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Get A Jump On It: How Well Do Pirate Outfielders React To Fly Balls?

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Pittsburgh Pirates Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Statcast unveiled a new metric that measures how well outfielders react to fly balls. Where do the Pirates’ outfielders rank?

“He got a good jump on it.”

We hear those words after almost every time after an outfielder makes a running or diving catch. While the catch is the part everyone remembers, it would not be possible without that first step. Now, we have a way to measure who is best at taking those first couple steps.

When Statcast and Baseball Savant came on the scene in 2015, almost all of the new data dealt with hitters and pitchers. Since then, they have made great progress in measuring fielders in ways besides just errors and assists. While “Outs About Average” and “Poptime” haven’t entered the baseball world’s vernacular in the same way “spin rate” and “exit velocity” have, they have given us better insight for fielding prowess. On Monday, they unveiled a new stat: Jump.

Jump is defined as “how many feet did [an outfielder] cover in the right direction in the first three seconds after pitch release?” I’d strongly recommend Mike Petriello’s piece to get a better understanding of the stat, but at the risk of oversimplifying it, there are three parts to the equation:

  1. The first 1.5 seconds is defined as “Reaction.” It tracks how many feet a player covers immediately after the pitch is thrown.
  2. The other second and a half is the “Burst,” or acceleration. It is tracked in feet as well.
  3. Finally, there is the route. Technically, a quick first step in the wrong direction would still have a good “reaction” time. The route factor corrects this since a quick first step isn’t always a good first step.

For an example, let’s look at Corey Dickerson’s Jump metrics from his Gold Glove winning campaign last season. Out of 103 outfielders with enough innings to qualify, here is how many feet he covered compared to the average fielder and where he ranked.

Reaction, Burst and Route measured in feet vs. average. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

There wasn’t a part of this equation where Dickerson excelled, but he was so consistent in all three aspects that he ended up ranking third in Feet vs. Average and 4th in total feet covered. Sounds like a Gold Glove winner to me.

The Pirates have four outfielders with enough innings to qualify on the 2019 list: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Bryan Reynolds and Melky Cabrera. Here’s where they rank out of 100 qualified outfielders.

Reaction, Burst and Route measured in feet vs. average. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Poor Melky. He’s running good routes, but his wheels just aren’t what they used to be, so he’s dead last in Feet vs. Average and second to last in ground covered.

Polanco’s sprint speed has dropped this season (27.8 ft/sec in 2018, 26.8 ft/sec in 2019), which could be the reason why his Burst is so low. Perhaps that will increase as he continues to get some rust off. For now, he’s near the bottom of the league.

It takes Reynolds a second to get going, but once he does, he accelerates quickly and takes solid routes. As a result, he grades out as a little above average overall.

And then there is Marte, who, unsurprisingly, gets the best jumps on the team. Most of that comes from his speed, but he also takes direct routes. There’s a reason why he has been ranked as one of the best in baseball in OOA the last two years.

As Petriello writes, Jump can be used as a way to “verbalize scouting reports.” We now have a better understanding of which outfielders run indirect routes, have good reaction times or just cover a ton of ground. Jump isn’t everything for an outfielder. It’s just the first thing.

The Jump leaderboards can be found on Baseball Savant.