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March 28, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Fun With Tater Trots

by Larry Granillo

We're almost there: Opening Day is just a few days away. It's a very exciting time. I'm certain I won't be the only one counting down the minutes until first pitch on Thursday.

Until that first pitch actually comes, I wanted to remind everyone of a new segment that will be popping up here at Baseball Prospectus. It's called the Tater Trot Tracker, and, for anyone who followed Wezen-Ball last year, you know exactly what it is. For those who didn't, the Tater Trot Tracker is a record of how long it takes every major league player to run out his home runs. Each afternoon, I watch video of the previous night's home runs and time each trot.

It might sound a little weird - or obsessive - or trite - or any of 1,000 other adjectives for "unnecessary", but it's fun. It's something that you don't notice until it's pointed out to you, but there are quite a few players in the big leagues with interesting and unique tendencies on the basepaths. Highlighting these on a daily basis turns out to be something people enjoy. And now I'm happy to be doing it again for the 2011 season.

To get everyone in the mood for the Tater Trot Tracker, I've compiled this list of five of my favorite trots of the year from 2010. In December, I did a separate "Top 10" list which featured home runs like this:

8. Jose Bautista Sticks it to the Yankees
August 23 - 28.74 seconds [video]

Until the eighth, when Bautista hit his second bomb of the game. And he wasn't going to let the Yankees forget it, purposely taking his time around the bases. If you have any doubt, listen to his quote after the game: "I don't know what his reasons were, but I dealt with it for the rest of the game and that's exactly why I took my time running the bases just to enjoy it. And I have no shame in it given what happened earlier in the game."

4. Jay Bruce Welcomes the Reds to the Postseason
September 28 - 16.92* seconds [video]
The typical walkoff home run trot takes about 2.5 seconds longer than the average. This could be for a couple of reasons, but is most likely due to the celebratory nature of the trot and the way the player's teammates mob the plate waiting for him. Jay Bruce's September 28 trot didn't care for those rules, though. Bruce and his teammates had a playoff-clinching to celebrate, after all. This might be my single favorite trot of the year.

This list today is a little different, but they do share something in common: a celebration of the fun and unique. Let's get to the list!

Gustavo Chacin - May 31 - 27.28 seconds [linkvideo]
A typical home run trot clocks in somewhere around 22 seconds (more on average trot times coming later this week), with anything over 25 seconds being obviously slow and anything over 28 seconds being memorably slow. Chacin may not have reached the 28 second-mark, but his home run was incredibly memorable. It was only Chacin's eighth career at-bat, while 2010 was the first season since 2007 that he had pitched in the big leagues. What really makes the trot, though, is the video of him hustling around those bases. Just watch the way he has to hold onto his helmet so that it doesn't fly off. I love it.

Brooks Conrad - May 20 - 22.18 seconds [linkvideo]
It's hard not to love a walkoff grand slam, no matter the circumstances. But what happened on May 20, 2010, was something else. First, the Braves entered the ninth down by 9-3. When Conrad stepped to the plate, Atlanta was down three with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth. Conrad connected on a Francisco Cordero pitch, but it was almost caught by Laynce Nix. In fact, it was so "almost" caught that Conrad actualy thought it was caught. He even turned around at first to head back to the dugout ejected. Instead, it was a game-ending grand slam. What a funny game.

Alex Gonzalez - April 21 - 29.28 seconds [linkvideo]
This trot ended the season as the 7th slowest trot of the year (and the only non-injury slowest trot to not belong to David Ortiz), but it was at-or-near the top for a long time. And it's not even Gonzalez's fault. He started his trot at a normal clip, but something happened as he rounded first base. He missed the bag and was forced to turn around and touch it before he was called out. From there, he slowed his trot down immensely, only touching home plate (eventually) after nearly a half-minute.

Jim Thome (June 28 - linkvideo) & Bengie Molina (July 16 - linkvideo) hit triples
Two of the slowest men in the game in 2010 both managed to hit triples during the year. It was a shocking sight for everyone, and it got everyone wondering just how quickly these two behemoths could get to third base. Thanks to the Tater Trot Tracker, I can tell you that Thome took only 13.08 seconds to register his triple. Molina was a different story, though. His triple took an astounding 14.67 seconds, or slower than two inside-the-park home runs!

Bart Simpson - October 10 - 17.85 seconds - [link]
And, finally, we come, as always, to The Simpsons. In October, the series showed an episode dealing with the stats-vs.-heart debate, when Lisa takes over Bart's Little League team as manager and starts winning by playing the percentages. Eventually, it comes down to Bart, who Lisa orders to take a walk so they can win. Bart ignores the order and swings away, resulting in one of the best home run trots you'll ever see. It involves the moonwalk, cartwheels, and the worm. (And if you're interested in home run trots on television, how about this tater trot from none other than Mr. Ed? Check it out.)

That'll do it for today. There are many, many more trots I could have chosen for this list (or the one I did in December), and, come Friday, we'll have a whole season's worth to look forward to. I hope everyone joins me on the Tater Trot Tracker journey once the season begins. It's a fun trip, I promise.

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The Week in Quotes: 3/... (03/28)
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