Are the Cardinals fast?

Bader hustling down the line

Are the Cardinals a fast team? My first inclination is to say...”uh, no” in a rather offhanded fashion. One way I would do this is that I would typically just eyeball it - and that’s where the “uh, no” comes from. The way they look on the bases is laughable at times. Fangraphs says that they are just slightly below average on the bases this year. Granted, Baseball-Reference shows that the Cardinals have taken the extra base 44% of the time compared to the league average of 42% of the time; however, it also shows that the Cardinals have just a 60% success rate stealing bases and have been picked off twice as well (Tommy Pham, you know who that was both times). I found another way to consider this as I was parsing through Statcast Sprint Speed data today, however, and found that it might be otherwise. Sprint Speed for Statcast is defined as:

Statcast’s foot speed metric, defined as “feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window” on individual plays. For a player’s seasonal average, the following two types of plays currently qualify for inclusion in Sprint Speed. The best of these runs, approximately two-thirds, are averaged for a player’s seasonal average.
* Runs of two bases or more on non-homers, excluding being a runner on second base when an extra base hit happens * Home to first on “topped” or “weakly hit” balls.

27 ft/sec is considered to be about league average. 30+ ft/sec is ELITE. 23 ft/sec is poor. If I had to guess, I would have guessed the Cardinals were, on average, below-average. I think I would have been incorrect.

The Catchers

Let’s get this out of the way now. Catchers are slow. In fact, on the 20-80 scouting scale, the St. Louis Cardinals’ rookie Carson Kelly has been slapped with a 20 grade on his speed potential. That’s atrocious. Of course, Carson Kelly has shown (in small samples) that a 20 grade was a bit presumptuous and incorrect. So far in 2017 he showed above 25 ft/sec speed and this year is sitting at 24 ft/sec. That may all change, who knows. However, he’s not even down at the “poor” scale defined by StatCast. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s fast. He’s still in the bottom 12 catchers that have at least 10 sprints recorded. Here’s the kicker, he’s been the fastest Cardinal catcher thus far in 2018. The Cardinals catchers are S.L.O.W.

The Infielders

Jose Martinez has been clocked at an average of 26.4 ft/sec, which is slower than league average but 18th out of 45 first basemen (top half). Kolten Wong is above average at 28.3 ft/sec and is 12th of 51 second basemen (top quartile). Greg Garcia is also listed at 2B and has a 27.2 ft/sec foot speed, about league average and 32nd of 51 second basemen (bottom half). Matt Carpenter (26.3 ft/sec) and Jedd Gyorko (24.4 ft/sec) are both slower than league average, with Gyorko being tied for the slowest 3B in all of baseball. Carpenter is T-37th out of 58 at third base (bottom half).

The Outfield

Marcell Ozuna is listed at 28.1 ft/sec, tied with Denard Span (I never would have guessed) at 17th of 52 (top third) in left field. In center field, the Cardinals have Tommy Pham (28.6 ft/sec) as 24th out of 47 - basically a league average speed center fielder but well above league average (closer to elite) foot speed in baseball. In right field, they list Harrison Bader and Dexter Fowler. Bader is near-elite at 29.6 ft/sec (2nd fastest RF) while Fowler is league average foot speed at 27.1 ft/sec (40th fastest RF out of 55). Bader is in the top 4% whereas Fowler is in the bottom third. Note: Very soon, Tyler O’Neill will have at least 10 sprints (he’s currently at 8) and he’s near elite as well at 28.4 ft/sec - third fastest on the team so far between Wong (4th) and Pham (2nd).

That doesn’t make the Cardinals seem fast at all to me - however, it still has 8 of the 14 Cardinals who have at least 10 sprint speeds recorded as above league average speed (with Fowler and Garcia as two of the 8 despite being about league average). Really it breaks down to 6 above average, 2 average, and 6 below average. Seems AVERAGE to me...which is still more than I expected.

Let’s compare league-wide. The Cardinals have 14 players out of the 434 currently listed with 10+ attempts. Here are the Cardinals players in order with their percentile rank:

  1. Bader (T-6th of 434 - 98th percentile)

  2. Pham (63rd of 434 - 85th percentile)

  3. Wong (T-80th of 434 - 81st percentile)

  4. Ozuna (T-98th of 434 - 77th percentile) So 4 guys out of 14 in the top quartile.

  5. DeJong (T-125th of 434 - 71st percentile) This makes 5 guys in the top third.

  6. Munoz (T-180th of 434 - 58th percentile)

  7. Garcia (T-208th of 434 - 52nd percentile)

  8. Fowler (T-208th of 434 - 52nd percentile) 8 of 14 in the top half.

  9. Martinez (T-290th of 434 - 33rd percentile) and here’s why the Cardinals seem slow, this is the first of 6 guys in the bottom third of the league. We have nobody in that 34th-51st percentile range.

  10. Carpenter (308th of 434 - 29th percentile)

  11. Gyorko (T-409th of 434 - 5th percentile) He’s the first of four guys in the bottom 5% of the league by speed!

  12. Kelly (T-411th of 434 - 5th percentile)

  13. Pena (T-418th of 434 - 3rd percentile) oof

  14. Molina (T-426th of 434 - 1st percentile) Double oof

So here’s maybe where it seems they’re a little faster. Let’s look at comparisons. Here is the Cardinals’ speed visualized:

Now, let’s compare that to the other NL Central teams against which we are vying for a playoff spot (and the Reds):

Here are the Brewers:

The Brewers look a bit slower by comparison, no? In all, the Brewers have 8 of 14 players with 10 or more individual runs as below average and another at average-ish.

Here are the Cubs:

The Cubs are a clearly quicker team, yes? I think that’s even more obvious than the Cardinals being faster than the Brewers.

Here are the Pirates:

I would say this is obviously faster than the Cardinals, but they have three positions of above average sprint speed that are doubled up there...and they can’t play all those guys at once. Their aggregate is much faster than the Cardinals for sure, however.

And the Reds:

I can’t conclusively say that the Reds are any faster than the Cardinals looking at that. I feel like their top end is better but that overall they’re fairly equal - aggregate slightly higher.

My conclusion is that while I still think it’s not a FAST team, that they’re not a SLOW team as I imagine. I think it’s arguable that the Cardinals are about tied with the Reds as the third fastest team in the division and ahead of the Brewers. The Cubs are clearly the fastest overall team in the division; however, I think that depending on who is playing for the Pirates and who is playing for the Cardinals that those teams have comparable speed.