What’s not to love about a fast baseball player?
Laying the points out on the table, the most obvious reason to swoon for the speedsters is pretty apparent – they’re fast.
Truly groundbreaking stuff. I assure you; this is the brand of investigative journalism you can grow accustomed to from this writer, and yet, it’s a poignant fact. Blazing down the first-base line, charging across the grass then soaring through the air to make a diving catch, turning a routine single into a little bit more, taking advantage of a pitcher’s momentary lapse to swipe a bag – these are things of beauty for a baseball fan.
However, many of those outcomes require another player attribute to TRULY matter in the scope of a game, and in turn, the Fantasy game: Of course, without the all-too-important ability to get on base, how valuable can speed be in the offensive game? Fundamentally speaking, speed is one of the most valuable physical tools for a hitter to possess in fantasy baseball, but another question arises: Which fast players are truly the most valuable?
Answer: Those who can get on base consistently.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – in order to win baseball games, a team must score more runs than its opponent. To score runs, a player needs to reach first base.
Again, groundbreaking analysis. You’re welcome.
So then, which is the best metric to determine players who are ‘fast?’
I chose Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed, a statistic which the site defines as “a measurement of a player’s top running speed, expressed in ‘feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.” Baseball Savant also utilizes a great method for determining a player’s on-base skill, Expected Weighted On-base Average, or xwOBA. These metrics, taken over the 2021 season, are the foundation of my findings, determining players who are both fast and who get on base often.
Taking care to denote players with ridiculous scores in either Sprint Speed or xwOBA, I pruned away the hitters who wouldn’t affect our findings. If a player was neither extremely fast nor extremely good at getting on base, their chances of making the final pool of players here dwindled. For instance, a player who was 95th percentile for speed but 5th percentile for xwOBA would be overlooked in this piece in favor of a player who was 70th percentile in each category. I theorized a player who was equally (or roughly equally) talented in these two fields would stand out over those with a large gap between them.
Sure, there may be exceptions to this theory, but consider the following thought: “A ‘fast’ player happens to get on base…now what?”
Once a player is on base, their speed becomes a factor in a few ways: a stolen base, an extra base taken on wild pitches or singles, and a run scored. Determining just how valuable these fast players who can get on base are would seem to be most purely done by assessing what happens once they’re there.
Ready for an incredibly obvious statement? Trea Turner is ridiculously fast…and good at getting on base.
Mmhmm. Yep, that’s a known fact. See how bored you are? How dare I build a logical process and then let these results tell you something you already know – and in my first article for this site, no less. Who hired me, anyway?
The real question becomes this – how can this information benefit you, a fantasy baseball player looking for any and all edges you can gather over your digital adversaries?
And so, I assessed. And assessed. And re-assessed. And made final assessments.
…I may or may not have assessed a final time then.
After (finally) settling the data, these are a few player groupings and notes I’ve made.
Five players quickly found their way to the top of the pile: Ronald Acuna, Jr., Mike Trout, Bryan Reynolds, Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Shohei Ohtani. While I would say four of these five players have a higher risk of injury than the average player, each of them is exceptionally quick and have significant talent at getting on base.
|Player||Age||Total PA||OBP||xwOBA||xOBP||Sprint Speed||Sprint Speed PCTL|
|Ronald Acuna Jr.||24||360||0.394||0.429||0.408||29.4||97|
|Fernando Tatis Jr.||22||546||0.364||0.408||0.363||29.3||96|
Acuna’s 29.4 sprint speed is the highest mark of the ‘Obvious’ crew, though Trout and Tatis each scored one-tenth point slower. Acuna’s 29.4 score ranks in the 97th percentile, far above the average percentile score of 53. Trout’s 146 plate appearances in 2021 burned managers across the fantasy landscape and may well have hurt his chances of topping this list, but when considering his world-class on-base skill and the sterling marks in all on-base metrics, there’s still much to be seen and enjoyed from the greatest player of our generation. Like Acuna, Tatis is a league-winner, present, and future, in his first few seasons in the majors, with health seemingly the only concern for either player. Ohtani’s talent has been well documented over the last half-decade and the accolades I could detail has surely already been touched upon, but in case you want to hear it from me and me alone – he’s stupid good. Draft with confidence.
