Let’s Admire Some of the Strongest Arms in Baseball: Infield Edition

Carlos Correa
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, when I wrote about some of the league’s strongest throwers, I ended up exclusively featuring outfielders. The nature of the position is more suited to making full capacity throws than in the infield, and as a result, only outfielders ended up on the list. Because of that, I feel obligated to acknowledge and highlight some of the strongest throwers in the infield. On average, these throws won’t be quite as fast. The footwork and time required to throw the ball is one reason for that, and that will be the focus of this piece.

Similar to last time, we’ll have to sort through some qualifications on how I came up with this short list of names. The first is at least 100 throws in the infield. One thing I ran into when sorting through the leaderboard was that several players near the top were utility players, rather than just strictly infielders. That led me to using the 2B/SS/3B filter and sorting the list by the overall throws at those positions only. See the full leaderboard here.

After working that out, I wanted to select plays where a player needed their plus arm strength to get an out. For example, a shortstop and/or third baseman needs to fire a rocket when moving multiple steps to use their backhand. A second baseman needs to have the correct footwork to fire a ball when ranging up the middle or quickly spinning a double play. Those are the types of plays I’m looking for, but they were harder to find than you would expect, given how so many plays in the infield are routine. I started with about 15 players from the top 20 on the list and worked my way down to a representative sample of five. Now, let’s get into it.

Oneil Cruz (SS, no. 1 overall)

The throw heard (or seen?) around the world. Everyone in the game of baseball anticipated Oneil Cruz’s call up for months. While another large human (Aaron Judge) was dominating the league, it was irresistible to dream on what a similarly sized person could do while playing shortstop. And while Cruz struggled at first offensively, he was still good for an incredible defensive highlight on a daily basis.

After fielding this ball like an outfielder winding up to throw a laser home, Cruz double clutched and then unloaded a 97-mph throw to first base to catch Luke Williams by a hair. If I’m being honest, this probably isn’t the most fundamentally sound play. Typically a shortstop would shuffle a few steps to their left and quarter turn their lead hip while loading up to throw off a backhand. Cruz opted for a different route; by rounding the ball and fielding it on his side, he gathered enough momentum to make the hardest throw I’ve ever seen from a shortstop. This play was more a spectacle than a lesson on fundamentals, and truly, I don’t care one bit. This was amazing.

Christopher Morel (3B, no. 3 overall)

Christopher Morel moved around the diamond all year for the Cubs, appearing in at least 10 games each at center field, second base, third base, and shortstop. One trait that he has which sticks out among all utility men is his rocket arm: His fastest throw on the season came at 102.3 mph from the outfield, and his average in the infield was 92.2 mph, good for third overall in baseball. Obviously, that skill plays when he finds himself in the infield, especially deep in the hole at third base.

Santiago Espinal isn’t a great runner, ranking in the 42nd percentile for sprint speed. Morel was fully aware of that on a chopped ground ball with lots of top spin that he didn’t have a beat on off the bat. When reading a grounder of this nature, you’re taught to charge the big hop to beat any weird bounce, or to let the ball slow down and field one of those shorter hops. If Morel had read it just slightly faster, you would have seen him come in and take the big hop. His awareness of his 80-grade arm strength and Espinal being a below-average runner allowed him to take the ball’s second hop, use a jab step (the step a catcher makes before throwing down to second), field it at his chest, and unleash a maximum effort throw to first for an out. Not many players can make this throw, but one who is as athletic as Morel can still be powerful off a jab step.

Willy Adames (SS, no. 5 overall)

Willy Adames is on my short list of favorite infield defenders. He pairs hands that are smooth like butter with a strong arm to make plays like this on a routine basis. On this play, the Brewers’ shortstop made an impeccable read off the bat on a sizzling ground ball hit at 100 mph. He was positioned straight up, with the mobility to go both up the middle and in the six hole. This is where knowing the pitch type and desired location plays a big role; with Adrian Houser looking to spot a slider low and away, Adames had to be prepared to go get a grounder in the hole. In the beginning of the clip, you can see him precisely calculate the stride length and speed needed to make an athletic pop-up slide to redirect his body towards first base. The alternative is to move through the ball and take an extra millisecond to make a strong plant and throw off your back foot, but Adames is simply better than that.

Bobby Witt Jr. (3B, no. 13 overall)

Bobby Witt Jr. wasn’t great on the defensive side of the ball in his rookie year, but if this play indicates anything, it’s that he certainly has the skills to be a plus defender at the hot corner. With an 88.4-mph throw, Witt Jr. boasts one of the strongest arms of any infielder in the game. If you break it down further between his throws from third (90.2 mph) versus short (87.4 mph), he juices it up a little bit at the hot corner to make web gems like this.

This highlight was all about instincts. Tyler Freeman is a decent runner at 28.1 ft/s. Witt Jr. was positioned all the way back at third base to protect from the double down the line (and boy was he successful in doing that). After laying out to catch this grounder, he shot up knowing he could only get Freeman with the strongest throw possible and unleashed a seed to beat him on an across-the-diamond throw. The most impressive part of this, aside from the velocity, was the true back spin; the ball maintained its flight the entire way and ended up at Vinnie Pasquantino’s chest. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Carlos Correa (SS, no. 14 overall)

It’s a pleasure to end this appreciation post with my favorite shortstop defender in the game, Carlos Correa. In my last piece where I highlighted outfielders, I mentioned Judge as a player who tones down his throws to ensure perfect accuracy. To me, Correa is the infield version of that. Watch him enough, and you’ll pick up on it. His maximum throw of 95 mph, though, shows he can dial it up when he needs to. This play is a perfect example of that.

Like Witt, Correa throws from an over-the-top arm slot and gets near-perfect back spin on his throws. That shape allows him to get additional carry like a pitcher with a riding fastball would. That skill isn’t always appreciated from position players, though if you ask a first baseman which throws they like the most, it will be the ones from players like Correa who throw with ride and no sink or cut. It makes it easy on first baseman to decide when to stretch, which in turn helps making scoops at different angles easier as well.

Anyway, if Correa didn’t make this spectacular play, the Yankees would have walked it off on an infield single. To execute this, Correa had to use a quick and semi-painful-looking slide to stop his momentum to make a strong throw against the extremely fast Estevan Florial.

Infielders are perhaps the smoothest players on the baseball field and deserve appreciation in every aspect. The next time you watch a shortstop unload a fireball across the diamond, take a second to appreciate it, then try to find how fast it was on Baseball Savant.





Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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EonADS
1 month ago

I really want Oneil Cruz to both be amazing and stick with the Pirates for his whole career. I realize that only one of those will happen, but a man who feels very sorry for baseball fans in Pittsburg can dream.

Pirates Hurdlesmember
1 month ago
Reply to  EonADS

I think we are all just hoping for a Cutch/Hayes type extension that keeps him around for an extra 2-3 years after arbitration.

bosoxforlifemember
1 month ago

I accidentally hit the wrong thumb but I had the good fortune to see Oneil Cruz play two games in Charleston in 2018. He rewarded me with a tape measure shot and a couple of very good defensive plays. A 6’7″ SS definitely grabs your attention and I hope, as you do, that he stays in Pittsburgh for a long time.