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Statcast unveils new speed-measuring statistic

Say hello to Sprint Speed—the newest stat you can use to explain how bonkers Byron Buxton is.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox
Byron Buxton is very fast. Statcast told me so.
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Advanced baseball stats are all the rage these days, and MLB has jumped on the bandwagon with Statcast, their new-ish technology system that uses radar equipment and high-resolution cameras to measure crazy stuff like how fast a home run leaves Miguel Sano’s bat. The system has created mountains of data for nerds to pour over and use to create new statistics and rankings of players by said new statistics. Things like Catch Probability and Exit Velocity.

Well, the numbers people are still at it and recently came up with a new statistic called Sprint Speed. If you think that sounds like something Byron Buxton would probably be good at, you are absolutely right!

Sprint Speed measures how many feet a position player ran, while tracking the ball, in his fastest one-second window. So we’re talking about speed when running to make catches, not like speed around the bases (which is great news for out strike-out prone Buxton). Unlike Catch Probability, Sprint Speed doesn’t care if the ball was actually caught—it measures running speeds on both putouts and errors. It doesn’t use running speeds on non-fly balls because the stats people found out players can run faster when they don’t have to track the ball in the air (those stats people, they think of everything!)

The people behind Sprint Speed were looking for a more illustrative way to describe a player’s speed than MPH, since baseball players don’t actually run miles for hours to catch a baseball. While Statcast did already measure players’ maximum top speeds in terms of MPH, players can usually only sustain their absolute maximum speed for a fraction of a second, making that bit of maximum-speed data less helpful. The number crunchers wanted at least some kind of sustained period of time for their new speed measurement. Hence, Sprint Speed uses feet and seconds as units.

When the stats people looked at the Sprint Speeds for 118 outfielders who had at least 100 fielding opportunities in 2016, they found that phhhhssst Byron Buxton was obviously number one Buxton was second. What?! Yeah, he was only second, and the speedy Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton was first—but seriously only by a couple inches.

Though Buxton was not THE fastest according to Sprint Speed, he and Hamilton were clearly beyond everyone else.

Top 2016 Sprint Speed by outfielders

Player Sprint Speed
Player Sprint Speed
Billy Hamilton 29.8 feet per second
Byron Buxton 29.7 feet per second
Lorenzo Cain 29.1 feet per second
Paulo Orlando 29.0 feet per second
Jake Marisnick 28.7 feet per second
Gregor Polanco/Travis Jankowski/Max Kepler 28.6 feet per second
Christian Telich 28.3 feet per second
Kevin Kiermaier 28.2 feet per second

Hey look, Max Kepler!

Keep in mind that the above Sprint Speeds are just the fastest ones for 2016. Most outfielders have a Sprint Speed around 27.5 feet per second. The slowest qualifying outfielder was Jose Bautista at 23.2 feet per second. [Pause here to laugh at how slow Jose Bautista is and think about how glad you are the Twins did not sign him.]

So what does this all mean? It means Byron Buxton is ridiculously fast, and now you have new numbers to describe how fast he is.

Thanks, Statscast!