Tech-tacular! Nats' walk-off W caps Statcast debut
From Jay's defensive gems to Wong's drag bunt, data tracked for top plays
By Doug Miller
Tuning into MLB Network on Tuesday night was a given based on the fact that the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals opened a series in the nation's capital and offered a possible preview of an intense postseason matchup that was capped with Yunel Escobar's 10th-inning walk-off homer, lifting the Nats, 2-1.
The fact that it marked the live television debut of Statcast made it simply historic. And a lot of fun.
Statcast was in full force almost right away, pushing forth revealing data in all stages of the game, and on Tuesday -- with Bob Costas, Hall of Famer John Smoltz and Tom Verducci dissecting the new technology in this showcase game on MLB Network -- plenty of ground was covered.
Escobar's homer left the bat at 101.5 mph, not far behind a walk-off homer hit on Saturday by the Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson, whose drive registered at 103.7 mph.
Here are more Statcast highlights from this historic night:
JAY'S PERSONAL PLAYGROUND
What a game for Statcast, and what a game for Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay. The St. Louis veteran must have known that the tracker was on him, because he delivered plenty of numbers with spectacular defense.
One of the top plays of the game came in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied at 1 and the bases loaded. Jayson Werth of the Nationals hit a seed of a sinking line drive, but Jay, playing shallow in center field, sprinted to his left and dove to catch the ball and save the game by sending it to extra innings.
Statcast showed that Jay's first step, from contact to making his first move to the ball, was a stellar 0.3 seconds and his top speed was 14.8 mph as he covered the ground to lay out for the highlight-reel grab.
"I put myself there," Jay said. "Just in that situation, I want to make him beat us over the head. In that situation, I didn't want a line drive [to drop]. I was going to make him beat us to the biggest part of the field. It worked out right there."
And it was the second great play for Jay, too. With one out in the third inning and St. Louis already trailing, 1-0, while starter Lance Lynn dealt with runners on first and second, Nats first baseman Ryan Zimmerman hit a ball hard to the right-center-field gap.
Jay ran it down by the wall, which helped Lynn eventually escape that inning unscathed, and Statcast helped determine how Jay got the job done. The numbers showed that Jay averaged 10.7 mph while running his route and reached a maximum speed of 17 mph. For comparison, Cincinnati speedster Billy Hamilton was tracked on Statcast at 21.2 mph while recently stealing a base. But Smoltz astutely pointed out that Jay slowed down with caution while approaching the wall, knowing it was coming up quickly and that he might get injured if he slammed into it.
D IS FOR DESMOND
Another gem was turned in by Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. In the eighth inning, Jay hit a grounder into the hole near third base. Desmond darted to his right and fielded the ball but had to jump in one motion and throw off his back leg. He pulled it off and barely got Jay with a strong, accurate throw.
Statcast showed that Desmond's first step was a very fast 0.2 seconds, and his throw off one leg was clocked at 63.8 mph.
"He was ranging to his right -- he has fantastic arm strength and the ability to do that," Nats manager Matt Williams said. "He had a couple of them tonight where he went to his right, threw across his body and threw perfectly to [Zimmerman] at first. Ian looked comfortable and made a couple of nice plays to keep the guys off the bases for us."
"That was an amazing play," said Nats pitcher Tanner Roark, who was the direct beneficiary of Desmond's play. "It was Derek Jeter-esque. It was an unbelievable play. Everybody loved it."
It brought to mind similar plays by perennial National League Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons of the Braves, who nailed Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets last year and this April 10 with almost identical throws, although Simmons' throws were clocked at 59.9 mph in 2014 and 68.5 mph this year.
Regardless of the comparisons, Desmond impressed the MLB Network crew on Tuesday.
"It's a credit to how strong his arm really is and the accuracy with which he gets it to first," Smoltz said.
In the fourth inning, St. Louis first baseman Mark Reynolds made a gem of a play, diving to his right to snare a Wilson Ramos grounder before tossing to Lynn for the easy out.
The key to the play was Reynolds' cat-like reaction time. Statcast showed that his lightning first step of 1.9 seconds enabled him to take what looked like a very difficult stop and turn it into something routine.
Everyone knows speed kills, and Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong showed a lot of it in the sixth inning when he executed a gorgeous drag bunt down the first-base line and beat the throw for a base hit. The secret was revealed by Statcast, and it wasn't surprising: Wong is fast.
The young player hit 19.9 mph at his maximum speed, putting him in the same conversation as Hamilton and other speedsters such as Miami's Dee Gordon, whom Statcast recently clocked at 21.1 mph while stealing a base, and Mike Trout of the Angels, who hit 20.8 mph while swiping a bag in a 2015 game.
Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa is fast, too. In fact, when he put down what he intended to be a sacrifice bunt on Tuesday and the placement of the ball worked out so well that he had a solid chance for a hit, he hit a maximum speed of 20 mph, according to Statcast.
Fortunately for St. Louis, Reynolds finished off a solid night of defense by fielding it and tossing it to first for a close out.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.