Statcast makes its 2015 debut on tonight's MLB Network Showcase game between the Cardinals and Nationals, and the technology is going to arm fans, scouts, executives and coaches alike with a deluge of data that helps them better understand and evaluate what is taking place on the field.
It's even going to help settle some arguments.
"I didn't see Joe DiMaggio play," said Rob McGlarry, president of MLB Network, "but they always say DiMaggio never had to dive for a ball because -- and they didn't use that term back then -- because his route efficiency was so good. Harold Reynolds often asks, 'Is Dee Gordon or Billy Hamilton faster?' Well, we're going to be able to settle that."
Here are some fun debates we're eager to see Statcast tackle.
Who is the fastest burner on the basepaths?
Might as well start with the suggestion McGlarry tossed out there. Gordon and Hamilton, who had 64 and 56 stolen bases, respectively, last season, are the obvious starting points. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. "That's What Speed Do" himself, Jarrod Dyson, can't be ruled out of the equation, especially now that he's logging more consistent playing time in place of an injured Alex Rios.
If MLB's All-Star festivities were to incorporate an NHL-style skills competition, we could line Gordon, Hamilton, Dyson and any other interested speedster up for the 100-meter dash and let them literally settle this discussion quickly. But Statcast data on speed and acceleration is the next-best thing.
Who has the best outfield arm?
Writing this gave me a good excuse to go back and watch Yoenis Cespedes' ridiculous run-saver in that game against the Angels last June for about the 547th time. I suggest you do the same.
One would assume Cespedes' velocity is unmatched, but, again, the beauty of Statcast is that we no longer have to base our opinions off those easy, eye-test assumptions.
Case in point: The Rangers' Leonys Martin had a FanGraphs-calculated "ARM" rating [a tally of runs above average saved by an outfielder's arm] nearly identical to that of Cespedes last year (Cespedes was 12.0, while Martin was 11.9). Jose Bautista's arm also gets a lot of love from scouts.
It will be interesting to see what the Statcast data says.
Who has the most booming power bat?
Raw home run tallies and rates are helpful, but Statcast calculates exit velocities, launch angles, hang times and projected distances (no more relying on chart-aided guesstimates by the home club's PR department) of balls off the bat.
So the question of best pure power -- be it Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Cabrera or some other candidate -- won't be much of a question at all. We'll have real data to tell us which slugger is launching the fastest and furthest rockets and is, therefore, most worthy of our early arrival for batting practice.
Who has the nastiest curveball?
My gut says Clayton Kershaw, with that nose-to-knees, looks-like-a-fastball-coming-at-your-head-yet-somehow-ends-up-in-the-middle-of-the-zone hammer that is death on lefties not named Matt Adams.
But my gut's been wrong before. Who's to say the curves of Corey Kluber or Matt Harvey or Dellin Betances don't have more scientific savvy behind them? Though PITCHf/x has already been insanely helpful in our evaluation of pitchers (and catchers, for that matter), Statcast takes things a step further by breaking pitches down to their spin rate, which will give us the best possible breakdown of which curves are totally dropping off the table.
Who, exactly, is good at defense?
That sounds like a really silly question, I know. But while we can all agree on a pretty obvious assertion such as "Andrelton Simmons is awesome," we don't have real, reliable data to tell us how individual fielders stack up against each other. Error counts handed out by official scorers in the press box are seriously sketchy. And don't even get me started on the Gold Glove Award. Too often, even the various forms of advanced data -- including UZR, defensive runs saved and range factor -- come to contradictory conclusions about the same individual.
Once Statcast becomes a fixture on national and local broadcasts and the data piles up, we'll be able to assess shortstops by their first step, arm strength, range and release speeds. We'll know which outfielders took the best routes to balls (sorry, Nori Aoki). We'll be able to judge one amazing, leaping catch over the wall against another amazing, leaping catch over the wall and decide which one is more worthy of the GIBBY for Play of the Year.
In other words, we'll have a whole lot less to argue about.
But don't worry. This is baseball. There's always something to argue about.