On Sunday, Elly De La Cruz did the kind of thing he often does, which is to say he took a potentially routine play and made it look extraordinary.
The Reds third baseman fielded a grounder and with calm, assured precision, then fired it to first at 97.9 mph. That made it the fastest infield assist ever recorded by Statcast. In the eight years this data had been tracked, only two other players had come within a mile of that kind of velocity on an infield throw, and here was De La Cruz, setting the record as a rookie.
Elly De La Cruz just recorded the fastest-tracked infield assist in the Statcast era (2015). 🤯
Is there anything that he can't do?
h/t @SlangsonSports pic.twitter.com/5EiRHNocU5
— MLB (@MLB) July 16, 2023
Wildly impressive. Just a canon of an arm. But now, four days later, De La Cruz has rendered his work here irrelevant. He’s surpassed it. After becoming the first infielder with an assist ever tracked so close to 98 mph, he has now passed 98 and 99 and brushed up against the divine milestone of 100 mph. That number belongs nowhere near an infield assist. And yet! The 21-year-old broke his own record while playing shortstop on Thursday afternoon with a relay throw clocked at 99.8 mph.
In the space of less than a week, he’s seized this leaderboard and made sure it belongs only to him.
A @Reds relay that ends with a 99.8 MPH assist from @ellylacocoa18! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/EKK0iMLUaJ
— MLB (@MLB) July 20, 2023
There’s a reason no one typically hears much about the velocity of infield throws. Part of that is how obvious they are: If you see an incredible throw across the diamond from third, well, you know it was incredible. It’s clear how much distance it covers. The baserunner serves as a standard of sorts against which to measure it. You don’t need to get the exact number. But part of it is a framework problem. We’re used to hearing about velocity primarily in the context of pitching, where a number only means something once it’s crossed 100 mph, maybe 97. And so despite all the obvious physical differences between a pitch thrown from a mound and a throw across the infield, it can be hard to make, say, 94 mph sound impressive when people are used to conceiving of that number as a middling fastball. But De La Cruz has done away with that problem. He’s simply transcended it. If you want an infield assist thrown just as hard as a pitch—fine! He’ll do that. He will make sure no one needs any further context.
De La Cruz’s assist was thrown harder than every pitch in the game on Thursday. (The Reds beat the Giants 5–1.) There were 263 pitches thrown from the mound by five pitchers (Alex Cobb, Jakob Junis, Mauricio Llovera, Andrew Abbott and Derek Law) and none of them cracked 99 mph. None of them touched De La Cruz. It feels absurd enough to sound almost impossible. But, well, that’s De La Cruz.
De La Cruz played his 37th major league game on Thursday—equivalent to less than a quarter of a season. It’s scarcely a month worth of games. Statistically, that’s a blip, a throat-clearing preamble to a career more than part of the career itself. A player’s first 37 major league games can be hardly a suggestion of their talent.
These 37 games have been enough for De La Cruz to tie the record for most 95-mph infield assists since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
most 95.0+ mph assists as infielder, career under Statcast (2015):
Elly De La Cruz: 4
Fernando Tatis Jr.: 4
Oneil Cruz: 3
Didi Gregorius: 2
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 20, 2023
Let the kid play, indeed.