Think about baseball's fastest runners out of the box, motoring from home to first. You're probably thinking immediately of Billy Hamilton, who has a job in the bigs almost entirely due to his breathtaking speed. Maybe you're thinking of Dee Gordon, who became the first player to lead the National League in batting average and steals since Jackie Robinson in 1949.
Both would be excellent choices, and both rank in the top three, as MLB.com continues with a look at 2016's best teams and players in our favorite Statcast™ metrics. But neither one is atop the list. No, our fastest home-to-first player was a 32nd-round pick in 2011 who was later traded for one season of 4.87 ERA ball from lefty reliever Jerry Blevins. Meet Oakland's Billy Burns, king of out-of-the-box speed in 2015.
Best home-to-first averages on "competitive plays" (minimum 3 qualified plays)
Immediately you're asking, "What's a qualified play?" Similarly to how we did it when we ranked baseball's best outfield throwing arms, we needed a way to remove the thousands of non-competitive jogs to first on a doomed popup or a no-chance grounder. As a totally random example, do you care that it took Anthony Rizzo 7.1 seconds to leisurely trot out a sacrifice fly on June 28? You do not. Neither do we.
In order to find a way to identify plays in which a batter was truly running at max effort, we identified the 90th percentile speed for each player as a baseline, then took the average of all tracked runs above that. That allowed us to single out only the plays where measuring time to first would really tell us something. In Burns' case, that math allowed him to edge out Gordon and Hamilton by an eyelash, and that'll happen when you can lay down a bunt and motor to first like this:
But despite leading baseball in average competitive home-to-first time, Burns didn't have the single fastest run of the season. That belonged to -- who else? -- Hamilton, who burned his way down to first in just 3.52 seconds to beat out a drag bunt against the Twins in late June:
As you'd expect, the bottom of the list is largely catchers, first basemen and designated hitters, with the occasional corner outfielder thrown in.
Let's take that information and compare the spread of times across positions. Wherever possible, projected 2016 positions were used, so Jason Heyward is a center fielder, Hanley Ramirez is a first baseman, etc.
As expected, center fielders and second basemen make for the fastest runners, though it's interesting how second base ranks ahead of shortstop, largely thanks to Gordon, Altuve and Micah Johnson. Nick Swisher, from each side of the plate, is responsible for each of the right-field trailing marks, unsurprising given how many knee problems he's had.
And Burns? Well, he stands alone. It makes sense, really. Burns is hard to catch on the bases. He's hard to catch on the speed rankings, too.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.