Finally, we have the biggest surprise on the list thus far, Bryan Reynolds. The 26-year-old finds himself in the middle of the field age-wise, with elite on-base numbers and a very strong 28.7 sprint speed. I would consider Reynolds to be a stolen base ‘contributor,’ but not a category stud, and with all due respect to the Pirates, his run totals are about as good as could be expected from a team so lopsided.
Reynolds’ speed is probably best emphasized in ‘hustle,’ as he tied for the league-lead in triples (8) and finished in the top five in both Range Factor per game played (2.39) and fielding percentage (.994) for center fielders. Could this speed eventually show up as stolen bases or as more runs scored? To be frank – I don’t think so. Reynolds tied his mark for most stolen bases as a professional last season with five, and unless his fellow Pirates can see offensive gains, his run potential is unfortunately stifled at the (admittedly stellar) level he’s currently producing at. Altogether, Reynolds is a great pick for all leagues which award his talents – and why?
|Player||Age||Total PA||OBP||xwOBA||xOBP||Sprint Speed||Sprint Speed PCTL|
Byron Buxton’s sprint speed of 30 is the highest mark on the list thus far, but much like several of the players I slotted higher than him, injuries have plagued an otherwise exciting career. Buxton’s xwOBA was in the elite range for the 2021 season, and his current NFBC ADP of 66.85 slots him 20th among outfielders as of writing. As a fifth-to-sixth round selection, managers are clearly comfortable taking the terrifyingly risky Buxton in hopes of a healthy campaign. Nerves of steel are advised on draft day, as the skills are truly tantalizing, but remember – Buxton has only played in 50 percent of games over the last five seasons.
Fleet-footed wouldn’t have been my first thought when assessing Tyler O’Neill, and yet, here we are. The stats don’t lie, but apparently, my memory of O’Neill as a prospect with light-tower power and a strong hit tool seems to have brushed over a strong 29.7 sprint speed. After reaching his highest stolen base total in his professional career, I don’t see O’Neill duplicating his double-digit effort in 2022. Even regression to a 5-9 stolen base level is more than acceptable from the 27-year-old, who seems safe to contribute 25-30 home runs and 70+ runs and RBI each over a healthy season.
The quartet of Jonathan India, Nick Senzel, Nico Hoerner, and Luis Robert are all 26 years old or younger and have considerable on-base skills with great sprint speed measures. In a dynasty format, these are guys I would focus on in drafts or offseason trades, as they all appear to be strong bets for across-the-board production with health and solid playing time. Senzel’s 29.1 sprint speed is the strongest of the four, but I would personally take India’s on-base skill over the others. LouBob has already made a big impression when healthy, hitting a ridiculous .338 in 296 plate appearances last season. Fantasy managers are taking note, too; Robert’s current NFBC ADP sits at a lofty 18.53.
BEST OF THE REST
Remember me telling you Trea Turner was ridiculously fast and good at getting on base?
Well, I didn’t lie.
|Player||Age||Total PA||OBP||xwOBA||xOBP||Sprint Speed||Sprint Speed PCTL|
|Cedric Mullins II||27||675||0.359||0.344||0.344||28.5||86|
Turner’s 30.7 sprint speed was the highest mark of any player in 2021, with only a select few hitting that mark with him. However, Turner’s on-base metrics were not as stellar when compared to the overall player pool, slotting him here, below the top two segments of players in this article.
Before the torches and pitchforks are gathered and I’m hunted on Twitter like the ogre I am, let me explain – I’m not trying to talk trash about a guy who could lead the league in stolen bases in 2022. Frankly, Turner has as good a shot as anyone at leading the league in runs as well! However, the on-base metrics simply aren’t as strong as any of the others in the groups before him, and as I’m seeking to find the fastest players who get on base often, I would rather highlight those whose on-base skills are stronger than the blazing-fast Turner.
This is the stickiest thorn in the rosy operation at hand: names who fantasy players would assume top this list are featured, for sure, but are not quite at the top. Starling Marte, Randy Arozarena, Cedric Mullins, and Mookie Betts are similar names, each more than capable of stuffing the sheet on any given day, each well-deserving of their lofty draft price or trade capital.
THE ‘ON-BASE’ GUYS
A great many of the following players are four-and-five-category contributors in fantasy baseball, but their sprint speeds just weren’t at the elite level I sought to highlight here. For the most part, I highly recommend drafting these players, as they won’t leave you high and dry in the speed-based counting stats and will all but make up for their lack of quickness with their stellar on-base skills.
Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Aaron Judge, and Kyle Tucker are probably the safest bets for strong speed-related contributions to your fantasy team, and coincidentally are each within the upper echelon of hitters in professional baseball.
Other names include Freddie Freeman, Corey Seager, Jesse Winker, Kyle Schwarber, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, and Josh Donaldson. For those seeking a strong catcher, Yasmani Grandal is a name to consider from this grouping, and for those in dynasty or keeper formats, Max Muncy, who is “not healing as quickly as expected” from a UCL tear.
THE ‘HEY, WHAT ABOUT’ GROUP
Clever group title, right?
And as the title might imply, this group features an interesting cluster of hitters whose speed is a quondam calling card (You should draft Jose Altuve and watch guys like Cesar Hernandez, Lorenzo Cain, and Brett Gardner, depending on league size), a few more hit-tool oriented players who aren’t total drains in the steals category (Nicky Lopez, George Springer, and Tommy Edman), and a few guys to keep an eye on moving forward (Jarren Duran and Jazz Chisholm, Jr.), the most pertinent names in this selection are those many expected to sit atop the list or close to it.
“DREW,” you’re surely screaming, “WHAT ABOUT WHIT MERRIFIELD?! WHAT ABOUT TREVOR STORY?! WHAT ABOUT JAVIER BAEZ?!”
First, stop screaming at your devices – they’re already dead. Second, each of these players has a few warts worth dissecting for this exercise. Scalpels up!
Baez’ is the easiest to diagnose – he’s a hacker. From a ‘numbers’ perspective, I’ve long disliked Baez, whose dreadful strikeout rates and paltry walk rates are in vehement opposition from the type of players I tend to gravitate towards. His quickness is in the elite level for sure, with a 28.6 sprint speed, but Baez’ on-base woes prevent him from being a strong contender in this exercise.
Merrifield is a bit more peculiar, as his ranking (or lack thereof) seems to be tied to a few factors over the 2021 season. Most tellingly seems to be issues found in Merrifield’s batted ball data, as his hard contact rate was its lowest over his full seasons in the majors at 26.2 percent. His average launch angle also dropped 1.3 degrees from his career average to 14.1 in 2021. Finally, Merrifield’s batted ball data is indicated more traditionally through a .277 batting average, the lowest mark of his career thus far.
The issue with Merrifield’s numbers is that he’s already well-established as a stolen base anchor for a fantasy team – and his 31.25 NFBC ADP feels indicative of this – but perhaps there’s more cause for concern than celebration moving forwards? If the batted-ball data figures I referenced aren’t stabilized or even continue to decline, the 32-year-old could see less time on base, and as such, have fewer opportunities to contribute to your fantasy team. I hardly think his stolen base and run totals will dry up to zero, but I would watch these figures carefully over the first few weeks of the new season.
AND SOME TO GROW ON
If you’re still here, thank you so much for humoring me and for suppressing the urge to leave. I’ll reward you with some sleeper names to keep track of in the future whose numbers indicate potential future success in the speed/OBP world.
Guys like Jose Siri, Jorge Mateo, Jo Adell, and Leody Tavares have sterling sprint speed marks of 29.3 or greater. Estevan Florial, Jake Fraley, and Alejandro Kirk have displayed competent on-base skills. Exciting names like Vidal Brujan and Taylor Walls have both flashed signs of speed and plate discipline, too.
Will these twenty-somethings end up being fun prospect trivia fodder or productive major leaguers? Who knows. For the moment, though, they’re all easy watch-list box-clicks to keep an eye on, because if playing time and health fall their way, any of these guys could easily find their way onto this list in the future.
This exercise is one that I will openly admit is open to interpretation. I used my judgment and discovered some interesting characteristics for a few hitters for whom I had preconceived notions. Consequently, I am well aware the arbitrary groupings, statistics, and opinions here might have convinced you to block me on Twitter, ignore any future articles, and forget I ever existed.
Hopefully, though, some of the statistics or opinions presented here will convince you to dig a little deeper into the numbers for a player or two and form new opinions regarding some of the quicker players in the league who can still reach base with the best of them.
So that’s your assignment – either block me and forget I exist or go out and see what some of these players can do to help or hurt your fantasy game. Honestly, I could see either result taking place, but trust you will do the latter.