Erica Lay - The Need For Speed

There’s a lot of talk about velocity – commonly referred to as VELO – in modern baseball. But unless we’re talking about exit velocity or pitch velocity, there doesn’t seem to be much focus on speed. By speed, I mean how fast a specific player can run. I find this ironic since speed is one of the five-tools commonly used to evaluate players.

So, the question is – does speed really provide an advantage? 

I think it does. Here are some of the ways speed can impact a game:

Stolen bases. The ability to get a runner into scoring position without sacrificing an out is the most obvious use of speed.

Extra bases. Being able to score from first on a double; stretching a double into a triple. These things create tangible results.

Defense. Having speed on defense is an asset – especially in the outfield.

Disruption. Having a pitcher split their concentration between a runner and the batter makes them more prone to mistakes. It can also impact pitch selection causing a batter to see more fastballs.

Defensive alignment. Holding runners on creates holes in the infield defense. And, in some cases, may prevent the use of the shift.

Despite all these benefits, stolen bases have declined in recent years and players with legitimate speed seem less inclined to steal bases. 

Maybe that’s because, in the grand scheme of things, stats tell us that speed doesn’t really win games. According to StatCast, the two fastest teams in the major leagues in 2017 were the Padres and Marlins, respectively. The Padres finished fourth in their division with a 71-91 record. The Marlins finished 77-85, good for second place in the putrid NL East.

Now, while I agree that speed alone may not win games, I do believe that speed can help a team capitalize on situations and take advantage of a team’s other assets. A team that uses speed effectively can score more efficiently than a team stuck playing station-to-station and doesn’t need to be solely dependent on the long ball. And we’ve all heard the old adage that speed doesn’t slump.

How does this relate to the Mets? It doesn’t. And that’s the point. With the exceptions of Nimmo, Rosario and Conforto, this team is old, slow and painful to watch. (For the record, I love Wilmer Flores and am willing to deal with his lumbering around the bases because, ultimately, the dude can hit - and has proven he can hit in the clutch - and is still only 26 years old, even though it feels like he’s been around forever).

Having a run score from first on a double when there are two outs is a big deal. Having a runner at third instead of second is the difference between needing a fly ball vs. a hit to tie a game. They may not sound like make or break moments but, in the flow of a game, they can be. Especially at a time when strikeouts could reach an all-time high.

With the offensive malaise that the Mets are currently mired in, it sure would be great to have a lineup featuring some high OBP guys that could swipe a bag or two to help the cause. Of course, we’d also need someone who could then drive the run in and that’s a tall order with our current roster.

In a game more and more focused on power stats, speed related skills are no longer taught and nurtured in the minor leagues (or the major leagues, for that matter). Personally, I’m hoping speed makes a comeback. Because despite the record of the Padres and Marlins, I believe speed ultimately helps win games. It also makes the game more exciting and watchable. I miss the days of Lenny and Wally, when a walk or a single was basically as good as a double. I hope the next iteration of this team includes a few more Brandon Nimmos and a few less Adrian Gonzalezes (at least the version of Gonzalez that was on the 2018 Mets).


Reese Kaplan said...

Personally, I love small ball -- stolen bases, taking the extra base on a hit to the outfield, hit and run, bunting...all of those things that have fallen out of favor.

I hate to be citing Jose Reyes in a positive way since I'm one of the people leading the charge for his release, but the act of bunting his way on Sunday afternoon showed just how seldom people do it and why it's an effective tool to have in your arsenal.

You are right about the overall speed, however, between the various first base options, Cabrera, Frazier, the catchers, Bruce and Cespedes (who can run but shouldn't), there's not a lot of speed there. I'm not even all that convinced of Conforto's abiliities in that regard.

Erica Lay said...

I'm with you Reese - I like small ball, too. It's a lost art.

As far as Conforto, I think he has decent speed and can do little things like take the extra base, etc. But, I don't think he has the speed (or inclination) to ever be a legitimate stolen base threat.

Mike Freire said...

Well said.....I still remember the Cardinals teams in the 1980's.

They would start an inning with a walk, add in a stolen base, follow that with a ground out to the right side of the infield and then add a sac fly to the mix. Voila! A run scored without a hit, for example. Consistently doing things like that wins ballgames...especially if your team is pitching centric and you play a lot of close games as a result.

Plus, Citi-Field would be a good park to have a speedy team call home, as it favors pitching (slightly) and it has a lot of real estate in the OF.

Thomas Brennan said...

Mike and everyone, I miss the speed game, too...but steals are high impact and, if you have a super expensive player (let's make up a name and call him Yoenis) who hurts himself stealing and he is being paid $4 million a month, that is not good for business, so it is prudent to only take your Ferrari out on nice roads.

Think of guys hurt from stealing and other impacts - Reyes in the old days, Lagares, Bay, Cespedes, fractured-back-Wright - and all their lost time...and lost $$.

I almost prefer players who are slower, since slow people know and live within their limitations and, unless they do something dumb like Flores in 2016 diving head first into home with a catcher ready to use you as a lounge chair, the slower guys probably get hurt less than the high speed guys.

Ricky Henderson was a rare breed indeed.

Erica Lay said...

Tom, that's an interesting point and something I'll have to check out. I'm not sure this is the case. Looking at the SB leaders over the past few years, they don't seem to have suffered any major injuries related specifically to their speed or running the bases. For example, Dee Gordon was on the DL but that was because of a broken toe from a foul ball. Jose Altuve, Mike Trout and Michael Taylor have all managed to stay pretty healthy.

The big exception is Jacoby Ellsbury who's a hot mess. I'm not sure if base running is to blame for his myriad number of ailments.

As far as Wright - he had a degenerative back issue that probably upped the chances of him breaking/fracturing his back. And he didn't on an awkward dive back to the bag.

Erica Lay said...

*did it, not didn't

Thomas Brennan said...

Erica, good points. I looked at Maury Wills, who was quite durable.

Interesting is that Wills, who stole close to 600 career bases, debuted at 26 years, 247 days of age.

Bodes well for "old" Jeff McNeil.

Erica Lay said...

Tom, different position but hopefully it bodes well for deGrom, too.

Mack's Mets © 2012