Tony Campana was pretty fast and the king of BABIP

Updated: Jun 28, 2021


Tony Campana doing what he does best: using his speed to steal a base. Photo Credit: Chicago Cubs

If you're reading this, I probably know your response if I were to ask who some of the fastest players of the early 2010s were. Jose Reyes is a good one, a guy who held the title of one of the fastest players in the late 2000s as well. Another great pick is Juan Pierre, a guy who made a living off his speed for many seasons. I would have probably agreed with those picks or other guys like Michael Bourn and Mike Trout, but for my non-biased answer, I am going to have to go with Tony Campana.


Campana only played from 2011-2014 for the Cubs, Angels and Diamondbacks, but when he did, he was one of the fastest players in baseball. The Cubs weren't exactly the team to beat in 2011 when he came up, but Campana provided a spark to that team and fans of the Cubs will probably remember him.


SPEED IN THE MINOR LEAGUES


Campana had a strong showing at each minor league level before being recalled in 2011, batting .267 or better each season including a .319 mark in 2010 (156 hits) and .342 in 2011 during his brief time at Iowa.


In the minors, he ran a lot and didn't hit for much power or extra bases, but his speed is what particularly attracted the Cubs. In fact, throughout his whole career, he hit seven home runs and never more than one in a season. The funniest part is that he didn't hit a home run until he came to the major leagues -- I will get to that shortly.


He had 23 hits without an extra-base hit in 2008 and a total of 13 hits for extra bases across two teams in 2009 out of 133 hits total. That was fine though -- Campana could turn a single or a walk into a double. He stole 88 bases in his first two seasons in the minors and 66 over two levels in 2009.


He was caught stealing at an alarming rate, getting nabbed 18 times in 2009 and another 20 times in 2010, but still made use of his speed to the best of his ability.


2010 was special for Campana, who slashed .319/.378/.384, drove in 39 runs without a long ball and swiped 48 bags.


He started the 2011 season at Iowa, doing more of the same, and then earned his call-up to the majors and made his debut on May 17, 2011.


RUNNIN' WILD


He made his debut on May 17 in Cincinnati, emerging as a pinch-runner for Alfonso Soriano in the seventh inning of that game. His spot in the batting order came around in the eighth, and facing Jordan Smith in a big spot, he did exactly what he had been doing all season long, lacing an RBI double into right for his first major league hit.


Over the next few months, he got regular time as a pinch hitter and runner with starts here and there, batting .256 with two RBI by the end of July. He also was 12/13 stealing bases, good for a 92-percent success rate. Despite that ghastly caught stealing rate in the minors, Campana was generally successful as a thief at the major league level.


Fast-forward to August 5. Batting second against the Reds, Tony Campana hit his first-ever home run in professional baseball, and it plays out exactly how you think it would.

Just think about it-- zero out of the park home runs in his career to that point and he just flicks a liner down the left-field side and comes all the way around to score. An average runner probably gets a double or a triple on that, and if it were a normal fielder (not first-baseman Yonder Alonso), Campana probably would have settled for a triple.


He flew around the base paths. There wasn't home-to-home StatCast back then, but I found an article that says he rounds the basepaths in 14 seconds, or about 3.6 seconds per base, which might be a little off, but either way, Campana was just ridiculously fast. Alonso had no chance even if he doesn't bungle fielding the ball. He never hit another home run in MLB.


I am sure there are more, but I found two other players whose only career home runs were inside-the-park- Marc Sagmoen in 1997 and Dax Jones in 1996.


He finished 2011 slashing .259/.303/.301 and contributed 1.4 fWAR for the Cubs that season and stole 24 bases and had a 92-percent success rate.


2012 was better for Campana, finishing in the top ten in the league in steals, swiping 30 bags, good for sixth in the NL. He batted .264 and had a 90-percent success rate, also making this ridiculous base-stealing effort.

Campana spent two more seasons in the big leagues playing for the Diamondbacks and Angels and hasn't played in the majors since. He is currently playing in the Mexican League with the Nuevas de Leon.


His career success rate for stolen bases was 88-percent as he racked up 66 steals on 75 tries, which is a great number.


BABIP KING


Being as fast as Campana also brings the ability to beat out infield hits and bunt hits. Campana was the KING of batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, during his career.


In 2011, it was .321. In 2012, it was .351 and in 2013 it was .375. What that means is that when Campana put the ball in play, there was a good chance he was going to reach base.


BABIP is influenced by infield hits. Taking a look at his spray charts thanks to Baseball Savant, we can see how many times he had a hit that stayed in the infield.


2011: 20 of 37 hits were infield hits or 54-percent

2012: 18 of 46 hits were infield hits or 39-percent

2013: 8 of 12 hits were infield hits or 67-percent

2014: 3 of 14 hits were infield hits or 21-percent


That leaves his career infield hit percentage at around 45-percent. The art of the infield hit is truly lost nowadays, so I'm glad I found this stat.


Tony Campana could run with the best of them in that era of baseball and it's a shame that he hasn't had another chance since 2014.


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