Michael Conforto made a pretty sweet diving catch in his first start in center field in Marlins Park. Here are some new-ish defensive metrics. Statcast, a tracking system that debuted last season, has created new defensive metrics for baseball analysis. Some of these defensive metrics include top speed in miles per hour, first step quickness, arm strength in miles per hour, and efficiency of the route taken to catch the ball.
Unfortunately, MLB has decided to not release these new metrics in large quantities to the public yet, and nobody knows when, or if, they ever will. But they do release some data in small amounts to the public.
Last week, Michael Conforto was clocked by Statcast at 94.3 miles per hour out of the hand on a throw home to nail a runner trying to score at home plate, showing off top-notch arm strength.
Yoenis Cespedes, well known for his cannon of an arm, was clocked at an identical 94.3 mph by Statcast when he threw out Starlin Castro at home plate in Game 1 of the NLCS at Citi Field last season. With Cespedes's quad strain giving him mobility trouble, the Mets have decided to use Conforto in center field against right-handed pitchers to help ease the burden on Cespedes's ailing quad.
The first batter in the first inning of Conforto's very first start in center field-—in the spacious Marlins Park outfield—hit a low fly ball that Conforto ran down, making a spectacular highlight reel catch.
The Statcast metrics on the catch measured Conforto at the following:
- Route efficiency: 97.8%
- Max speed: 18.2 mph
- Distance covered: 60.2 feet
Where the new Statcast defensive metrics get a little tricky is that it isn't widely publicized what exactly amounts to good or bad Statcast defensive metrics, or how we can compare each player to all the players across baseball. But there is some limited amount of perspective around the net if you poke around.
A route efficiency of 97.8% on a catch in the outfield is considered very good, with 100% being the best mark possible on a catch. Last season, the leaders in average outfield route efficiency were tracked between 93% and 94% for all of their catches together.
Average route efficiency can perhaps be a little skewed when outfielders purposely take less efficient routes, like on tag up plays where the outfielder needs to position himself to have his momentum traveling forward in order to make the best possible throw. Like most Statcast defensive stuff, there isn't a whole lot of public research into this topic.
But looking at some similar individual catches made by some of the best defensive outfielders in baseball can perhaps help give a decent benchmark for comparison. Jackie Bradley Jr. in particular made a diving catch in center field earlier this month that had a route efficiency of 97.6%, with a max speed of 19.8 mph over the course of 70 feet covered. Billy Hamilton, the fastest baseball player on the planet, had a max speed of 21.2 mph over 91 feet covered on a diving catch that he appeared to turn the jets on for and has also registered max speeds as high as 23 mph in the outfield.
The most similar diving catch I could find to Conforto's in terms of angle and distance covered was a catch made by teammate Juan Lagares in CF, also in Marlins Park. You might remember this catch from the first week of June.
The Statcast metrics on this catch:
- Route efficiency: 97.9%
- Max speed: 18.8 mph
- Distance covered: 56.7 feet
Those appear to be pretty similar numbers to Conforto's catch.
So are the defensive metrics on Conforto's diving catch from Sunday considered good for center field? I'm not really qualified to make a conclusion. There are also some key metrics missing in the public release, like first step jump/read and acceleration. The fact that the route efficiency and max speed are similar to Juan Lagares' diving catch across a similar distance probably is a good thing. Regardless, it sure was an aesthetically pleasing catch to watch.