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Storylines to watch in Year 2 of Statcast

New ways to measure outfield positioning, throwing arms make for must-watch items
March 31, 2016

The second season of Statcast™ is exciting in large part simply because we learned so much in the first year about how to measure the unprecedented amount of data. We now know that spin rate has a huge impact, especially on fastballs, that velocity in from the pitcher doesn't really

The second season of Statcast™ is exciting in large part simply because we learned so much in the first year about how to measure the unprecedented amount of data. We now know that spin rate has a huge impact, especially on fastballs, that velocity in from the pitcher doesn't really lead to velocity out from the hitter, and that exit velocity correlates pretty well to success, as well as about a hundred other things.
Now that we know what to expect, we know what to look for. Here's a few interesting Statcast™ storylines we're going to be keeping an eye on as Opening Day looms.
Can the Mets actually throw more flames than last year?
By now, anyone who paid any attention to baseball for even a second last year knows the story of the flame-throwing young Mets staff, who fireballed their way to a National League pennant. All told, 22 percent of all Major League pitches at 95 mph or above last season came from Queens.
The question now is, can they outdo themselves in 2016? It's actually not as far-fetched as you may think, because the Mets traded Jonathon Niese to Pittsburgh and let Dillon Gee and Tyler Clippard depart as free agents. That trio pitched 248 1/3 innings for the Mets in 2015, and threw exactly zero pitches at or above 95 mph. On the other hand, young Steven Matz (14.4 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph) and the rehabbing Zack Wheeler (33 percent in 2014) should both contribute far more than they were able to last season -- not to mention the likelihood that lefty reliever Josh Smoker, who reportedly touched 98 mph last year while tearing through the Minors, will make it up soon.
The effects of those coming and leaving should allow the Mets to increase their share of heat. Is it possible they could get a full one-third of baseball's 95 mph-plus pitches? The presence of Bartolo Colon (zero 95 mph-plus pitches since 2013) won't help that; then again, the pure joy of having Colon around trumps any statistical milestone you can think of.
Will teams follow through on changes to outfield positioning?
Last week, we investigated center-field positioning and realized that Tampa Bay's Kevin Kiermaier isn't just the best defender in baseball, he's by far the deepest, to the point that he leaves 52 fewer feet behind him than Houston's Jake Marisnick. It's premature to say that those two things are inextricably related -- after all, the second deepest was the Giants' Angel Pagan, who had a poor season with the glove -- but teams have taken notice, including Detroit manager Brad Ausmus, who recently said he would like his own shallow center fielder (Anthony Gose) to move back.
We'll particularly be keeping an eye on the outfield situations in Houston and Chicago, where Cubs manager Joe Maddon, like Ausmus, is on record as saying he wants his outfielders to play deeper. That's notable because Dexter Fowler was tied for being the shallowest of any center fielder, at a raw distance of 299 feet, and Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler were among the shallowest corner outfielders. Clearly, Maddon would prefer to prevent some of those deep extra-base hits.
In Houston, the Astros played even shallower -- when adjusted for park dimensions, Marisnick in center and Colby Rasmus in right were the two shallowest outfielders at their position. (George Springer was the third shallowest in right, as well.) But unlike Ausmus and Maddon, A.J. Hinch hasn't made any public comments about wanting to change that, so it'll be worth watching to see if they do anything about it.
Will teams change baserunning habits now that we can measure throwing arms?
An interesting fact came out of our look at baseball's strongest throwing arms: Avisail Garcia, who came in tied with Carlos Gonzalez with the fourth-best throwing arm (97 mph), led the Majors in assists, with 17.
On the surface, that may not be surprising: After all, you'd think that a strong arm would lead to nailed baserunners. But then again, that should also lead to exactly the opposite, because runners would be far less likely to test someone with a known cannon, like Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig. Assists can only happen when there's an opportunity, and runners who choose not to risk being thrown out do not provide opportunity.
Video: [email protected]: Gomez nabs Mauer with 103 mph throw
So it'll be instructive to see if runners no longer test Garcia this year, and that goes for teams against the Astros, too -- they have baseball's best collection of outfield arms, in no small part because Marisnick and Carlos Gomez finished first and second in the individual rankings. (Gomez' 103.1 mph laser to nail Joe Mauer stands as the hardest throw on record.)
Will spring velocity standouts -- both hitting and pitching -- stick in the regular season?
Spring Training stat lines generally don't mean much, given the uneven competition and that many players are working on something other than results. (Nor do team records, so don't worry about that 13-game winless streak, Mets fans.) But what about the metrics that focus more on what a player is doing by himself than the outcome that can be influenced by team and opponent?
For example, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story has been the talk of camp as he's claimed the starting job, and it's easy to see why. Of the 31 Rockies and D-backs with at least 10 tracked batted balls this spring -- for now, their shared spring home is the only one with Statcast™ tracking installed -- Story's average exit velocity of 97.1 mph is the best.
Turning to the mound, should the Royals be concerned that Wade Davis, who averaged 95.9 mph on his four-seamer last year, is down to 93.2 mph this spring? Can the Indians be excited that Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson are both up approximately 3 mph? It sure seems like a good sign for the Dodgers that Alex Wood, now with a healthy ankle and reworked mechanics, is up by 3 mph as well.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for and host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.