We’ve had a lot of fun with Statcast in the past couple of years. The MLBAM data-collecting initiative which provides us with information about the location and movement of the ball and every player on the field at any given time tells us all manner of things. Exit velocity of hits and the velocity of fielder’s throws. The angle of elevation of each batted ball. Route efficiency for fielders and the speed at which they ran those routes.
While I am certain that clubs and researchers are using this data to discover new things about baseball and will, eventually, turn those discoveries into strategies, for the average fan it feels rather gimmicky. Information for its own sake which we cannot really use in any real way. That’s probably OK as there is a lot of information out there that average fans can’t use in any real way — some sportswriters have made a second career out of cataloging such things — but sometimes it’s all a bit chuckle worthy. Such as when some of the “greatest” feats of the Statcast Era are . . . fairly dubious.
For example, the hardest ball yet hit in the Statcast era happened back in June. It, not surprisingly, came off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. If you think it was a 500-foot home run, however, you’re wrong. It was a grounder that resulted in an easy double play.
The next month the fastest pitch in the Statcast era occurred. It was, not surprisingly, hurled by the arm of Aroldis Chapman. If you think it was an intimidating third strike which made the batter question his life choices up to that point, however, you’re wrong. It was a ball low and inside.
In the spirit of those grand accomplishments, we give you Jackie Bradley Jr.’s cannon of an arm:
Which, as you can see, was ten feet in front of the plate and about ten feet up the first base line, endangering no runner whatsoever.
I don’t mean to knock the folks behind Statcast. As I said, I genuinely believe that the information they are tracking and compiling will lead to breakthroughs at some point. But the raw data of a fast throw or a hard hit does very little for the average fan. And when so many of the superlatives of the Statcast Era come on ordinary or even unsuccessful efforts, well, we average fans have to wonder what in the hell is the point.
Maybe MLB and broadcasters should place less of an effort on showing the average fan these things and more time giving us context or information that is actually useful in the moment. For now it just feels like a branding exercise for Statcast. A product none of us are ever going to buy.