Anecdotally, we can all intuit that the faster a player is the better off he is on batted balls in play. The question for me has always been, “By just how much are they better off?” So, I set out to try and find that answer.

 

Methodology

To discover the impact of Sprint Speed on a player’s statistical output I took every competitive Batted Ball Event (BBE) in the Statcast era (2015-2020) and categorized them by Ground Balls, Line Drives, Fly Balls, and Pop-ups. All Home Runs and Sacrifice Bunts were removed as they were neither in play or competitive. The BBEs were further broken down by the Exit Velocity (EV), Launch Angle (LA), the batter’s handedness, and whether the ball was pulled, centered, or hit to the opposite field. In analyzing this data we can establish an average outcome for each combination of BBE variables. We call this average outcome the expected stats or xStats. Once we have the xStats for each set of BBE variable combinations we can then compare them to the actual stats that were generated at each Sprint Speed tier. Sprint Speed by Statcast measures a player’s speed by ft./sec. and the Sprint Speed tiers that we have chosen are 30 ft./sec. and above on the high end, 23 ft./sec. and under on the low end and each tier in between is separated by 1 ft./sec. The reason why 30 ft. /sec. and above and 23 ft. sec. and below were chosen as cutoffs are because there are a scarce number of BBE’s at 31 ft./ sec. and 22 ft. /sec. to obtain meaningful data. The median Sprint Speed for all years is 27.3 ft. /sec. “RCON” is expected Runs based on the expected contact results. The Sprint Speed factors are based on a standard 100 scale, meaning “100” is the league average. Any number above or below 100 is considered a % above/below league average. An example would be that All Batters with a 30 ft. /sec. Sprint Speed and above had an xAVG of .299 but actually hit .315. Actual AVG of .315 / xAVG of .299 = 1.0535. or, 105.

 

 

All Batters | All Batted Ball Events

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG x1B x2B x3B xRCON
30 105 102 103 267 109
29 103 101 102 179 105
28 102 100 105 127 103
27 100 100 101 89 100
26 98 99 97 57 97
25 98 100 95 37 96
24 95 100 89 15 93
23 93 102 73 10 89

 

The above chart aligns with what we might expect. For every speed tier above the median of about 27 ft. /sec. the Batting Average goes up versus the expected Batting Average, as do Triples and RCON. Conversely, for every speed tier below the median the Batting Average, Triples and RCON go down versus the expected outcome. Overall, we can expect hitters with above-average speed to hit between five to sixteen points higher on balls in play and to have 1.27 to 2.67 times the number of Triples as the player with average speed. With the slowest players, we see their number of Singles increase over the expected as they forego the extra bases. Below are the actual numbers versus the expected numbers for Batting Average and Triples by Sprint Speed.

 

SPRINT SPEED AVG xAVG 3B x3B
30 0.315 0.299 296 111
29 0.314 0.305 1023 570
28 0.303 0.298 1462 1150
27 0.297 0.297 1016 1139
26 0.292 0.298 486 850
25 0.289 0.296 133 361
24 0.279 0.293 27 182
23 0.265 0.285 7 71

 

 

 

All Batters | Ground Balls

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG x1B x2B x3B xRCON
30 115 113 130 371 116
29 108 107 117 212 109
28 105 104 115 129 105
27 100 100 100 80 99
26 94 96 85 46 94
25 90 92 77 29 89
24 87 89 71 13 86
23 83 86 57 0 81

 

As we saw with the All Batters, All Batted Ball Events chart for every speed tier above the median of about 27 ft. /sec. the Batting Average, Triples, and RCON go up versus the expected and for every speed tier below the median the Batting Average, Triples and RCON go down versus the expected. However, with Ground Balls, it’s even more pronounced in both the percentage impact as well as the number of categories that are impacted. With Ground Balls, Singles and Doubles are added to the list of categories that are directly affected by the player’s Sprint Speed. This tracks as Ground Balls are not impacted by whether the fielder caught the ball before the player’s speed comes into play, as it is with Line Drives and Fly Balls. The chart below shows that hitters with above-average speed hit eleven to thirty-eight points higher on Ground Balls and have 1.29 to 3.71 times as many Triples as their average speed counterparts. The slowest players in the league did not hit a single Ground Ball that resulted in a Triple from 2015-2020.

 

SPRINT SPEED AVG xAVG 3B x3B
30 0.293 0.255 27 7
29 0.273 0.253 90 42
28 0.259 0.247 110 85
27 0.244 0.245 73 91
26 0.231 0.245 30 65
25 0.219 0.242 8 28
24 0.203 0.233 2 15
23 0.198 0.238 0 5

 

 

 

All Batters | Line Drives

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG x1B x2B x3B xRCON
30 98 90 101 286 104
29 100 96 102 193 103
28 100 97 104 129 101
27 100 100 102 86 100
26 100 102 99 52 99
25 101 107 94 33 98
24 100 109 88 12 96
23 99 115 74 12 94

 

We are still seeing the impact of Sprint Speed, however, it’s not as pronounced as with the Ground Balls. There’s virtually no correlation with Batting Average but because many line drives reach the outfield we can see that the BBEs that are typically just Singles for the slower players are turned into Doubles and Triples by the faster players. These additional bases gained by the speedier hitters turn into more expected Runs. The slower players settle for Singles and don’t take that extra base.

