Magic numbers: Meet the first All-Statcast Team
A collection of stars who stood out in new, interesting ways
With the first season of Statcast™ behind us, let's run down a roster of 2015's All-Statcast™ Team. This isn't the same thing as "the best player at each position," because you'll notice there's no Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw or Buster Posey. Let's think of this more as "really good players who stood out in a new, interesting way."
C -- Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers
Grandal had himself a pretty interesting first season in Los Angeles after being acquired in last winter's huge Matt Kemp deal. As we showed in October, Grandal was baseball's best-hitting catcher in the first half, and was sailing right on along up until early August, when an injured shoulder torpedoed the rest of his season. (He had only six hits after Aug. 6, and underwent surgery immediately after the playoffs ended.)
Despite the two lost months, Grandal still led all catchers (sorry, Kyle Schwarber, you're an outfielder) with a 92.6 mph average exit velocity, which was good for 30th overall. He also finished as baseball's best framing catcher, adding 25 runs of value through his pitch receiving alone, per Baseball Prospectus. That skill proved to be a big aid to Zack Greinke, and it's part of the reason why Grandal was allowed to play through pain.
1B -- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt deserves more credit for, well, everything. Because he plays in a smaller market on a team that's never had a winning season in his four full years, he doesn't get the recognition he deserves -- despite the fact that through age 27, his career looks nearly identical to Jeff Bagwell, who is likely headed to the Hall of Fame as soon as next summer.
So, with all due respect to Joey Votto, Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera, let's do that now. Only one regular first baseman (Cabrera) hit the ball harder on average than Goldschmidt did (93.3 mph), and only two (Chris Carter, Davis) had more average distance than Goldschmidt's 245.8 feet. But Goldschmidt also had 21 stolen bases, the most by a first baseman since Ryan Klesko had 23 way back in 2001. As we showed back in August, that's not due to great speed, but due to great lead distance, with an average primary lead of 13.5 feet, one of the best marks in baseball. Add in a plus glove, and Goldschmidt is adding value all over.
2B -- Dee Gordon, Marlins
Gordon's first season in Miami was nothing less than a smashing success, as he led the game both in hits and stolen bases. You'd expect him to rank highly in most of the Statcast™ speed stats, and indeed he does.
But what really stands out for Gordon is one singular play, a home run he hit on June 30 against San Francisco. That play, an inside-the-park three-run homer off Ryan Vogelsong in what would become a 5-3 Miami win, currently stands as the fastest homer of the Statcast™ era, requiring Gordon just 14.2 seconds to circle the bases. That's a full half-second better than Jarrod Dyson's effort on July 8, and only one other player (Aaron Altherr) even managed to break the 15-second barrier. Knowing what we do about Gordon's elite speed, it's fair to wonder if that's a mark that stands for a long time to come.
SS -- Ian Desmond, Nationals
Desmond didn't have the kind of free agency platform year he may have hoped for, needing a massive August just to pull his line up to "disappointing." Considering how much talent arrived at shortstop in 2015,from Carlos Correa to Francisco Lindor to Corey Seager, there's suddenly a much higher bar at the position for Desmond to contend with.
One thing Desmond does have, however, is arguably baseball's strongest shortstop arm. To put that to the test, we took all tracked throws by a shortstop to first base that were at least 70 mph (in an attempt to weed out soft tosses on non-competitive plays). Of the 49 shortstops that had at least five such throws, Desmond's average of 82.5 mph edged out Cliff Pennington and Brandon Crawford, giving him at least one positive from the 2015 season.
3B -- Nolan Arenado, Rockies
Arenado tied with Harper for the most homers (42) in the National League, and it wasn't just about Coors Field -- he hit 20 at home, and 22 on the road. So we could talk about his 92.1 mph exit velocity and everything special his bat does, but the power exploits may have served to overshadow the fact that Arenado has become one of the most elite defenders in the game, ranking third behind only Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward in Defensive Runs Saved since his 2013 debut.
