Statcast sheds light on two stunning catches
Puig used blazing speed, while McCutchen took nearly perfect route for grab
We knew Yasiel Puig was fast. We knew Andrew McCutchen was smooth. Now we have an idea of just how fast and just how smooth.
In the latest example of MLB Advanced Media's new Statcast player tracking metrics, the two star outfielders show their stuff on defense. We've got a look at each of them making a spectacular running catch at New York's Citi Field, and the comparative data gives a good idea of how each man achieves his defensive success.
McCutchen is quick, smooth and polished. Puig is just flat-out fast. In each case, it works nicely.
Twice in the span of a week in late May, Mets hitters were robbed of extra bases. On May 22, Wilmer Flores hit a deep drive to right-center. It first appeared to be Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp's ball, but Puig flew into the midst of the play and made the tumbling catch.
"Oh man, I can't believe he caught it," Kemp said at the time, also adding a little more color to his language. "I was shocked."
Five days later, Juan Lagares hit a liner, also to right-center, that Pirates superstar McCutchen seemed to swallow up from his place in center. There was never any doubt who this one belonged to, but it was no sure thing it would be caught until the ball rested in McCutchen's glove.
"The ball's hit, and I just said, 'I'm going to go get it,'" McCutchen said. "Basically what I did, [I] tried to stay on top of it, see where it was due to come down and go get it. [It] was a good play, a long run, and I was able to cover a lot of ground to get to it."
How each man made his highlight-reel play differed quite a bit. Puig's route was a little less direct, but his top-end speed was stunning. McCutchen didn't reach the same peak velocity, but his initial read on the ball proved to be perfect.
Looking at the Puig play, one number stands out above any other: his maximum speed of 21.1 MPH. That's 9.43 meters per second, more than 10 yards per second. It's an absolutely blistering pace, one that makes up for a slightly slower jump and a less efficient route to the ball.
"Definitely, I thought it was in the gap," said the Mets' Lucas Duda, who was almost doubled off first base on the play. "I had made it all the way to second base before [Puig] made that [catch]."
McCutchen, meanwhile, doesn't reach quite the same speed, but he does everything else so well that it's not a problem. His jump -- the time from when the ball leaves the bat until he's on the run -- comes in at .17 seconds, compared to .45 seconds for Puig.
At Puig's peak speed, that difference of .28 seconds is a difference of more than 8 1/2 feet of ground covered. So while it may seem like the blink of an eye, that kind of difference in getting started can have a major effect on making the play or not.
Likewise, McCutchen takes a more direct route to the ball. The term is "route efficiency," and it's a measure of the shortest point-to-point distance between where the player starts and where he ends, relative to how far he actually traveled. One hundred percent is perfect efficiency, and McCutchen comes as close as it's possible to get.
The Bucco star's efficiency rates at 99.7 percent on a run of 83 feet, meaning about three inches of wasted movement. Three inches! Puig's efficiency was a still-solid 97.9 percent over a 95-foot run, adding up to about two feet of extra travel -- still not bad, but not quite as clinical as McCutchen.
With the naked eye, we knew two great players made great plays. With more information, we know how and why they made those plays, and that's just another way that this information is going to shed even more light on a fascinating aspect of the game.
Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.