Friday, May 3, 2013
The tale of the Tater Trot Tracker
By Chris Gigley
Bryce Harper has one of the fastest home-run trots in the major leagues.
In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Brian Costa covered the surprisingly quick home-run trot of Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who dashes around the bases in 18.5 seconds. But more surprising than that was the fact someone actually tracks those trots.
Larry Granillo, the coordinator of systems and data at Marquette University in Milwaukee, has been timing every big league home-run trot since 2010. His motive to start the Tater Trot Tracker is one most of us can relate to.
“Do you know how fans of other teams complain about something your team’s players do and seem to ignore the fact that their own players do it, too?” Granillo asks. “Cardinals fans were complaining how Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder were slow on the bases. They weren’t bothered by Albert Pujols being slow.”
Granillo checked it out. The results weren’t as damning to Cardinals fans as he’d hoped.
“All three players are slower than the average home-run-trot time but still within the big block of time that makes up most trots,” he says.
The average time, by the way, is 22 seconds.
Granillo realized something after that first test. The home-run trot was one of the few things in baseball -- and sports in general -- that hadn’t been quantified yet. So, he started doing just that.
Observing Fielder was good practice. With all the posturing he and other sluggers do in the batter’s box before the ball even clears the wall, Granillo realized he couldn’t start the timer when they began their trot. He measures a trot from the moment the bat touches the ball to the moment the foot touches the plate.
Granillo says he spends about an hour each day sifting through video of every homer hit the previous day, ranking the 10 slowest and 10 fastest trots and writing a brief summary.
“Basically, it takes me a minute a home run,” he says.
That doesn’t sound bad until you consider that 14,099 homers were hit in the first three years of the tracker. That’s about 235 hours of work, plus a whole lot of numbers piling up in a huge database.
“I’ve done some work with the data before, trying to figure out which teams were faster or whether players who hit no-doubt home runs ran faster or slower than those who hit home runs that just cleared the wall,” he says.
He has yet to find any conclusive trends. But Granillo says he likes having such a great source, he says, “so I can just marvel at how David Ortiz keeps being so slow.”
Ortiz clocks in regularly over 28 seconds and, says Granillo, was the first player he tracked to have a trot of more than 30 seconds that wasn’t caused by an injury. Big Papi reigns again this year, clocking in with the slowest trot of 2013, a leisurely 28.44 seconds.
Ortiz isn’t who Granillo most enjoys watching, however. That honor goes to Oakland A’s utility man Adam Rosales, who makes Harper’s trot look like a walk in the park. Granillo says he took a shine to Rosales in 2010, when Rosales hit seven homers.
“Five of them were solo homers and his times for those were 15.5 to 16.5 seconds,” says Granillo. “Those are inside-the-park home-run times. The two that were slower were only because other people were on base.”
Granillo has kept a lookout for Rosales ever since, hoping against all hope that he’d see him sprint around the bases again. Thanks to injuries and demotions, it’s happened just four times over the past two seasons.
But Granillo is now giddy with anticipation. The A’s activated Rosales earlier this week, and on Wednesday he went 3-for-4 with a double in Anaheim. Tonight, the A’s start a three-game set at a more hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
If A’s manager Bob Melvin pencils Rosales into the starting lineup, Granillo won’t be able to wait for the homer highlights. He’ll watch that game live.