Great grab? Catch Probability lets us know

New Statcast metric makes debut during World Baseball Classic

March 17th, 2017

Statcast™ is changing the way we watch baseball, and we're only beginning to figure out how it will revolutionize the game. Mike Petriello, Matt Meyers and special guests discuss what this groundbreaking technology is teaching us.

In this week's episode, Matt and Mike discuss Catch Probability, a new Statcast™ metric which is getting its first public exposure during the World Baseball Classic. They explain how the metric works in real time while also offering some insight regarding what to look for when using the new stat.

Petriello: We've had some fairly interesting plays, all right. So here's the first one that stood out to me. This was from the Colombia-USA game, which I think you were at that in Miami, right?

Meyers: I was not at the game, but I know the play you are talking about.

Petriello: Tito Polo, who is a Yankee Minor Leaguer, he made what looked like a fantastic catch. Adam Jones hit a shot to basically the warning track in dead center. Tito Polo turns one way, he turns the other way, turns back the other way, falls down, but he does make the catch, so it's an out. We gave that a 98 percent catch probability. Now let's be clear, as I mentioned before, we're not accounting for direction yet, so going straight back, we're probably making that a little higher than it should be. He probably deserves a little more credit for that, and that number would likely come down a little bit when direction is included. But here's the thing: Matt kind of explained before the difference between distance needed and distance traveled. Tito Polo was 41 feet away from that ball based on his starting point to the projected landing point of the ball. He traveled 63 feet. So, while he made the catch, and it sure looked cool, that's a great example of a guy making life way harder than it needed to be. I think that's where we're going to have some pushback on the data and the eye test not necessarily aligning.

Meyers: I'll be honest -- on that one, I was almost surprised that people seemed a little more confused by that one because it was pretty obvious he took a brutal route to the ball. Granted, he still made the catch.

Petriello: I think it's two things. I think one, is that 98 percent is almost 100 percent, which seems like it should be a gimme for every single player, which, as we said, with direction included is probably not true. And then also, he's a Minor Leaguer. We're comparing him to the Major League average. I get that that's putting him in a bad [spot], but that's going to happen sometimes. The point of this is not just to back up the eye test. Sometimes it's going to align perfectly, like all of these Billy Hamilton plays we've been rolling out. Those are great. They look great, the data is great. But that's not always true. I feel like we always need to remind people the other side of that works as well. We can show you Adam Eaton plays where he made a nice running catch, but it didn't look like anything special and the data says no, that was special. He was so great he got there and didn't even have to dive for it. So that's cool, too.

Meyers: Yeah, I mean, the [Giancarlo] Stanton play I mentioned before, which was not in the Eaton class of play -- you know, it was a three-star catch, but it didn't look like anything special. It was like, 'Oh, nice running catch!" Comparing it to the next play I wanted to bring up, [which] was from that game I was at -- Canada-Dominican Republic -- Dalton Pompey. It was similar. It was off the bat of Carlos Santana. [Pompey] needed to cover 74 feet. He went 76 feet, so it was a very efficient route.

Petriello:That's pretty good.

Meyers: It was over his head and he made a half-diving -- it wasn't like full extension, but it was a running/diving, he ended up on the ground, diving catch. It was 86 percent catch probability.

Petriello: I think you had some pushback on that from John Smoltz. But I remember watching this. So I was at this house in Arizona watching this play, because you had just been on, and I remember thinking to myself, "That's probably going to get a higher catch probability than people think, because it didn't look to me like -- the route looked fine, as you said, the catch looked fine -- but it just didn't look to me like the top speed wasn't there. And that's kind of what the numbers ended up saying, right?

Meyers: Yeah, his sprint speed, as we're calling it now, was 26.5 feet per second. Now, Tom Tango developed this metric and sort of has given a rule of thumb for each band and basically says a two-star catch is about-generally speaking-a two-star catch you need a sprint speed 27 feet per second. In this case, it was a two-star catch and matches up perfectly. What's interesting is that Pompey stole a base later in the game and had a sprint speed of 28.1 feet per second. So he clearly wasn't going as fast as we saw he could go on that day.

Petriello: So I learned something. I didn't know that about the stolen base later on so that's cool. But I guess, when you talk about the eye test, it sort of depends on how you're watching it. Because I watched it and I said, "It doesn't look like he's running that fast to me." But, I can also imagine a lot of people in the park watching it and seeing him stretch out to make this great catch and you think, "That's a fantastic play."

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Meyers: Again, it was one of those that was over his head, so maybe we're sort of short-changing him a little bit.

Petriello: And we're not that far away from direction. If not by Opening Day, I think pretty soon after that we're going to be able to incorporate that.

Meyers: That said, I'm guessing that because he was going back, he wasn't able to read his optimal speed as quickly as he might have otherwise. And also it's possible -- because it's harder to judge the ball going over your head -- maybe he misjudged how far he needed to go so he didn't end up getting into that extra gear and sort of at the end had to lunge to make the catch. But again, I want to make two points: he ended up making the catch, and two, I think that one thing we're going to learn -- at least this is my hypothesis after eight games -- is I think that two-star catches are added value. Even it's an 85-percent play, that's still a play that's not made 15 percent of the time.