It's an exciting day to be a baseball fan On The Web.
The wizards over in MLB's Statcast division published a brand new set of shiny numbers today, focused on measuring the best outfielder 'jumps'. There's a lot that goes into the numbers, and you can read all about it on their website. It's fascinating.
The annotated version goes like this: Statcast breaks down jumps -- what they define as the first 3 seconds of any play on a fly ball -- into three categories: reaction, burst, and route. Reaction is the amount of feet covered, in any direction, during the first 1.5 seconds of any play. Burst is the amount of space covered in the 2nd 1.5 seconds of said play. And route is the overall distance covered over the first 3 seconds. Think of it as how well an outfielder reads the ball off the bat, how well they get into their full stride, and how efficient the two, when put together, are to the overall route.
The three different classifications offer a boatload of nitty-gritty data, but they also go a long way in validating/invalidating the eye test. For every bad jump or poor route we think we see, now there's data to cross-reference. How does this data play against the perceptions around the Cubs' outfield? Going left to right, let's take a look:
Obviously, a lot of (dark) blue stands out. Schwarber's deficiencies in left have been well-documented, so diving deep into that today feels like beating a dead horse. Defense isn't his calling card, but if he's solved the Cubs' multi-year search for a productive leadoff hitter, who really cares. What's encouraging about Schwarber's year so far is the noticeable improvement in route running; he's reacting faster, and putting up better stats despite a sprint speed that's almost half a foot per second slower. Considering that Schwarber ended last season with the 14th-worst Reaction and the 7th-worst burst, the fact that he's hovering around league average in mid-June is an inarguable improvement.
Albert Almora Jr.
Albert Almora's set might be the most fun to dive into, mainly because it's odd to see blue on his chart. There's no denying that Almora is one of baseball's best defensive outfielders - his average jump is almost a foot and a half longer than the league average, which puts him among the top-10 outfielders in a category that also features Jackie Bradley Jr., Cody Bellinger, and Kevin Kiermaier.
What's specifically interesting about Almora's defense is that the numbers suggest he's a poor route runner. While that seems damning on the surface, there doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between elite route taking and having a good overall jump. In fact, of the top-10 worst route runners of 2019, exactly half still grade out with above average jumps. In short: Almora's incredible speed and reaction time make up for some of the more questionable route choices, something he talked about back in May.
“I think most [routes] are pretty instinctual to me,” he said. “I kind of sell out when it’s a little runner. Sometimes I dive and don’t get to it because in my mind I’m programmed to where, if it’s hit to me, I’ve got to catch it.”
Heyward's table, both the good and the bad, isn't too surprising. I don't think anyone would disagree with the assertions that 1. Heyward is one of the great defensive outfielders of his generation and 2. For his standards, it's been a rough year in the field. His reaction, burst, and route-taking have all been the worst he's recorded since Statcast started keeping track of these things. He's still plenty-capable as a defender, and is worth 1 Out Above Average going into Monday night's game. But for those who put stock in these numbers (and Heyward has made it clear in the past that he does not), the trends don't look great.