A Small Assortment of Batter Times to First by Jeff Sullivan April 3, 2013 Know first that this began as a far more ambitious project. But the ambitious project didn’t pan out, and though ambition is noble, it isn’t something to be celebrated on its own. One cannot succeed without ambition, but at the same time, one cannot succeed without more than just ambition. What we’ve been left with, in the ruins of my attempt, is a little grab-bag of fun facts. I still find this stuff interesting, and it isn’t stuff you run across every day, but this could’ve been more. It probably never will be more. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make a huge difference how quickly a player can run from home to first. It does make some difference, but most hits will be hits no matter what. Yet it’s better to have speed than to not have speed, and one can’t really improve how quickly he runs. Not by the time he’s a professional baseball player, not when he’s trying to go 90 feet. I’ve recently become somewhat interested in timing players from the moment of contact to the first-base bag. More specifically, I was interested in timing Jesus Montero, but it turns out this isn’t very complicated to do. And we shouldn’t need a big sample size, because a player should run somewhere around his “true talent”, so to speak. The key is to isolate close plays. There will always be some variation, depending on any stumbles and on where the pitch was located and on so many things, but, scouts time players to the base. Why don’t we share in the fun? (The fun of knowledge) I started by watching video of all of 2013’s infield hits to date. That was the core of the failed ambitious project, but I was left with a bunch of video clips. I went through each of them, and, long story short, below I’m going to show you five infield hits I consider to be of particular note. All five were hit by different players, and though a few were bunts…well, we’ll talk about that. Brett Gardner 3.90 seconds from contact to the base Here’s the best lefty time I found, and of note is that, comparing two infield hits, Gardner beat Carl Crawford by four-tenths of a second. Of course, by true talent, they probably aren’t separated by that much, but there probably is a gap. This was not a bunt, but it was a swinging bunt, and though no attempt was made to throw out Gardner at first base, he kept motoring the entire way just to be safe. The Yankees are going to be annoying to Yankees fans, but with Gardner and Ichiro, they’re also going to be annoying to other fans, too. Michael Morse 4.90 seconds from contact to the base You might recognize 4.90 seconds as nearly being 5.00 seconds, and you might recognize 5.00 seconds as being way too slow to first base. Not that speed is really a part of Morse’s game, so I suppose it doesn’t matter so long as he’s hitting dingers like he did on Tuesday. One of the upsides of being built of pure muscle is that you can hit the baseball incredibly hard. One of the downsides of being built of pure muscle is that everybody ties pianos to your back. Morse wasn’t particularly close to being thrown out, but the play was far closer than it would’ve been for most other hitters. For most other hitters, there probably wouldn’t have even been a throw. Josh Rutledge 3.67 seconds from contact to the base We have to acknowledge that Rutledge was bunting. We should expect quicker times on bunt attempts, because the batter prepares himself to go as quickly as he can. Rutledge started his momentum to first base even before the baseball hit the bat. But this was the best time to first that I observed in my collected sample, so I felt like it had to be included. Josh Rutledge, it turns out, can run really well. With Brett Gardner’s time to first, this play results in an out. Jose Iglesias 3.77 seconds from contact to the base Again, as with Rutledge, we have a righty bunting, and starting his momentum in the direction of the bag. So, again, we note that Iglesias probably isn’t quite this fast when he’s swinging away. But in this game against the Yankees, Iglesias picked up three separate infield hits. The Red Sox, as you undoubtedly know, are in absolute love with Iglesias’ defense. The problem is that sources always say something to the effect of “his offense sucks”. They’re never quite that honest, but they’re always beating around the same bush. So for Iglesias to cut it as a regular big-leaguer, he’s probably going to need to depend on his running to lift his OBP. He can, at least, run, meaning he can try to make bunting a featured part of his offensive skillset. A.J. Pollock 4.00 seconds from contact to the base This was the best time for a righty who swung away instead of putting down a bunt. Pollock comfortably beat guys like Ian Desmond and Angel Pagan. Pollock came close to matching Gardner despite hitting from the opposite box. I wouldn’t say this was a routine defensive play, but this play would usually result in something like a bang-bang out. Pollock created a hit, and so I guess all I’m doing is confirming that A.J. Pollock is a capable sprinter. Of course, we knew that Pollock had speed. We don’t need anybody’s time to first to know who’s fast and who isn’t fast. It’s shown in a bunch of other areas. But don’t you feel better looking at a number? It makes me feel better looking at a number.