C J.T. Realmuto, MLB’s most athletic catcher
Realmuto (.278/.332/.451, 17 home runs) put up his second consecutive above-average offensive season, yet to merely look at his batting line somewhat undersells the skills the former high school quarterback provides behind the plate. He’s not Major League Baseball’s best catcher, but he is MLB’s most athletic backstop. When we introduced Sprint Speed, we were struck not by the fact that he’s MLB’s fastest catcher — that was expected — but that his top speed was comparable to up-the-middle players like Andrew McCutchen, Ian Happ and Trout.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) June 28, 2017
He also puts that athleticism to good use by owning MLB’s most elite pop time. Among the 58 catchers who faced at least 10 stolen-base attempts at second, Realmuto’s 1.89-second average was tied with San Diego’s Austin Hedges for the best in the big leagues.
1B Joey Votto, The king of plate discipline
There are a million different reasons why the Hall-of-Fame-bound Votto is great, but none moreso than his control of the strike zone. Consider this: 323 batters saw at least 300 pitches outside the Statcast™ detailed zone in 2017. No one took a swing at fewer of those pitches than Votto, who went after just 5.3 percent. At the other end, Salvador Perez went after nearly 39 percent of those pitches, and it matters; for Votto, he hit .347 with an 88-mph exit velocity when he made contact inside the zone or on the edges, and just .063 with a 68.9-mph exit velocity outside that area.
2B Jose Altuve, Speed when he needs it
Though Altuve is a fast player, having stolen 30 or more bases in each of his six big league seasons, his speed is more “above average” than “elite.” Altuve’s average 28 feet-per-second Sprint Speed is better than the Major League average of 27, yet not near the 30 that the elite runners show, and it’s at the back end of the top 10 of second basemen.
However, Altuve showed he could turn it on when he needed to. While Altuve’s overall speed was more “good” than “great,” he showed the ability to turn it on in key moments, as we saw when he scored the winning run in Game 2 of the Amercian League Championship Series, when he displayed a 29.5 feet-per-second Sprint Speed that was well above his average. And in September, he had the fastest home-to-first time Statcast™ has measured in its three season — a mere 3.33 seconds. That’s part of how Altuve put up 30 non-bunt infield hits, the most in baseball.
SS Carlos Correa, Houston’s rocket
When Correa was promoted to the big leagues in 2015, the MLB.com scouting report indicated that he had a “rocket arm with accuracy … with his arm strength earning a scouting grade of 70,” or close to elite on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. While Correa has obviously proven himself to be an elite hitter in his three seasons — his .288/.366/.498 cumulative line from 2015-17 is basically the same as Miguel Cabrera or Daniel Murphy — what we’re most interested in right now is showcasing that arm.
We measure arm strength in terms of “maximum-effort throws,” which is to say we throw out all the unimportant lobs and take the average of the top 10 percent of a player’s throws. In 2015, Correa’s average of 86.1 mph was tied for fifth among 35 shortstops with at least 10 qualified throws. In ’16, his 87.5 mph was fourth of 36. And in ’17, his 88.1 mph was first of 36. It’s just another great thing about him.
3B Manny Machado, elite hard-hit compiler
While Machado may still be best known for his fantastic defense, three straight seasons of 30 home runs show that he’s got some serious pop in his bat, too. Yet at the All-Star break, Baltimore’s young star was sitting on a pretty disappointing .230/.296/.445 line. But as we said at the time, Machado was a good bet for a rebound, because despite the unimpressive line, he was still hitting the ball hard. No hitter at the time had more batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more.
That gave us confidence that his second half would be better, and it was — by a lot: .290/.326/.500. By the end of the year, Machado had compiled 250 batted balls that had an exit velocity of 95 mph or harder — which is our break point for a “hard-hit” ball — and that was the most in Major League Baseball. (Second on the list was Jose Abreu with 230 hard-hit balls.) Machado hit .478 at 95 mph or over, and just .170 under that mark. Hitting it hard is important, and he did it more than anyone.
LF Tommy Pham‘s all-around breakout season
Pham’s first full season (.306/.411/.520) was a smashing success, for more reasons than one. Of the 29 left fielders who had 10 “max-effort throws,” Pham’s average of 93.7 mph was second only to Starling Marte‘s 94.1, and Pham rated as a strong +6 Outs Above Average, too. On the bases, only two left fielders — Delino DeShields and Jose Pirela — had a higher Sprint Speed than Pham’s near-elite 28.7 feet per second. And at the plate, of the 47 left fielders who put 100 non-grounders in play, only one Michael Confortosaw more production than Pham’s .720 wOBA.
CF Byron Buxton, MLB’s fastest man
We didn’t even have Sprint Speed or Outs Above Average last year, and Buxton’s speed was such that he still made the 2016 version of this team. He’s the only repeat player this year, because our new tools have put his skills into much clearer focus. His 30.2 feet-per-second Sprint Speed is tops in the big leagues, just ahead of Billy Hamilton. His +24 OAA mark is also the best, well ahead of Ender Inciarte‘s +19. And in August, he broke his own home-to-home record by circling the bases in just 13.85 seconds, a new mark. It says here that won’t be his last.
RF Aaron Judge, 2017′s Statcast™ star of the year
If the first few years of Statcast™ were about Giancarlo Stanton and Aroldis Chapman, then 2017 was entirely about Judge. He was first among every hitter in baseball in Expected wOBA (.446), first in average exit velocity (94.9 mph) and first in hard-hit percentage (55 percent). And not only was he first in Barrels with 87, but he set a new single-season record, at least among the three years we’ve been tracking. Judge had four of the five hardest-hit balls of the year, topping out at 121.1 mph, and his 495-ft blast on June 11 was the longest home run of the season — other than the four homers of 500 feet or more he had in the Home Run Derby.
We could obviously fill endless columns with Judge’s rookie exploits, but it’s worth noting that it’s not only about his power bat. Only 13 outfielders had a throw tracked at 99 mph or harder in 2017, and Judge was one of them.
SP Max Scherzer, 2017′s most dominant starter
Sometimes, you don’t need to overcomplicate things, because Scherzer has won two straight National League Cy Young Awards. He led all starters with an elite .242 xwOBA, and remember that’s a number that includes both quality of contact and amount of contact. Only one starter, Chris Sale, had a higher strikeout rate than Scherzer’s 34.4 percent; only eight starters had a lower hard-hit rate than his 29.2 percent. In part due to his elite four-seam spin rate (his 2504 RPM was third behind only Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish among 193 starters who threw 200), Scherzer is difficult to hit and hard to square up.
RP Kenley Jansen, 2017′s most dominant pitcher
Similar to Scherzer, you already know that Jansen is great. But there are a lot of great relievers who throw hard and pile up strikeouts, making it harder to stand out. Jansen did so anyway. Statcast™’s xwOBA metric accounts both for the likelihood of a batted ball becoming a hit as well as pure whiffs and walks, and if you were to look at the 254 relievers who faced 100 batters, you’d find that the elite group — from No. 2 to No. 20 — is bunched from .216 to .246. As you can guess, Jansen is No. 1. But it’s not by a little — his .198 puts him up there by a large margin.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.