Measuring slick: A team of 10 Statcast stars

Stars like Cabrera, Arenado and Gonzalez stand out in new ways

November 21st, 2016

With the second year of Statcast™ in the books, let's take a joyful moment over a holiday weekend to name the 2016 All-Statcast™ team. It should go without saying that this isn't simply a list of the best players at each position, because you don't see or here. We just went through an entire week of giving awards to all of baseball's brightest stars, and what we're doing here is something of an extension of that.

So let's use this chance to offer up one subjective take on an All-Statcast™ Team. We guarantee you'll learn something new about players you already thought were valuable.

C -- , A Pitcher's Best Friend

If you watched the postseason at all, you know that 's inability to throw to first base or prevent runners from taking huge leads was a big story for all of October. But you also noticed that Lester wasn't being victimized by stolen bases nearly as badly as you'd think. Why? A big part of that is due to the skill of Lester's personal catcher, the now-retired Ross.

We're specifically talking about exchange time, which is the time from when the ball hits Ross' glove to the time he gets it out of his hand. We looked at the 45 catchers who had 20 or more stolen-base attempts on them this season, and no one had a quicker exchange than the .66 seconds that Ross averaged. , for example, had a .88 mark (near the bottom), and the Major League average was .74 seconds. It might not sound like much, but every bit counts, and it's a big part of how Ross was able to keep runners from taking advantage of Lester.

1B -- , King of Barrels

In his 14th season in the big leagues, Cabrera still looked like he might just keep on hitting forever, as his 2016 line (.316/.393/.563, 152 wRC+) pretty much nailed his career numbers exactly (.321/.399/.562, 153 wRC+). While that was the sixth-best hitting line overall in '16, there was one thing that he did more often than anyone else: Barrel the ball up.

That's not just a baseball term any longer, not now that we've created a new Statcast™ metric called "Barrels" to describe the perfect marriage between exit velocity and launch angle. You can read the full definition here, but the point is to show the batted balls that are hit the hardest at the most ideal angles, because you can hit the ball as hard as you want straight up or down, and it's not going to lead to success. You have to hit the ball hard and hit it with the right elevation; barreled balls led to an average higher than .800 this year.

Got it? No one hit more barrels this year than Cabrera, who did so 72 times, beating out ' 68 and 's 67. It's the best thing a hitter can do, and Cabrera did it more often than anyone.

2B -- , The Fastest Glove in the East

Like Cabrera, the veteran Pedroia put up a stellar season right in line with his career averages in 2016. Unlike Cabrera, he also continued to provide defensive value, tying with for the most Defensive Runs Saved in the Majors among second basemen with 12. But let's look at this from a more interesting perspective -- exchange time, specifically on plays when the batter was out and the second baseman was credited with an assist.

That includes mostly two kinds of plays, both the regular grounder and the successful double-play pivot. Pedroia's exchange time was 1.02 seconds, the lowest of the 68 second basemen who had at least 25 chances. The Major League average on those plays was 1.2 seconds, and the guys at the bottom end of the list, such as  and , were above 1.4 seconds. That may not sound like a huge spread, but every fraction of a second counts.

SS -- , Continuing a Washington Tradition

For the second year in a row, the Nationals have the shortstop with the strongest arm in the game. In 2015, it was , but when he went to Texas to play the outfield, Espinosa got his first shot to be the full-time shortstop in Washington, and now the honor is his, with an average on "competitive throws" of 91 mph.

Considering the second-place shortstop was at 88.6 mph, that's a pretty large gap. Despite 24 homers, Espinosa's overall offensive performance left a lot to be desired (.209/.306/.378, 79 wRC+), but his arm proved to be elite. It's at least part of the reason he was able to hold off , who ended up in center field.

3B -- , Still the Hottest Arm at the Hot Corner

In a third-base world with studs like Bryant, and , it can be easy to overlook Arenado, in part due to where he calls home. That's enormously unfair, because Arenado has proven to be a top hitter and an elite fielder, thanks both to his slick glove and his outstanding throwing arm.

Arenado didn't have the single-hardest throw of the year from third, since that honor belongs to Milwaukee's , who hit 91.7 mph in April. But he did have three of the top five -- topping out at 90 mph to nail in July -- and the highest overall average on "competitive throws," sitting at 87.7 mph, well ahead of the second-place Machado's 86 mph. It's a great arm on a great player, at all altitudes.