We know that Arenado has great range, as you certainly saw in April when he risked his health crashing into the stands in San Francisco to make arguably the catch of the year. But how about that arm? Using the same approach as we did with Desmond, looking only at the average of throws 70 mph or higher, no third baseman had a higher average than Arenado's 81.9 mph. (Maikel Franco & Pablo Sandoval came in second and third.) When a guy who hit 42 homers stands out on defense too, you can be pretty sure he's something special.
LF -- Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers/Mets
Cespedes' (mis)adventures in center field during the playoffs may have given his reputation a bit of a hit, but while he's stretched in center, he remains elite in left, finishing second in DRS and first in UZR. You know all about his arm, though, or at least you should. What about his feet?
For a player not known for stolen bases -- he's grabbed exactly seven in each of the last three years -- Cespedes is also surprisingly fast. Take, for example, Game 3 of the NLDS,when he stole third base in the sixth inning of what was at the time a tie game. It took Cespedes just 2.9 seconds to get from second to third, the best-tracked time on a steal of third base by anyone all year. (Billy Hamilton's best, for comparison, was 3.2 seconds.) Add that to a first step time of -0.4 seconds, which is to say he was off and running before Trevor Cahill released the pitch, and the Cubs had no chance. Cespedes would later score the go-ahead run.
CF -- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
We know. "Where's the best player in baseball, Mike Trout?" or "Where's the jaw-dropping defensive exploits of Kevin Kiermaier?" or love for Lorenzo Cain or Andrew McCutchen or A.J. Pollock. All are stellar and worthy players, and could or should be here.
So why Pillar? Because on June 23 against Tampa Bay, he set what's currently the Statcast™ record for longest distance traveled to track down a ball, running 117.5 feet to catch a Brandon Guyer blast before running into the wall. It's not the only great thing Pillar did in the outfield, of course, not when his 22 Defensive Runs Saved ranked fifth overall. But it is a record, and that's what makes it fun -- since this is the first year of this data, we don't know if that's a mark that will stand for just a few months, or for years.
RF -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Obviously. When the season began and we started seeing how incredibly hard Stanton was hitting the ball, the reaction was a mixture of shock and "well, yes, of course he does." But while it may not be earth-shattering news to say that Stanton is the exit velocity king of baseball, what stands out now in retrospect is by just how much.
Remember, it's not only that Stanton had the three hardest-hit balls of the year (led by a 120.3 mph rocket off Mike Bolsinger in May), or five of the top six, or nine of the top 12, or 14 of the top 25. It's that he did so in only 279 plate appearances, since his season ended with a broken hand on June 26. We've always figured that Stanton hit the ball hard, but now we know. We know that it's by a gap larger than we could have expected.
SP -- Garrett Richards, Angels
With what may be the most talented crop of pitchers baseball has ever seen out there, it's nearly impossible to choose just one starter to focus on. So why Richards? Because he has something no other pitcher could match this year: A pitch with an average spin rate of over 3,000 rpm. That would be his curveball, which averaged 3,086 rpm over the 185 times it left his hand.
Considering that the MLB average for curveball spin was 2,308 rpm, that's a considerable difference. With 11.4 inches of vertical movement, Richard's curve ranked second in baseball behind Mike Fiers, and he ended up getting 19 strikeouts on it, allowing only 10 hits.
RP -- Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Chapman's flame-throwing exploits could fill an entire column, and in fact, they will, coming soon. You already know that he throws so hard, so often, that we had to add a "Chapman filter" to our leaderboards just to give anyone else's name a chance to appear. So instead of focusing on that, let's point out that on the rare occasions that Chapman allows a hitter to make contact, nothing good happens.
Of the 492 pitchers to throw at least 400 pitches this year, Chapman's average exit velocity of 84 mph is sixth from the top. We learned from our look back at lessons from Statcast™'s first year that higher pitch velocity doesn't necessarily lead to higher exit velocity, and Chapman is the living embodiment of that. He struck out a shocking 41.7 percent of hitters he faced, and the ones who did make contact didn't make good contact.