Earlier this offseason, we used Statcast™ to track 2016's "most extreme home runs," finding the dingers that went the furthest, or the hardest, or the slowest or the softest. It was tremendous fun. You should read it again. But why stop there? Because the technology measures just about everything that takes place on the field, let's go a step further, and find some of 2016's best and most interesting Statcast™ throws -- in ways you might not expect.
LONGEST THROW ON ASSIST: YASIEL PUIG, 310 FEET, APRIL 22
Puig's April throw was actually the fourth-longest throw of the season. But let's be honest with ourselves and admit that while it was extremely cool that Kevin Kiermaier unleashed one 323 feet from the warning track to first base in September in an unsuccessful attempt to double up a runner, for these entertainment purposes we're going with the throw that got an out.
Besides, this isn't just "Puig makes a great throw." This is Puig being maximum Puig, because if you were to find the ideal Puig play, this might be it: He misplays a potentially catchable ball, and then turns it into something great due to his overwhelming physical talent.
But in addition to the 93.5 mph he got on this, and the 310 feet it traveled, realize how impressive the accuracy was. Puig needed a perfect throw to get Trevor Story. He didn't just get it there on target, he got it there on a line. That is, see the white blur that's moving at light speed in the image below? That's the ball, about to hit Justin Turner's glove inches off the ground in front of the bag.
"As far as degree of difficulty, it might be one of the best plays I've ever seen," manager Dave Roberts said following the game. Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy compared Puig to the legendary Roberto Clemente, which is exceptionally high praise. "You're never going to see anything like this again," exclaimed Los Angeles broadcaster Charlie Steiner. He might be right.
FASTEST THROW (OVERALL): Aaron Hicks, 105.5 MPH, APRIL 20
Video: [email protected]: Hicks unleashes 105.5-mph throw home for out
The fastest pitch we have on record was from Aroldis Chapman, as you'd expect, and it was tracked at 105.1 mph on July 19 against Baltimore. But even Chapman can't hold every throw-velocity record, can he? This one belongs to Hicks, and the laser he threw from left to nail Danny Valencia in April. It's fair to wonder if anybody's ever going to top this one.
It's not a fair fight, of course. Yonder Alonso's lazy fly to left field gave Hicks plenty of time to position himself just behind the ball's projected landing spot, and get a running start to the plate, putting his full momentum behind the throw in a way that pitchers simply can't. While this does open the door to some fascinating questions -- what could Chapman hit with a running start? 108? 110? -- the pure velocity isn't the only thing that makes this interesting. It's that despite being 247 feet away from home, more than four times the distance between the mound and the plate, Hicks' throw was accurate enough to get the runner.
That's important, because every time we show a throw that was 100 mph or more, like Jackie Bradley Jr. in the postseason, and it's not on target, fans like to point out that it didn't actually get the runner. So let's take this moment to give a hearty thanks to Hicks, for ensuring that the hardest throw of the Statcast™ era was actually a good, useful one -- because we'll be using this video forever.
FASTEST THROW (CATCHER ON CS): GARY SANCHEZ, 88.9 MPH, OCTOBER 2
You know Sanchez. You know him because he went on a near-historic hitting tear after being recalled, hitting 20 homers in only 229 plate appearances and pushing himself into a second-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year balloting.
But if you were paying close attention -- and we wrote about this in August, so don't say it was a secret -- Sanchez didn't stand out only because of his powerful bat. He made waves with his cannon of a right arm, too, including making the hardest throw of any catcher on a caught stealing, on the final day of the season no less. (It was the third-hardest catcher throw on any steal attempt, behind Christian Bethancourt's 89.3 mph and Drew Butera's 89.0 mph, but we'll credit Sanchez here for being on-target and getting the out.)
Looking at Sanchez on the "hardest catcher throws" list is a little like looking at Chapman's position on the pitch velocity list, or Giancarlo Stanton's ranking on the exit velocity list. Remember, again, that Sanchez didn't start getting regular playing time until August. Yet when we look at the list of hardest throws on steal attempts, Sanchez has four of the top 10, seven of the top 15 and eight of the top 20.
