Three Statcast Takeaways...
Three Statcast Takeaways from the First Two Weeks
Some Good, Some Bad, Some Hicks
by EJ Fagan
April 18, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
With only two weeks of 2023 data, most stats are useless. At any given time, players are in the middle of a hot or cold streak, but the early streaks stand out more when there aren’t other periods to balance it out. Always beware small sample sizes.
However, there are some stats that we can use to assess some open questions on the roster. Stats that are based on raw physical ability like sprint speed or exit velocity can tell us about how a player is performing so far. They can and will change over the course of a season, but will change less than more stochastic stats like those measuring hitting outcomes.
I’ve scoured the Statcast pages for lessons that I think will hold up, mostly. Here are my three big takeaways:
Volpe Fast, Hicks Slooooow
The line on Anthony Volpe coming into this season is that he had above-average speed, but it played up because of his baseball intelligence and gumption. Volpe has gotten off to a slow start at the plate so far, but has already stolen seven bases. It turns out, Volpe isn’t all gumption; he’s pretty darn fast:
Statcast clocks Volpe’s sprint speed at 28.3 ft/s, higher than all but 13% of major league players. Even better, that number has risen by about half a foot per second over the last week or so, indicating it could settle in a little higher. Above 28 ft/s, he’s well outside of “above average” territory and sitting comfortably among the elite runners in baseball. If he starts getting on base at a solid clip, look out.
On the other hand, Aaron Hicks has been a complete disaster of a runner:
8th percentile! Hicks has clocked in slower than Giancarlo Stanton and even Jose Trevino (!) this season. Now, do I think Hicks will be that slow moving forward? No. Hicks was an above-average runner as recently as last year. Short of an injury, players don’t just randomly lose that much speed in so little time. But Statcast sure does put that inning where Hicks let two bloop singles fall into center into context. He’s either slowed down or not running hard out there.
LeMahieu is Back. He Could Have Room to Improve
I think we’ve all put to rest the question about whether LeMahieu’s foot is healthy. He’s been one of the most consistent hitters on the team so far, despite striking out a lot more than he usually does. However, one set of stats stands out to me:
LeMahieu is hitting the ball very hard. He’s in the top 4% of average exit velocity and top 1% of hard hit rate. The last time that LeMahieu was hitting this ball hard was during his breakout 2019 season:
If his strikeout rate weren’t way above his career norms, LeMahieu could be hitting .350 right now. I have faith that LeMahieu will stop striking out so darn much. If he does, expect big things.
Oswaldo’s Offseason Was a Success
After a career as an infielder, Oswaldo Cabrera was abruptly thrust into an outfield slot last summer. I think we all thought he performed well given the circumstances. Statcast rated him as an average outfielder and 55th percentile sprinter. So far in 2023, he’s improved:
Cabrera has been both faster (relative to the league, which tends to be slow in April) and a legitimate plus defender in the outfield. His hitting hasn’t been great, but it’s early. Assuming Cabrera returns back to form at the plate, I think we can safely rely on him in the outfield. Given that Hicks has gone in the other direction, I don’t see any reason why Cabrera won’t continue to play full time once Bader returns.