2
There's two things you shouldn't be surprised about here: First, that center field is by far baseball's speediest position, and second, that Hamilton is atop the list. He tops every runner in the game, so of course he's atop his own position. But it really can't be overstated enough how full of speed this position is. Beyond Hamilton, there's Buxton, and Keon Broxton. There's Mallex Smith and Kevin Kiermaier. There's Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson. Now there's rookies like Franchy Cordero and Ian Happ, and Cardinals rookie Magneuris Sierra would have been the third-fastest if he'd qualified.
It's especially interesting to note that Cleveland rookie Zimmer is showing this much speed early on, because he recently challenged Atlanta's "The Freeze" to a race. Based on this data, Zimmer might actually have a shot.
There is just so much speed here. It's how someone like Adam Jones (27.4 ft/sec) can be above average overall yet slower than most of his center field contemporaries. Of the 43 qualified center fielders included, 39 were at or above the 27 ft/sec Major League average, the highest percentage of any position. Of the ones below, at least Curtis Granderson (26.6) has an excuse: He's 36, hasn't played primarily center since 2012, and is only doing so now due to the construction of the Mets lineup. All things considered, he's performing admirably at a tough position.
- Trea Turner, 29.1 ft/sec
- [tie] Wilmer Difo, 28.5
- [tie] Tim Anderson, 28.5
Position average: 27.5
When Turner took the bigs by storm last summer, we received a near-endless amount of requests seeking to prove that Turner was baseball's fastest man. We couldn't do it, of course, because Hamilton and Buxton are both slightly faster, as are a few others. But what we can say is that Turner is baseball's fastest shortstop, and that's satisfying enough.
Not only that, he's the fastest by a lot, by more than a half a foot over the second-place Difo and Anderson. Most shortstops are bunched in the above-average range between 27.5 and 28.5 ft/sec, and the few regular shortstops who are below the 27 ft/sec average (Troy Tulowitzki, Asdrubal Cabrera, J.J. Hardy, and Brandon Crawford) are all at least 30 years old. Age matters a lot when it comes to speed.
- Delino DeShields, 29.1 ft/sec
- Allen Cordoba, 29.0
- Ben Revere, 28.8
Position average: 27.5
If you don't know DeShields, you should, since he was one of the five fastest runners in the game as a rookie in 2015, and he stole 101 across two Minor League levels in 2012. While he's had more time in center in his career, the presence of Carlos Gomez has pushed him to left for Texas. The 21-year-old Cordoba, a Rule Draft 5 pick from the Cardinals, is baseball's youngest regular hitter this year, while the veteran Revere has been known for his plus speed for years.
There's two pretty clear groups of left fielders, as the position is a mix of speed types (Cameron Maybin, Peter Bourjos) and power bats (Adam Duvall, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis). That Matt Kemp pulls up the rear is no surprise, given that he'll soon be 33 and has stolen just one base in the last two seasons, his once-elite speed affected by multiple injuries to both hamstrings.
- Dee Gordon, 29.3 ft/sec
- Alen Hanson, 28.7
- Whit Merrifield, 28.6
Position average: 27.4
Second is similar to shortstop both in overall average and in that there's a National League East infielder leading the pack by far. Gordon has long been known as one of baseball's most dangerous speed threats, and he's been a Top 10 speedster in each of the three years of Statcast™. Young utility players Hanson and Merrifield haven't had much of a chance to show off in the bigs, but each has at least one 30-steal season in the Minors under his belt. Otherwise, this is a position tightly clustered around "above-average."
The bottom is interesting because Robinson Cano is essentially tied with Daniel Murphy and Dustin Pedroia, at 26.2 ft/sec apiece. That makes sense, as all three are 32 or older, and unlike Gordon, none of them are starters because of their speed. They're there to smash, and they do it very well.
- [tie] Daniel Robertson 28.3 ft/sec
- [tie] Ben Gamel, 28.3
- Scott Schebler, 28.2
Position average: 27.3
Robertson and Gamel have combined for eight career stolen bases, good evidence that speed can lead to steals, but it doesn't have to. (Robertson does have five Minor league seasons with 20 or more steals.) With no real positive outliers here, right field is a position where most runners are near the Major League average or slightly above it, though it's interesting to see how well Schebler ranks here, given his calling card is his power.
As will become a running theme, at the end here is an older player (Jose Bautista will be 37 this fall) who has a recent history of leg injuries (knee and toe). Health plays such a big role in speed.
1. Kristopher Bryant, 28.2 ft/sec
- [tie] Jose Ramirez, 28.0
- [tie] Eduardo Escobar, 28.0
Position average: 26.8
Interestingly, third base has the slowest leader of any non-DH position. Bryant's 28.2 ft/sec is a solidly above-average mark, as you'd expect from a young player athletic enough to also see time in the outfield corners, but this is a relatively tightly-bunched position that's as close to "average," overall, than any other position.
At the other end of this, Adrian Beltre has basically the exact same story as Bautista. In addition to being 38 years old, he missed a chunk of the season with a calf injury, which tied him with Josh Donaldson (calf injury) and Luis Valbuena (hamstring) for the biggest decline in foot speed from 2016 of any player in the game. Age saps speed, and so does injury.
- William Myers, 28.5 ft/sec
- [tie] Eric Hosmer, 27.5
- [tie] Jefry Marte, 27.5
Position average: 26.2
Of the 36 qualified first basemen here, only five are above the 27 ft/sec Major League average. This isn't surprising; first basemen aren't expected to be fast. We do have one huge outlier, however, and that's Myers, who is a full foot per second faster than second-place Hosmer. Of course, Myers is only 26 years old, and he was primarily an outfielder as recently as 2015. He's not exactly the prototypical first baseman, and this shows it better than anything.
- Corey Dickerson, 27.9 ft/sec
- Robbie Grossman, 27.5
- Rickie Weeks Jr., 26.9
Position average: 25.9
Designated hitters, as absolutely no one should be surprised to hear, are not fast. This is a position mostly manned by older sluggers like Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, Carlos Beltran, and Victor Martinez, players who are either long past their speed peak or never really had one to begin with. That's not their job; that's not why they're here.
This is one position where the average could actually change, at some point. There's only two DHs here who are above the Major League average, and it's at least possible neither one remains a DH all year. Grossman is only 27, but due to the presence of Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario in the corners and his own defensive shortcomings, he's seen more starts at DH than anywhere else this year. That said, he's seen only one in the last two weeks, so his classification may change.
- J.T. Realmuto, 28.7 ft/sec
- Willson Contreras, 27.5
- Austin Barnes, 27.3
Position average: 25.9
Like first base, catchers are a very slow group, but there's also one huge outlier here in Realmuto, who is almost certainly baseball's most athletic catcher. As we noted above, age can cause speed to decline, so it's worth pointing out here that the only five catchers who are at or above the Major League average are all 28 years old or younger, with Contreras, Barnes, Andrew Knapp, and Travis d'Arnaud following Realmuto. It's hard to be a catcher and be fast, and it's nearly impossible once you've been doing it for enough years.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.