LF -- , The Strongest and the Weakest

Maybe it's about time that Baltimore's becomes "Khris with a C," rather than the other way around. Traded from Milwaukee to Oakland in February, Khris Davis responded with the most dingers hit by an A's player since Jason Giambi had 43 in 2000.

You don't hit that many homers without barreling the ball up, and Davis managed to be the only one (minimum 30 balls in play) to top Cabrera in barrels per plate appearance, hitting a barrel 10.7 percent of the time he stepped to the plate, just topping Cabrera's 10.6 percent. You might prefer "barrels per swing," or "barrels per ball in play," not wanting to penalize a hitter for drawing a walk. All fair points; still, let's recognize how powerful of a season Davis just had.

Bonus fun Statcast™ fact, though perhaps less so for Davis: Of the 106 outfielders to make 10 "competitive throws," Davis' average of 72.1 mph was … 106th. It's a long drop from 's leading 97 mph, but if Davis keeps slugging like that, the A's may not mind.

CF -- , Running to be Baseball's Fastest Man

This could have been , who had four throws of 100 mph in the regular season and two more in the postseason, but let's take this time to recognize Buxton, who used his brief time in the bigs to stake his claim as baseball's fastest man. That's right, . You have competition.

There are a few ways to show this. We could point out that among right-handed hitters, Buxton not only had the fastest home-to-third time (10.69 seconds on June 3), he had the four fastest and six of the top 10. We could show that, also among righties, he had the nine fastest home-to-second times on doubles. We could share video of his great catches and show how far he went to make them.

That all works. That's all important. But perhaps nothing makes the point like the inside-the-park homer he hit against the White Sox on Oct. 2, which we clocked at 14.05 seconds around the bases. It's the fastest home-to-home time ever measured by Statcast™. With less than a full season of playing time under his belt, he's already racking up records -- and he's still not even 23.

RF -- Crushes Them Deep into the Mountains

All homers are good homers; few things in baseball are more fun. But we all want to see the longest homers, and no one had more average distance on their dingers this year than Gonzalez, who averaged 427 feet on his home runs, an increase from last year's 419 feet. (He also ranked fourth on the outfield-arm-strength list at 95.8 mph.)

You're probably pointing out that Gonzalez was aided by Coors Field, and that's true. Seventeen of his 24 homers that were tracked by Statcast™ (one long ball against on May 28 was not recorded) came in Colorado, and each 1,000 feet of elevation can add roughly six feet of distance to a batted ball. Rockies infielders and also land on the top five of that list. This isn't a fair fight. It's not intended to be, either. You can put all the caveats upon it you like; no one hit their homers longer than Gonzalez in 2016.

SP -- Spins His Way Back to Greatness

You're probably thinking about 's  record-breaking curveball spin, and that's good -- you should always be thinking about that. But we're going to shoot for a little more sustained success here and recognize Verlander, who turned his career back from the brink to finish a close second to in the American League Cy Young Award balloting.

It's true that Verlander got healthy and regained some of his missing velocity. It's also true that of the 187 pitchers who threw at least 500 four-seam fastballs this year, no one had higher spin than Verlander's 2,565 rpm, where the Major League average was 2,264 rpm. High-spin fastballs are positively correlated with swinging strikes, especially when thrown high in the zone, and Verlander did exactly that, increasing his four-seam swinging-strike rate from 9.8 percent to a career-high 12.2 percent.

If that comes as a surprise to you, it shouldn't. We pointed out how Verlander's high spin usage was making him more effective way back in January.

RP -- If You Didn't Know , Now You Know

still throws harder than anyone, but he filled this spot last year. actually topped Edwards in spin rate, but he couldn't throw strikes. So here we're recognizing Edwards, who had the second-highest spin rate (2,659 rpm) of the 495 pitchers who threw at least 100 four-seamers, just behind Bailey and just ahead of Verlander. We looked at Edwards in September and pointed out what remains true: No one, not even Chapman, was harder to hit on pitches in the zone.

Now, there's a good argument to be made that Edwards' four-seamer is actually more of a cutter, and perhaps that's true. Either way, it's a high-spin pitch that comes in at high velocity (95.5 mph) and allowed just a .105 average this year. The Cubs may not have Chapman back in 2017, but they will have Edwards -- and he's got a good argument for high-leverage innings.