Cistulli: The value of elite speed, measured in wins

From SABR member Carson Cistulli at FanGraphs on November 7, 2012:

Apropos largely of nothing — except his notable performance, I suppose, in this past Saturday’s Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game — I’ve dedicated considerable attention to Reds (now) outfield prospect Billy Hamilton in these electronic pages over the last 48 hours.

Hamilton, because he has a tool (in this case, speed) considered by many to be generational, has produced excitement among prospect analysts. In some cases, that excitement is analogous with optimism about Hamilton’s future as a major leaguer; in other cases, it’s more of an aesthetic judgment than any sort of projection about Hamilton’s career.

I wanted, briefly, to speak to the first point — and, specifically, to establish some sort of framework (however rough) for what speed is actually worth in terms of runs and wins.

I’m mostly certain when I suggest that speed produces runs in three main ways: by means of defensive range, baserunning (both via the stolen base and other manner of advancement), and infield hits/drag bunts. In the case of the first two elements (range and baserunning), speed alone isn’t even responsible for the entirety of the skill. There are excellent defenders, for example, whose range is due not only to footspeed but also to making good reads on, and taking straight paths to, batted balls. Likewise, there are players with merely average speed who, nevertheless, are above-average baserunners due to excellent decision-making. For the sake of this post, however, both elements will be considered purely as expressions of footspeed.

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This page was last updated November 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm MST.