Taking a Bad Route to the Ball = 37 Points of Batting Average!

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Last week I put up a story explaining what it means for an outfielder to take a great route to a ball.

(During the course of Going, Going, Gone, M.E. Sequoyah scouts two prospects who don’t have a lot else going for them, but they know how to run down a fly ball.)

Here’s a great example of taking a poor route to a fly ball:

Byron Buxton is a hot young prospect for the Twins. In this video, watch him reroute himself to his right about four steps before he dives for the ball. His route costs him between six and nine inches in distance, according to a crude diagram and some high school math. He probably also loses a few milliseconds in altering course, and a few more in extra time locating the ball as he readjusts, but let’s leave this aside and look just at distance.

No big deal, right, only six to nine inches?

Look at the end of the play. He makes this high-stretch diving catch, which is also high-risk. Another foot deeper and he’d have hit his head on the wall at the end of the dive, as well. He does this because he can’t quite reach the ball from a normal running stance.

There’s that six to nine inches. The right route, and it’s a nice catch, a reach-up grab as he runs toward the warning track, but it’s not a highlight-reel catch.

And if the ball had been hit another, say, six inches further, it would have been over his head for at least a double given the route he took.

Once a week, say, a given outfielder either just will or just won’t quite reach a fly ball. Taking a better route means that given two equally fast outfielders, one will take away a double and the other won’t. Turn it around, and consider that hitting a double has effectively the same value as taking away a double. In other words, the outfielder with the better route is hitting the equivalent of 37 points higher! Don’t believe me? Take roughly 27 at-bats in a week, assuming full-time play:

  • 7 for 27 = .259
  • 8 for 27 = .296

That’s how important this subtle skill is. Even if you were to say the difference is apparent only once every two weeks, that’s still the equivalent of 18 points in the batting average (and more in OPS, since we’re talking doubles here).

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