We recently looked at how catcher arm strengths correlate to stolen-base prevention, and the answer is "somewhat, but not as much as you'd think." When you can throw like Sanchez, however, who nailed 41 percent of attempted steals, he might break the mold.
SLOWEST THROW (CATCHER ON CS): GEOVANY SOTO, 70.1 MPH, APRIL 20
OK, let's get weird. Of course it's fun to watch Sanchez rip off a laser to nail a runner, but what about the other direction? Who had the softest throw to second, and still managed to get an out? And then, how even did that happen? It's not fun to just look at slowest throws that didn't turn into outs, because those are a dime-a-dozen. We want to see something that shouldn't have worked actually work.
And so we end up with a 70.1-mph floater that Soto threw to Johnny Giavotella to get Brett Lawrie, and we say that not as a way to put down the throw so much as that when you watch the video, you can actually see some arc there, unlike the straight line that came with the Sanchez throw. Soto, as you might expect, didn't have a great year throwing out runners, catching just six of 31 attempts. And while Lawrie isn't a big base stealer, he's still successful more often than not. So how did this happen?
The broadcasters on the White Sox feed give you a pretty good first clue. "Not a big lead for Brett Lawrie," they note as Garrett Richards delivered, and that's the entire story. He was just 8.8 feet off the base when Richards made his initial move to the plate, and he'd made it up to 16.5 feet when the ball was released. Compare that to the Major League averages of 11.1 feet and 23.1 feet, respectively, on successful steals of second, and you can see Lawrie had a lot of ground to make up. (It wasn't entirely his fault, as batter Jerry Sands whiffed on the hit-and-run attempt.)
Otherwise, Soto's exchange time of 0.73 seconds was exactly average. His pop time of 2.17 seconds was well below average, because of course that includes the time of the throw. Soto gets credit for a caught stealing, but he had no business getting this one.
FASTEST THROW (SHORTSTOP TO FIRST): CARLOS CORREA, 92.9 MPH, SEPT 12
"Correa unloads," the television broadcast mentioned, and that's about the best way to put this. As we keep discovering, throwing velocity isn't just about raw arm strength, it's also about putting yourself in position to get your body behind the throw. A shortstop who is running into the hole and has to throw back across his body to first base simply isn't going to be able to get as much on the throw as somebody who can set their feet, and run in, can.
That's exactly what you see here from Correa, who gets a big two-hopper from Ian Desmond, and puts himself into fantastic position to make a rocket of a throw, the hardest of the year to get a runner at first base. (Why that qualifier? Because a few throws were harder, but came on relays from the outfield. Still shortstops, but a very different type of play.) Because Correa's second-hardest throw of the year to get a batter at first was 89.7 mph, the type of batted ball involved here makes a huge difference.
FASTEST THROW (THIRD BASEMAN): YADIEL RIVERA, 91.7 MPH, APRIL 9
You've probably never heard of Yadiel Rivera, and that's OK. In the interest of full disclosure, we hadn't either. A 2010 ninth-round pick out of Puerto Rico, Rivera has collected 86 plate appearances over the last two years with the Brewers. He's a nice enough player, one who's had some moments, and at only 24 years of age, he could contribute to Milwaukee as an infield reserve over the next few years.
But you're not here to read a scouting report on Rivera. You're here because he unleashed a 91.7 mph rocket to nail José Altuve at first base in early April, and when you watch the video, you can clearly see the velocity there. The arm is legit, and it backs up the final part of the "outstanding hands, good range and a strong arm" report that MLBPipeline.com included in their scouting on him in 2015.
Obviously, there was motivation there, because the speedy Altuve chopped the ball into the ground, and Rivera hustled to make the play. But the point here is that you now know something about a player who you likely never considered before. Now, "strong arm" isn't just a notation on a scouting report. Now it's something that can be quantified. Now you know something about Yadiel Rivera.