In Game 1 of the 2017 ALCS, José Altuve stepped to the plate against Masahiro Tanaka. It had been an incredible year for Altuve up to that point, with his .346 batting average the best in the majors, and his 24 home runs tying a career high. One of Altuve’s most dangerous weapons is his ability to get on base via ground balls (0.354) as he ranked sixth among all qualified hitters in batting average on ground balls in 2017 (min. 100 ground balls).
On the second pitch of his at-bat against Tanaka, Altuve grounded the ball up the box and he was off to the races. Altuve got down the line in a blazing 3.8 seconds to beat the throw from Starlin Castro. He then used his speed to steal second, and came around to score on a Carlos Correa single to give the Astros an early lead in the game that the eventual World Champions would go on to win 2-1.
It was just one example of Altuve using his speed to change the game in 2017. His sprint speed in 2017, however, was an above average but not elite 28.4 feet per second. How is it possible that Altuve can use his speed so well on the basepaths, but doesn’t rank at the top of the sprint speed leaderboard?
Using Statcast data, we can answer this question!
After taking an average of the sprint speed across these plays and including his speed on two-base runs, we arrive at Altuve’s average sprint speed of 28.4 feet per second.
To explain why Altuve gets to first base at such an elite clip, we will need to introduce some new terms.
Sprint speed is a statistic that helps us contextualize speed in baseball. But as we’ve seen, it doesn’t tell the full story. Players like Altuve use their burst to great effect not just on the basepaths but also in the field. There are many plays in baseball that require burst as well as top speed and now with Statcast we are able to identify the players who have the fastest burst!
Burst Leaderboards will be coming soon!