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Extreme cases: Tough pitches that resulted in HRs

November 25, 2017

Of the record-breaking 6,105 home runs in Major League Baseball in 2017, more than a few stood out for their extreme nature. We already looked at the most interesting batted balls that went for homers; now, it's worth checking out the most notable pitches that turned into dingers. Fastest pitch: 102.8

Of the record-breaking 6,105 home runs in Major League Baseball in 2017, more than a few stood out for their extreme nature. We already looked at the most interesting batted balls that went for homers; now, it's worth checking out the most notable pitches that turned into dingers. 
Fastest pitch: 102.8 mph, Rafael Devers, Aug. 13
Sometimes, it's not clear until the end of the year that a particular home run had actually been notable. In this case, it was obvious from the moment it left the yard that the 20-year-old Devers had done something special. When he turned around a 102.8-mph fastball from Albertin Chapman, Devers didn't just set a 2017 record or a Statcast™ record. He did something even more impressive than that.

Devers set a pitch-tracking record, which dates to 2008. Of the 49,490 home runs hit over the past 10 seasons, not one came off a faster pitch. This one might stand for a while, too; there were only 18 pitches across the Majors in 2017 that were thrown this hard (all by Chapman).
Slowest pitch: 58.4 mph, Jonathan Schoop, April 22
Last year when we did this exercise, the slowest pitch for a home run came with a pretty big caveat: It was thrown by the Rangers' Jared Hoying, who isn't a pitcher. He was an outfielder filling in during a blowout. This year's comes with a caveat, too, but it's the kind you'd expect: Red Sox right-hander Steven Wright is a knuckleballer. They're slow by design, except this one didn't knuckle.

This wasn't the slowest pitch for a home run in pitch-tracking history, but it was close. Only five pitches for homers have been softer, and none since Ike Davis homered off Vicente Padilla's 53.5-mph eephus in 2010. 

We can do more than just look at pitch velocity, too. Of those 6,105 home runs, 69.8 percent were within the detailed Statcast™ strike zone, as you'd expect. Another 28.2 percent came on the edges of the zone. Only 107, a mere 1.8 percent, came on pitches that were obviously outside the strike zone. Some of them were close, and a few were absolutely not.

Highest pitch: 4.57 feet, Mark Trumbo, May 8
Trumbo is listed at 6-foot-4, so perhaps this isn't quite as mind-blowing as, say, Jose Altuve hitting a ball that's 4.57 feet off the ground for a homer. But really, this isn't a bad pitch from Giovany Gonzalez -- a 91.1-mph fastball in a spot where you don't really expect a hitter to swing; hitters laid off 90.3 percent of pitches thrown between four and five feet off the ground in 2017.

When hitters did swing and make contact in that zone, it generally wasn't good contact, allowing an .052 batting average against and an 82.4-mph exit velocity. Just eight home runs were hit on those pitches.

Yet Trumbo made outstanding contact, tomahawking this one at 108.8 mph for a projected 417 feet. This was a no-doubt homer, just in a spot where that sort of thing doesn't happen. Then again, perhaps Gonzalez shouldn't have been surprised; Trumbo went after an MLB-leading 48 percent of those high pitches. (Trumbo had just two hits, also hitting a homer off Rick Porcello.)
Gonzalez, for his part, had the right reaction watching that one go out.

Lowest pitch: 0.73 feet, Odubel Herrera, Aug 8
Another way to say "0.73 feet" is "8.8 inches," which is to say that this ball was pretty close to being on the ground, as you can see from where catcher Kurt Suzuki's glove is. You can't even really say that Julio Teheran missed his spot. He wanted to bury this in the dirt, and he did. Just five homers, including a Charlie Blackmon dinger that was previously the record holder, were hit between the ground and one foot high this year.

Like with Gonzalez, it's hard to blame Teheran for this one. If it wasn't a great pitch, it's not one that leaves the park often, either. But Herrera somehow managed to put enough wood on it to send it a projected 396 feet, at 100.8 mph. It didn't look good, but it wasn't cheap, either.

That's not to say that Herrera didn't know it was unusual, of course.
"I just got my two-strike approach, I just saw it, stayed short and hit it," Herrera said after that game "I don't know how to play golf, but I liked it."
Most outside pitch: 1.58 feet from center of plate, Christian Villanueva, Sept. 26
Once best known as "the other guy" in the deal that sent Kyle Hendricks from the Rangers to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster, Villanueva now has a better distinction: No one hit a more outside pitch for a home run than he did off of Alex Wood on Sept. 26.

This one's a little different than the first two, however, and it wasn't without controversy. While Trumbo and Herrera somehow managed to put solid contact on their pitches, Villanueva's was hit at just 90.1 mph, making it one of the softest-hit homers of the year. And it had a mere eight percent Hit Probability, making it an easy out most of the time. In a sense, Wood did his job. This is the kind of two-strike pitch that a pitcher would love to have a rookie chasing after.

But as we know in baseball, doing your job doesn't always turn into success, because Villanueva somehow got just enough of it. At first, it seemed like this one was an out, because the ball hit the top of the wall and bounced back onto the field, where right fielder Yasiel Puig's strong throw to second had Villanueva beat easily. But after a review, it was confirmed as a home run, and Villanueva had his fourth career homer.
Most inside pitch: 1.44 feet from center of plate, Carlos Correa, Sept. 27
Less than 24 hours after Villanueva hit the most outside pitch for a home run, Correa hit the season's most inside pitch. Because the camera angle was slightly off-center, the video probably doesn't do this one its full justice. To see just how far inside this one was, you've got to look at the pitch-tracking graphic.


Or perhaps even better, look at how Correa himself watched it. Two seconds after he made contact, he was still at the plate:

"How did he hit that? How did he keep it fair?" asked the Astros' broadcasters. "I think it surprised him, he stayed at home plate for a while, not thinking that ball could be fair."
It should have surprised Correa, to be honest. No one hits that ball, and no one hits it for a home run. Except for Correa on that particular day.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.