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What chance did Springer have at that ball?

You know what ball we’re talking about

MLB: AUG 29 Cubs at Blue Jays Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The big what-if of the 2022 Blue Jays season will be whether George Springer would have caught the ball J.P. Crawford flared into centre to tie the game in the 8th inning had Bo Bichette not been there.

Some have pointed to the Statcast output, which puts the estimated batting average for a ball hit 38 degrees at 70 MPH at 55%, giving Springer a real shot at catching it. But that only considers the launch angle and exit velocity of the ball, and not the direction the ball is hit. Not having to cover as much ground and playing a little shallower, that ball hit at a corner outfielder has a better chance of being caught than to centre.

To try and get a better sense for the specific chances, I searched Baseball Savant for all similar fly balls hit in 2022 with a more granular screen based on three limitations. First, hits within within three degrees of dead centre (either way). Second ball, the projected distance between 225 and 250 feet (putting the 234 yesterday roughly in the middle). Third, launch angles between 36 and 40 degrees, within two of the 38 degree launch angle.

That returned 46 balls (which actually surprised me being that few). Of those, 26 went for hits, so the 57% pretty closely matches the 55% that Savant returned. Interestingly, one of those was to Springer himself only a month ago:

Here’s the thing though — Statcast has that ball’s distance at 250 feet, the very upper extent of the range. The ball yesterday was recorded at 234, and if there were 16 more feet to cover Springer gets to that ball Ramon Urias hit.

Looking over the data, it seemed that even within the relatively tight band of 225 to 250 feet on those type of fly balls, there’s a pretty difference in success rate. At the low end, generally past the range of the infield but with a ton of ground to cover for the centre fielder, the estimated hit percentages were in the 50-60% range. At the higher end, it was closer to 20%.

Slicing the data into more granular bins really shows this. 20 balls were hit with estimated distances of more than 240 feet (241-250). There were only 6 hits.

There were a similar number of balls hit between 230 and 240 feet at 21. But contrast, 16 of those fell in whereas only 5 were caught for a hit rate of of 76%. J.P. Crawford dumped a ball literally into outer extent of the Goldilocks zone where balls are too far past the infielders, but generally beyond the range of most centrefielders.

Below is a montage of the five balls caught. Note the last likely has a data hiccup being more to right-centre and caught pretty easily by the right fielder so isn’t really directly comparable. The other four are by fairly speedy CFs, though interestingly their spring speeds are all within one foot of Springer’s.

Here’s a link to the search results at Baseball Savant for all 46 balls, there’s video clips for each ball by clicking on the player’s name to show more details (or one can adjust the parameters if one wishes).