The most extreme Statcast throws of 2017
One of the most interesting things about Statcast™ is that for all its complexity, it can be extremely simple, too. Who threw the hardest? Who ran the fastest? These are exactly the kinds of questions the technology is best equipped to answer, and it made for a fun look at 2017's most extreme home runs when we looked at them earlier this offseason. We can do the same thing for some of the year's most interesting throwing plays.
FASTEST THROW (OVERALL): Brett Phillips, 104.7 MPH, Sept. 19
Before 2017, if you knew Phillips, a Milwaukee outfield prospect, it was most likely for one of two things. Maybe you remembered him being part of the '15 Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade, or perhaps he was best known for the absurd laugh that made him something of a viral star. But now, despite only a handful of games in the Majors, he's got something far more impressive on his resume: He owns what may be baseball's strongest outfield throwing arm.
Consider this: Phillips spent most of the year in the Minors, and spent only 213 innings in the outfield, or about 15 percent of what a regular starter like Mookie Betts or Charlie Blackmon had. But despite the limited amount of playing time, he had the three hardest throws of the season, topped by the 104.7-mph rocket you see in the video above. No, it wasn't an assist; yes, it mattered. Pittsburgh's Adam Frazier was wise enough not to test his arm, and the Brewers won, 1-0.
After the game, Phillips said "obviously, throwing out a couple of guys, specifically against this team, they respect the arm," and that leads us to our next superlative, which came just six days earlier.
FASTEST THROW (ON AN ASSIST): Phillips, 104.0 MPH, Sept. 13
If Frazier and the Pirates had a throw in mind, it was this one, the second-hardest assist tracked in the three seasons of Statcast™, behind only Aaron Hicks's 105.5-mph throw in 2016. This is the one that really put Phillips on the map, because after he joked about how MLBPipeline had given him "only" a 70 arm (itself a very strong grade on the 20-80 scouting scale), this is the throw that got him bumped to an 80. Surely David Freese, the Pittsburgh runner thrown out at the plate, would not disagree.
FASTEST THROW (CATCHER ON CS): GARY SANCHEZ, 88.6 MPH, Oct. 2
If this sounds familiar, it should. Last year, Sanchez made this same list with an 88.9-mph throw, and we've been pointing out since the summer of his rookie year that his cannon of an arm is just as impressive as his elite bat.
This year, Sanchez faced some stiffer competition. There were eight tracked catcher throws harder than this (including three from Phillies rookie Jorge Alfaro), but they were either on successful steals or bunt attempts. Of the 52 catchers who had at least 10 "max effort" throws, Sanchez's 86.6 mph average was third, behind Willson Contreras (87.2) and Elias Diaz (86.9). But for the second year in a row, no one had a harder throw on a successful caught stealing. Can he make it three in 2018?
SOFTEST THROW (CATCHER ON CS): TYLER FLOWERS, 70.2 MPH, May 20
Of those 52 catchers, Flowers's average of 74.4 mph was 52nd. He had the four softest catcher throws of the year on caught stealings (setting aside an unusual Yasmani Grandal 45.9 mph throw, where the runner was caught in a rundown), and that this was one a successful out was largely due to the weak lead Anthony Rendon got, just 15.8 feet when the pitch was released, well below the Major League average of 23.1 feet. (And that Flowers's throw was on target, of course.)
That's not exactly a category a catcher wants to lead in, but here's the thing: Flowers was really, really valuable in 2017. He hit a strong .281/.378/.445, thanks to the third-best quality of contact score for any catcher, and he was the best pitch-framer in the game. He doesn't have a strong arm, but the other skills he has more than make up for it.
BEST POP TIME ON A CS TO 3B: J.T. Realmuto, 1.38 sec, Sept. 6
We called Realmuto "baseball's most athletic catcher" over the summer, and you don't get that title without being elite in multiple ways. He's the fastest catcher in the game, and not by a little; he was basically tied with Christan Yelich as the second-fastest Marlin behind the recently traded Dee Gordon. Behind the plate, he had not only the fastest pop time to third base to nab a runner of the three years of Statcast™, he had the fastest two, at 1.38 seconds apiece.
Realize, if you would, who the runners were on these plays. The Major League average for Sprint Speed is 27 ft/sec, but Michael A. Taylor was at 28.4 ft/sec, and Odubel Herrera was at 29.8 ft/sec. It's not easy to catch a runner at third base, and these weren't slow-footed sluggers. These guys were flying. It's to Realmuto's credit that he was able to nail them both at third.
BEST POP TIME ON AN OUT AT 2B: Manny Pina, 1.74 sec, Apr. 21
Like with Realmuto at third base, the best pop time to catch a runner at second base in 2017 is also the best time of the three years of Statcast™, and we strongly encourage you to watch what Pina did to Matt Carpenter. It wasn't just that he got the throw off in a mere half-second, or that it took only 1.74 seconds to get from his glove to second base. It was that it was so on-target that Jonathan Villar didn't even have to move his glove, as Carpenter slid right into him -- as you can see by his reaction.
For what it's worth, the Brewers now own three of the top four times to second base. Pina had this 1.74, a 1.80 two days later, and Martin Maldonado had a 1.78 in 2016.
"I feel proud," Pina said when asked by MLB.com about his throwing skill in May. "This reminds me how far I've come from where I was six or seven years ago in the Minor Leagues."
BEST POP TIME ON A CS TO 1B: Salvador Perez, 1.46 seconds, May 4
You'll watch this, and you'll think to yourself, this is a silly play. This isn't the "barely beat a guy getting back to first" play you'd expect, because Yolmer Sanchez gets himself caught into a rundown, and after three more throws, Eric Hosmer finally tags the runner out. But that's sort of the point, isn't it? Perez had him beat so badly that he couldn't even reasonably slide back into first to be tagged out. Sanchez would have been out by so much that he decided he was better off trying to go to second anyway.
It didn't work, of course, but that's thanks to Perez, who now has two of the three fastest successful pop times to first base, to go along with a 1.52 second mark in 2016.