Statcast shows the rookies excel in reaching 21-mph mark on bases; Trout stands out for speed-power combo
By Andrew Simon
It's rare for teams to get a lot out of a player picked in the annual Rule 5 Draft. So when the Rangers snatched Delino DeShields from the Astros last offseason, there wasn't much reason for high expectations.
As it turned out, Texas found the fastest man in the Majors in 2015 -- at least by one measure.
DeShields became the regular center fielder for the American League West champions in his age-22 season, playing in 121 regular-season games and starting 110. Over that time, Statcast™ tracked him reaching a top speed of at least 21 mph on the basepaths on 132 occasions, easily the most of any player. Only seven others did it at least 50 times.
As Statcast™ tracked baserunners throughout the season, the 21-mph mark emerged as a solid cutoff point for top-of-the-line speed. Nobody got there more often than DeShields -- not even more high-profile speedsters such as the Marlins' Dee Gordon or the Reds' Billy Hamilton, who finished first and second in the Majors with 58 and 57 steals, respectively.
For DeShields, who also reached 21 mph nine times in the AL Division Series, speed runs in the family. His father, also named Delino DeShields, racked up 463 steals in the Majors from 1990-2002, swiping as many as 56 bags in a season along the way. The younger DeShields, the eighth overall pick in the 2010 Draft, hit .261/.344/.374 with a 95 OPS+ and 25 steals in his big league debut, despite never previously advancing past Double-A.
Along the way, DeShields ran at 22 mph on 20 occasions, including in a 4-3 win over the Padres on July 10 at Globe Life Park. On third base with one out in the first inning, DeShields tagged up and scored the game's first run on a Prince Fielder pop fly that was caught in very shallow left-center field. He topped out at 22.6 mph on his way home, his fourth-fastest speed of the season.
Of course, just like with any other counting stat, playing time factors into how often a player can get to 21-plus mph. So what if the leaderboard is adjusted on a per-plate-appearance basis?
Well, DeShields almost comes out on top again -- but not quite. Nationals infielder Trea Turner, MLBPipeline.com's No. 11 prospect, got his first cup of coffee in the big leagues down the stretch, playing in 27 games but starting only eight and collecting a mere 44 plate appearances. Despite those limitations, he broke the 21-mph mark 12 times, just one fewer than A.J. Pollock and two more than Elvis Andrus.
That works out to 0.273 times per plate appearance, most among the 47 players who reached 21 mph at least 10 times. Turner finished just ahead of DeShields (0.268) and Eric Young Jr. (0.266), who did it 25 times in only 94 plate appearances for the Braves and Mets. Fellow rookies Byron Buxton of the Twins, Travis Jankowski of the Padres and Paulo Orlando of the Royals also made the top 10.
Turner showed off his wheels on Sept. 18, when he entered a game against the Marlins as a pinch-runner in the bottom of the eighth inning.
With Washington trailing 3-2 and one out, Turner stood at second. When Jose Urena threw a pitch in the dirt that bounced just a few feet away from catcher J.T. Realmuto, Turner never hesitated and scampered to third at 22.1 mph, his third-fastest time of the season. One batter later, on a fly ball to center, he tagged and raced home with the tying run at 21.7 mph, and the Nats went on to win, 5-4.
The 21-mph leaderboard also provides yet another way to appreciate the greatness of Mike Trout, as if we needed one.
The Angels center fielder has seen his stolen-base total decline for three straight seasons, from 49 in 2012 all the way down to 11 last year. But he still can motor when the situation calls for it, as he showed by crossing the 21-mph barrier 47 times, tied for 10th-most in the Majors.
Yet Trout didn't have to do more than jog after belting each of his career-high 41 home runs. This different sort of "40-40" season made Trout an outlier, as no other player who smacked 20-plus homers reached 21 mph more than 16 times.
Here are a few other notes of interest:
• Realmuto, a rookie who had eight steals and seven triples in 126 games, led all catchers by reaching 21 mph nine times. No other player at the position did it more than twice.
• Perhaps it should be no surprise that the World Series-champion Royals had three of the top eight 21-mph runners, in outfielders Lorenzo Cain (54), Jarrod Dyson (52) and Orlando (48). Even Eric Hosmer, whose daring dash home tied Game 5 of the Fall Classic in the ninth inning, led all first basemen with six.
• Of the seven players who hit more than 18 home runs while running 21 mph at least five times, three remain available on the free-agent market: Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond and Justin Upton.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.