TOWER GROVE • During spring training in 2011, I spent time talking to Cardinals pitchers and coaches and catchers about the importance of 1.3 seconds. That sliver on a stopwatch meant the world to them.
It had everything to do with Yadier Molina.
It helped them win the World Series. It helped them win last night.
The time, 1.3 seconds, comes from a simple bit of arithmetic that takes the amount of time a pitcher needs to throw the ball to the plate and the time it takes the catcher to fire to second base. During the course of the reporting for a story that you can read here, pitching coach Dave Duncan explained how any throw to second base -- "pop time," as some call it -- greater than 2 seconds was unacceptable. That's because it would mean the pitcher speeding up his delivery to quicker than 1.3 seconds. Jason Motte goes off at about 1.4 seconds.
Molina was on the other end of the clock from unacceptable: His "pop time" is exceptional. And, if some of the calculations are true about his throw last night are correct, his time to get the Los Angeles Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon was ... well, first a word from Mike Matheny.
"I can’t be above 2 seconds," Matheny told me during spring training 2011, back before he was manager and was just working with the Cardinals' catchers on this very skill. "It sounds like we’re splitting hairs but there is a huge difference between a 1.92 and a 1.98. (The) 1.98s for me should not be there. When I was throwing my best, it was a high 1.80s, low 1.90. Yadi is consistently in the high 1.80s. He’s very impressive, actually.
"They have all different pop time," Matheny continued. "They should be pretty consistent. You’ll throw 1.6 to second, and probably you don’t. I’m sure that Yadi has it in the 1.7. ... If (the pitcher) is a 1.3 or a 1.4 and you’re in the mid-1.80s, you’re going to trhow out fast runners. It’s amazing you’re talking about one-hundredths of seconds, but that’s truly what separates these guys."
Matheny went on to describe how some catchers become so consumed with getting the runner that they call fastballs to know they can get the quickest delivery possible from the pitcher.
He said he had to fight the urge.
If a pitcher can get his delivery to the 1.3-seconds area, then it should be enough. Only a fast runner is going to steal the base. During the World Series, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said they clocked Motte at 1.4 often enough that they thought their fast runners could get second -- even on Molina.
Well, Gordon is a fast runner.
Dodgers don't come much faster than Gordon.
So how fast was Molina's throw to second base last night?
That was the question that Larry Granillo attempted to answer today at Baseball Prospectus. He employed a stopwatch and some help for this article that appeared today, and according to the calculations he and his group made Molina's throw left his hand at 83 mph. It averaged 72 mph glove to glove, and that means it had a time of ...
That appears to be warp speed compared to the impulse power Matheny was talking about above. There is a reason. Matheny is using pop time as the milliseconds between the moment the ball pops! into Molina's mitt to when it pops! into the middle infielder's glove. What Granillo clocked is, well, release-to-pop. The time it took Molina to uncoil from his crouch to make the throw is subtracted from Granillo's measurement because that would tell us nothing, of course, about the velocity of Molina's throw.
The bet here is that Molina -- 1.2 seconds from hand or 1.7 seconds from pop to pop -- made one of the fastest throws last night of any catcher in the majors yet this year.
He had to.
That's the only throw that would beat Gordon.
Please do check out the story from October about how the Cardinals pitchers and catchers work on the 1.3-second delivery. I found it fascinating. And this was the opportunity I've been looking for to use the quotes from Matheny that didn't make that article.