MLB.com Columnist

Mike Petriello

Statcast stars Judge, Buxton to face off

Yankees battle Twins in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game

Statcast stars Judge, Buxton to face off

This year's American League Wild Card Game (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) is going to serve two purposes. Sure, it's primarily a compelling winner-take-all matchup between the unexpected Twins and a Yankees franchise they have had October difficulties with since the turn of the century. But it's also a fantastic showcase of the absolute best that Statcast™ has to offer, on a national stage. You already know that Aaron Judge and Byron Buxton are wonderful, of course -- but allow us to explain why.

At its core, Statcast™ is simply a measurement system of what you see on the field. Who runs the fastest? Who throws the hardest? Who hits it the hardest? Or the farthest? Those can lead to more complex equations, but it all starts there. It all starts with finding raw baseball skills, and few, if anyone, has more skills than these two.

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Take Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 Draft, still just 23 years old, and probably as close to "the face of Statcast™" as 2017 has offered us. Earlier this year, we introduced Sprint Speed as a measurement of baserunning foot speed (measured in feet per second, in a player's fastest one-second window), with 27 feet per second being the Major League average, and the range being roughly from 23 feet/second (mostly catchers and designated hitters) to 30 feet/seconds at the very top. Guess where Buxton was?

Of the more than 450 qualified players, Buxton ranks first, at 30.2 feet/second. Last year, he was first, at 30.7 feet/second. In 2015, his rookie year, he was tied for first, at 30.0 feet/second. All due respect to Billy Hamilton, it says here that Buxton is baseball's reigning speed king.

Unsurprisingly, that kind of speed has manifested itself in some record baserunning times. When Buxton set a Statcast™ record by circling the bases in just 13.85 seconds on Aug. 19, he broke the previous home-to-home record of 14.05 seconds held by… Buxton himself, last season. Two weeks later, he made it home-to-third in 10.52 seconds, giving him baseball's fastest triple this year, along with five of the top 10 this year, and three of the top five since Statcast™ came online in 2015.

Statcast: Buxton legs out homer

It feels, perhaps, never-ending. Buxton has two of the four fastest home-to-second times this year, topping out at 7.21 seconds on a Sept. 12 double. He's got the third-fastest home-to-first time this year (3.44 seconds, on a Sept. 8 bunt), two of the top eight, and allow us to remind you now that he's a righty hitter, putting him at a slight disadvantage to those who start on the other side of the box.

When Buxton gets on base, he's nearly unstoppable. Of the more than 1,000 players with at least 30 steals since the advent of divisional play in 1969, Buxton's 89.1 percent success rate -- that's 41 of 46 -- is the best. Given that, and advancements in training and nutrition over the years, it's very possible that Buxton is the fastest man to play Major League Baseball.

Statcast: Buxton lays out

So what does one do with all that speed on defense? Buxton used it to become the star of our latest outfield range metric, Outs Above Average, where we accumulate each individual Catch Probability play to come up with a season-long measure of defense that accounts for both frequency and difficulty. At +25 outs above average, well above Ender Inciarte's second-place +19, and far above the -17 at the bottom of the list, Buxton has earned the title of baseball's best outfield defender.

So there's that, but on the other side there's also Judge, who owns the rookie record for home runs, and also so much more. Judge's 495-foot blast against the Orioles in June was the longest measured by Statcast™ in 2017, and it is tied for the second-longest in the three seasons we've been tracking. On Saturday, his 484-foot shot came in as baseball's fourth-longest of the year. He has the four of the five hardest-hit balls of the year, and six of the top nine; he has the hardest-hit home run, 121.1 mph, we've seen.

Judge leads baseball in hard-hit rate this year, unsurprisingly, at 54.6 percent, and leads in average exit velocity, 94.7 mph, also unsurprisingly. The entire sport has only 86 batted balls of 115 mph exit velocity or more this year, and that breaks down into "25 for Judge, 61 for literally everyone else." For all the well-deserved credit given to Giancarlo Stanton, he simply doesn't hit as hard as often as Judge does. 

And, of course, you probably noticed the 513-foot shot he put out on his way to dominating the 2017 Home Run Derby.

Statcast: Judge's 513-foot jack

Judge, after all, has shattered Miguel Cabrera's previous record of 77 Barrels (the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle, defined in more depth here) with a stunning 87. You won't be surprised to know that he leads the Majors by having 26 percent of his batted balls qualify as barrels, and that he notches a barrel in a league-leading 13 percent of his plate appearances.

Now, you'll be sure to point out that these are all things that only happen on contact, and if there's a weakness in Judge's game, it's that. His 208 strikeouts lead the Majors. They're a Yankees record. They're one of the top 10 strikeout seasons in history. Even in this aspect of his game, he's an outlier.

Statcast: Judge's 495-foot homer

And yet even if you account for the whiffs, Judge still tops our most advanced Statcast™ batting metric, Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). What xwOBA does is to account for quality of contact based on exit velocity and launch angle, giving credit based on what the hitter controls, and not the actual outcome of the play (since the same batted ball can easily be an out or a triple depending on the performance of the outfielder). Crucially, xwOBA does include actual strikeouts and walks, and Judge's .445 is easily the best in baseball, well ahead of Mike Trout and Joey Votto at .426 and the Major League average of .314.

Judge isn't the fielder that Buxton is, because no one is. But they do share one thing in common, and that's an elite-level throwing arm. In 2017, just 13 outfielders in the bigs were tracked with at least one throw of 99 mph or harder, and Judge (99.4 mph on May 18) and Buxton (99.9 mph on May 22) were two of them. 

Statcast: Judge's 97.7-mph throw

They're not the only Statcast™ stories in this game, of course. Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman remains atop baseball's pitch velocity leaderboards, whether it's average (100.0 mph), max (104.2 mph), or frequency (25 of the 26 hardest pitches of the year). Twins reliever Ryan Pressly had the second-highest curveball spin rate in 2017; Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez, just last week, fired an 88.6 mph throw for the hardest catcher throw on a caught stealing this year. And, of course, Aaron Hicks still has the hardest outfield throw on record, at 105.5 mph last year.

But this is really about Buxton and Judge. Sure, this game is about who goes home, and who moves on to the AL Division Series at Cleveland. It's also about two of the brightest young stars in the game, facing off in the Bronx. They do things no one else can do, and they do them all the time.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.