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2020 Unsung Hero: Tim Locastro

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Despite the unconventional slate of candidates, we end up with a player nominated.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

With 39% of the vote, Tim Locastro fell short of an outright majority, but still had more than twice as many votes as anyone else. Taylor Clarke and the broadcast crew ended up tied for second place, but that’s all the way back on 17%. This cements Locastro’s status as a fan favorite - and this year was a rather less painful experience for him, as he didn’t have to set any records for getting hit by pitches... It’s impressive that he has become so well liked here, considering he made his major-league debut as a member of the Dodgers*. But he barely made a ripple there, getting only 15 PA over 2017-18 and being dealt to the Yankees in November 2018 for a prospect and cash.

Two months later, the Yankees turned round and dealt him to the Diamondbacks for another prospect (Ronald Roman, about whom I’ve been able to find out virtually nothing) and cash. While the news was overshadowed by the team signing Wilmer Flores, edbigghead did mention it in Snake Bytes, stating “It is our duty to save his soul” after Locastro’s stint in both West- and East-coast branches of the Evil Empire. But hardly anyone even mentioned his arrival in the comments section, such was the low-key nature of his arrival. It didn’t take long for him to come into play during 2019, being called up on April 7 after catcher Alex Avila went onto the injured list. And, in his second PA for Arizona, this happened:

Nobody paid much attention at the time, but it began a remarkable year of trotting down to first-base for Locastro, who was hit 22 times, in only 250 PA. That was a franchise record, and the previous holder, Justin Upton, needed 674 PA for his 19 HBP in 2011. Nobody else has recorded even 20 plunkings in fewer than 300 PA, since they started being tracked back in 1884. We likely reached peak Locastro on May 24 that year, when he was hit in the third, sixth and seventh innings against the Giants (below). Only eight players in the last decade have had three HBP in a game. Normally, it’d be an indication that you had really pissed off the opposition for some reason, but for Tim, it was just another day at the office...

Despite a mere 124 games, he is sixth on the franchise list for HBP, with 26 - he may make the top three this year, needing ten more to pass J-Up for that spot. But that isn’t the only aspect of Locastro’s game. His speed is blistering: in both 2019 and 2020, Statcast tagged Tim as fastest in baseball, with sprint speeds of 30.8 and 30.7 feet per second respectively. On September 9 this year, he showcased that speed, averaging 31 feet per second, on a triple off Clayton Kershaw. But, of course, such elite velocity helps him on defense just as much. Below, you’ll find that triple, as well as some of his other plays, including a play classed by Statcast as 5*, to retire A.J. Pollock, which Locastro makes look near-routine.

But of course, it’s in stolen bases that Locastro stands on the edge of greatness. He is now 26-0 there to start his major-league career. Only one player has ever gone deeper without getting caught, and Tim Raines’s 27 SB mark is within reach. Locastro was relatively subdued in this area during 2020, stealing only four bases - the first time he has had more extra-base hits than SB. But he made up for it by batting .290, and his .859 OPS was higher than any hitter on the team this year, except for Kole Calhoun (.864). That helped Locastro put up 0.7 bWAR in only 82 PA, as good a rate as anybody. Below, you can see all four of his steals, though it does include the unfortunate theft of second, where he was out at home...

Quite what Locastro’s role in 2021 will be, remains to be seen. He has shown himself capable of playing all three outfield positions, and represents a very good leadoff option. I suspect he’ll probably operate as a fourth outfielder, but will also see action coming off the bench late in games, when we need some action on the basepaths. He is certainly one of the most fun players to watch for the Diamondbacks in recent seasons, and you get the sense he is enjoying himself out there. It won’t last forever, of course - speed eventually does go away. But let’s finish with an illustration of perhaps Locastro’s greatest and most unusual skill: his four HBP this year - along with a T-Lo homer. Because why the heck not?

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