 

 

All Batters | Fly Balls

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG x1B x2B x3B xRCON
30 97 92 80 199 103
29 96 91 89 145 99
28 100 95 100 124 102
27 100 98 101 99 100
26 100 107 100 70 98
25 109 117 114 47 105
24 102 114 108 22 97
23 92 130 84 9 83

 

Again, the chart above shows some impact by Sprint Speed but it’s basically just in the Triples category. Fly Balls in play were only hit for a .107 Batting Average in 2015 through 2020 so there’s less and less of an opportunity for the hitter’s Sprint Speed to have an influence.

 

 

Right-Handed vs. Left-Handed Batters | Ground Balls

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG-RH x1B-RH x2B-RH x3B-RH xRCON-RH
30 115 112 134 348 116
29 107 106 115 214 107
28 104 103 116 105 105
27 99 99 96 70 99
26 95 96 86 28 95
25 89 90 78 28 88
24 89 91 70 0 88
23 88 90 64 0 86

 

SPRINT SPEED xAVG-LH x1B-LH x2B-LH x3B-LH xRCON-LH
30 116 114 116 395 117
29 111 109 124 211 112
28 105 104 114 140 106
27 101 100 109 84 101
26 93 95 83 52 93
25 92 94 77 29 91
24 85 87 73 17 84
23 77 80 44 0 75

 

As we can see above, the average speed and more elite speed Left-Handed batters slightly outpace their Right-Handed batter speed tier counterparts in just about every expected stat. Intuitively, this would make some practical sense as Left-Handers are typically starting about 2 ½ feet closer to first base than Right-Handed batters. However, if you look at the chart below, Right-Handed batters hit a full twenty points higher than Left-Handed batters on Ground Balls. Why? The answer is twofold. First, both Right-Handed batters and Left-Handed batters pull the ball more than 40% of the time (44.4% and 42.2%, respectively). But, when Right-Handed batters pull the ball on the ground it’s a much longer throw across the diamond than when Left-Handed batters pull the ball. Second, although Right-Handers actually pull the ball more than Left-Handers, MLB teams deploy an infield shift against RHBs only 14.7% of the time while LHBs see an infield shift 38.8% of the time. The combination of the longer throws and fewer fielders to the pull-side of Right-Handers leads to more hits while the shorter throw and more fielders to the pull-side of Left-Handers have the inverse effect.

 

SPRINT SPEED AVG xAVG 3B x3B
30 0.299 0.261 13 4
29 0.279 0.261 35 16
28 0.265 0.254 28 27
27 0.249 0.253 18 26
26 0.240 0.252 5 18
25 0.221 0.249 2 7
24 0.221 0.248 0 4
23 0.212 0.243 0 2
Total 0.255 0.255 101 101

 

SPRINT SPEED AVG xAVG 3B x3B
30 0.280 0.242 14 4
29 0.263 0.238 55 26
28 0.250 0.237 82 59
27 0.236 0.235 55 65
26 0.221 0.237 25 48
25 0.215 0.234 6 21
24 0.187 0.220 2 12
23 0.178 0.232 0 4
Total 0.235 0.235 239 239

 

 

 

The Speed Bobbles | Sprint Speed Impact on Errors  

 

Ground Balls

SPRINT SPEED ERRORS-RH ERRORS-LH ERRORS-TOTAL
30 3.2% 2.6% 3.0%
29 2.9% 2.3% 2.7%
28 2.8% 2.3% 2.6%
27 2.7% 2.0% 2.4%
26 2.6% 1.9% 2.3%
25 2.3% 1.9% 2.1%
24 1.8% 1.6% 1.7%
23 1.6% 1.9% 1.8%
Total 2.7% 2.1% 2.4%

 

Once again we can see the impact of Sprint Speed on the game. On Ground Balls, as Sprint Speed increases from the median Sprint Speed of about 27 ft. /sec., we see the Total Percentage of Errors committed rise from 2.4% to 3.0%. As we see Sprint Speed decrease from the median we see the Total Percentage of Errors committed fall from 2.4% down to about 1.7%. We can also see the impact of the batter’s handedness as errors are made at a higher clip against Right-Handers and that difference is exacerbated as Sprint Speed increases. This makes sense as fielders have the longer throws against Right-Handers and they feel the need to rush their plays against the faster players. On Line Drives and Fly Balls, Sprint Speed made no meaningful difference as the error rates were about 0.2% across almost all tiers. A quick credit to my friend Christine Hantgin who far too often has to hear me talk about my article ideas while relaxing on our porch with my wife and her husband. I do know now that she actually listens to my ramblings because as I was explaining this research to everyone she said, “You should call the errors caused by the fast guys “The Speed Bobbles”.” I liked it, so I did.

 

 

What Does it All Mean?

 

If we define a full season as 650 Plate Appearances then we can expect the average player to generate about 440 Batted Ball Events. Let’s take two hypothetical players who are average and equal in every single way except for Sprint Speed. In Sprint Speed, one is elite at 30 ft. /sec. and one is slow at 23 ft. /sec. As the below chart shows, the elite speed player would be expected to hit for 50 more points in Batting Average on Balls In Play (Excludes HR’s), hit 10 more Singles, four more Doubles and seven more Triples. The elite speed player would also expect to reach base via an error an additional 3.2 times than the slowest players and score a whopping 33.7 more Runs. Though, approximately 15 of those Runs come via Net Stolen Bases. So, what does it all mean? It means that fast players can be expected to reach base more often, have more impactful hits, force defenses to make mistakes and score considerably more Runs. While we already knew these things, now we know by how much!

 

SPRINT SPEED BBE H AVG 1B 2B 3B E R
30 422* 133* 0.315 100 26 7 6.9 70.7
23 422* 112* 0.265 90 22 0 3.7 37.0

 

*BBE and Hits do not include HR’s