Leonys Martin and Throwing

Martin
I was thinking about the Rangers 2014 season the other day, and about the things I’m excited about for next year’s team. There is Darvish, another year of Elvis, the bullpen, hopefully a full-time gig for Profar, and the entire team’s defense, but for some reason I started to get really excited about watching Leonys Martin throw again. 
Martin finished the year fourth in all of baseball in outfield assists with 14. The leader for the year was Alex Gordon with 17. Gordon started 155 games this year. Martin started 125 games. Even though he didn’t tally the most runners gunned down, he may have been the most efficient.

It became very clear, very quickly, that Leonys has an incredible knack for throwing out runners. It’s not just the arm strength. It perhaps is especially not just the arm strength. Martin’s arm strength alone wouldn’t put him in the conversation for best outfield throwers in the game. More than the power on the throw, it’s the speed at which the ball makes the transition from glove to arm to in the air to glove. The speed of Martin’s release kicks his above-average arm up to elite. The third cog is his accuracy. Judging accuracy, I’m prone to make a selective memory bias error in judgment, but I have a hard time remembering throws from Leonys that missed the mark.

I found video highlights of eight of Martin’s fourteen outfield assists from this year, and put them into GIF form for us all to watch on loop over and over until pitchers and catchers report.

April 28th – Texas at Minnesota – Victim: Jamey Carroll

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This was Martin’s first assist on the year, gunning down Carroll at third. This was one of the shortest throws Martin made all year to nab a baserunner, as it was a shallow single to center. It appears as Leonys approaches the ball  he wasn’t expecting Carroll to attempt to advance. Yet, he put himself in a good fielding position, and as soon as he had the ball in his glove wasted no time in delivering a strike to Adrian Beltre.

When I say he wasted no time, I mean it. I timed (imperfectly) Leonys’s release time (from glove to release) at 0.80 seconds. The pop time (from glove to glove) was 2.40 seconds. To set a baseline, the league’s fastest baserunners get from home to first in about 3.80 seconds. Runners going from first to third are faster than that in the 90 feet between second and third due to the running start, but let’s just say Jamey Carroll isn’t going to make it very far in 2.40 seconds, no matter how big of a running start he has.

May 8th – Texas at Milwaukee – Victim: Jean Segura

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This was perhaps the moment when most Texas fans bolted upright in their seats and realized that the Leonys was special, and the Rangers haven’t had a throwing center fielder like Martin in a long time.

Segura is not a burner, but he is definitely fast. It’s not a perfect measure of speed, but Segura stole 44 bases this year. There were two outs before the play, which means Segura was moving on contact. The ball wasn’t roped into center, so Leonys had to come in a fair distance to get to it. Once he got to it, he loaded up and unleashed his howitzer to drill a waiting AJ Pierzynski in the chest right on top of the plate. This ended a two-out rally for the Brewers, and preserved a shutdown inning for Derek Holland.

May 17th – Texas vs. Detroit – Victim: Andy Dirks

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This was a tougher throw, as Martin had to range to his left into right-center field and throw back to his right towards home. He pinpointed it exactly where it needed to be – knee high on the third base corner of home plate.

After this throw, this was the reaction of the Rangers coaches in the dugout:

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Washington to Moore: “slap a happy mama!”

[both laugh]

[Moore doesn’t know what he’s laughing at]

Washington to Maddux: “wrestle a pig backwards you know what I got?”

Maddux: “I don’t speak jive.”

[Washington laughs]

August 7th – Texas at Los Angeles – Victim: Erick Aybar

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This throw began a string of eight days in which Leonys tallied five assists. It was the second assist he would get from right field this season. While he didn’t field this ball in deep right field, it wasn’t shallow, per se either, and yet the throw came on a line to third base in the air the whole way.

I love how Adrian Beltre fields incoming throws to third. When possible, he sets up one to two steps in front of the base to receive the ball and tag the runner before his feet ever have a chance of reaching the base. No monkey business with trying to tag sliding feet in the six inches before the bag. In this case, he tagged Aybar in the neck, which Aybar was none too pleased about.

August 10th – Texas at Houston – Victim: Jose Altuve

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This is my favorite GIF of them all, because we see the entire play develop from one camera the entire time.

This is where Altuve was when Leonys picked up the ball:

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This is where Altuve was when Pierzynski caught the throw from Leonys:
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The release time on this play was 0.90 seconds. The pop time was 3.30 seconds, coming from medium deep left-center field. Altuve is slower than you’d think he is, but there aren’t many baserunners who beat that throw.

For comparison’s sake, I’ll pause here to show this Nelson Cruz GIF from an outfield assist he had in 2012 (he only had one in 2013, and I didn’t find the video). Cruz has been the standard bearer for Texas outfield arms in recent history, so I think it is a worthy comparison to determine if Leonys is the top gun in town.

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On this play, Cruz’s release time was 1.20 seconds. You can see how much longer Cruz’s wind-up is before firing home in comparison to Leonys’s rapid exchange. Cruz had similar release times on other throws I looked at as well. The pop time was 3.20 seconds, coming from what appears to be shallow right field.

As far as comparisons are concerned, I think Leonys beats Cruz by about 0.30 seconds on release time on average and has fairly comparable arm strength, which is approximately the difference between being able to throw out Jose Altuve and Jean Segura.

August 14th – Texas vs. Milwaukee – Victims: Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez

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The book may have gotten out on Martin at this point that he can throw runners out, which may be why both of the victims from this game were fast runners – they thought they could still beat the hose of Leonys. They were wrong.

This is where Segura was when Leonys picked up the ball, which he then double-clutched and still had time to throw out Segura:

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Bonus points to Jurickson Profar for slamming the tag into Segura’s jawbone.

September 16th – Texas at Tampa Bay – Victim: Yunel Escobar

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This was Martin’s fourteenth and final assist of the year, and was reminiscent of the first time he shot down Segura in Milwaukee. He charged the ball with his body under control and put himself in position to field the ball cleanly, before uncorking his short and violent throwing motion to put a rope on Pierzynski’s chest.

The consistency that Leonys displayed in throwing out runners this season was so pristine that it is unlikely that he has a repeat performance in 2014. Baserunners get smarter, and will test him less, as we have seen happen to Nelson Cruz over the last two years. Once word gets around, third base coaches send runners home less often, and baserunners are less prone to attempt moving from first to third. That fear is a weapon too, though.

The 14 assists that Martin racked up this year were the most by a Texas Rangers outfielder since Ruben Sierra had 15 in 1991. With what he showed in 2013, Leonys is in the discussion for best outfield arm in Rangers history. Special tools make for special moments.

I can’t wait until the next time a line drive goes back through the box out to Leonys and the runner on second is sent home. 

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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