Fresh cut grass is in the air and players have reported. It’s damned near baseball season and a fan can’t help but start thinking of late nights on the back porch watching (what will hopefully be) quality baseball being played. A fan also has to think about all the great plays they’ll see during the season. A nice 5-4-3 double play to end a rally, a leadoff homerun, or even a well timed sac bunt all make a baseball fan smile and converse with their buddies about the finer merits of the game.
One of the things that has popped up in the recent years that seems a bit of an overkill though is outfielders (mostly centerfielders, it seems) throwing their body flat to the ground as they follow through on a throw to the plate. What are the reasons for this play? Maybe one guy did it and everyone else just started doing it. Kind of like Dale Jr. in NASCAR when everyone’s trying to rub debris off their tires before a restart. At least that’s what I’d like to think is happening.
What is probably more likely is that players are trying to “save their arm” or not injure their lower body after a throw. The thought would be that they don’t have to violently stop their throwing arm after the motion or that they might be able to get just a little extra behind that throw to home. But do they really need that little extra? Let’s take a look after the jump.
A general MLB stadium will have a center field fence sitting at least 400 feet from home plate. A medium depth fly ball to center would put the outfielder about 350 feet from home on a sac fly. So our scenario is a fielder attempting to throw a ball 350 feet before a player can run 90 feet. We’ll leave out the act of tagging the runner because it’s hard to quantify the tenths of seconds this takes. In addition, we’ll trade those split seconds it takes to tag the runner out with the split second the runner loses between the fielder making the catch and him actually leaving the base for home on the tag up. In all, we’ll call that a wash.
Now back to fielders needing to get “just a little extra” on that throw and heaving themselves to the ground. A decent 60 yard dash time for a Major League ball player is around 6.7 seconds. One base length is 30 yards so an average player can cover that distance in 3.75 seconds. How fast do you have to throw a ball to make it travel 350 feet in 3.35econds? Not very hard to be honest. In fact, the outfielder only has to get the ball in at 71 mph. With two weeks worth of training I could throw that hard left handed.
Unless we’re talking Jim Edmonds the ball will not always be on target, but if a player throws the ball in at 80 mph then it will hit the catcher’s mitt in 3.0 seconds. That should be plenty of time to field the ball and tag a runner on the opposite side of the plate. So why then do players think they have to uncork their arm every time they throw through to home? It’s pretty simple: because it looks good. When you see Vlad unload from right field to third and hose a guy who thought he could go first-to-third on a single to right it is damned impressive. What most people forget is that half the time an outfielder unloads with everything they have the ball ends up so far off line he pulls his man off the bag.
Vlad isn’t the best example because he has a fairly accurate arm, but he’s a good example because everyone wants to think they have his arm. Because of that we end up watching grown men throw themselves on the ground while hurling a baseball toward home plate. And because of that I end up watching guys slide in safe ahead of errant throws about 90 percent of the time. Don’t believe me? Watch Baseball Tonight some time. I guarantee you see at least 5 highlights of guys getting gunned at the plate and the studio guys will rave about the guy’s arm. When a guy crosses safely they don’t comment about the errant throw. It’s all because the errant throw is commonplace due to outfielders not understanding they have plenty of time to slow down and make an accurate throw.