CHICAGO -- A night after a strong wind blowing out to center produced a shocking lack of offense in a Cleveland win, a colder evening with the wind blowing in at 7 mph at first pitch saw three home runs as Cleveland won, 7-2, in Game 4 of the Fall
CHICAGO -- A night after a strong wind blowing out to center produced a shocking lack of offense in a Cleveland win, a colder evening with the wind blowing in at 7 mph at first pitch saw three home runs as Cleveland won, 7-2, in Game 4 of the Fall Classic on Saturday to go up 3-1 in the Series and push the Cubs to the brink of elimination. You can predict the weather, but apparently you can't predict how it will change the game.
Within the span of an inning, Chicago's Anthony Rizzo and Cleveland's Jason Kipnis each barreled baseballs with similar exit velocities, 104.1 mph for Rizzo and 104.8 mph for Kipnis. Rizzo's had a bit more elevation, with a 25 degree launch angle as opposed to a 21 degree launch angle for Kipnis.
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Rizzo's should have gone further, because he put a bit more air under it. Instead, Kipnis outslugged him by 41 feet for a three-run homer, while Rizzo settled for a double. Why? That's where the wind comes in -- that, and batted-ball direction, as Rizzo's ball went to left field, which is where the wind was blowing in from, while Kipnis hit his over the right-field fence.
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Let's compare what usually happens with these two types of balls. As you can see in the image below, each of these batted-ball types are overwhelmingly hits, with an expected average of .876 for the Kipnis hit and .968 for Rizzo's. But while the ball that Rizzo hit turns into a home run 81 percent of the time, the lower angle of Kipnis' hit makes it a homer only 40 percent of the time. Quite often, the lower angle produces extra-base hits that stay in the yard, like this one from Chris Davis and this one from Josh Reddick.
So what happened here? Well, it's a lot more about what happened to hurt Rizzo than what happened to help Kipnis, because Kipnis getting 403 feet on that kind of ball is pretty well within the average for that hit. Here, for example, is Charlie Blackmon getting an identical 403 feet on the same velocity and angle. It might be a bit on the high side of average, yet not unexpected.
But for Rizzo, managing only 362 feet on the type of ball he hit is almost unprecedented. Let's actually be specific; based on Statcast™ metrics in 2016, it is unprecedented. Of every ball this year hit at 104 mph and 25 degrees of angle, no one found shorter distance in return than Rizzo.
Based on Dr. Alan Nathan's projected distance calculator, the expected distance for a ball hit with those characteristics, and in the direction that he hit it, on a 59 degree night into a 7 mph wind would be 396 feet. That aligns extremely well with what we see in the charts above. Here, for example, is Corey Seager getting 398 feet on a relatively windless day in Los Angeles. So you might argue that the wind cost Rizzo more than 30 feet, and while that's just an estimate, Rizzo wouldn't have needed much help to take that ball from the warning track to the bleachers.
Chicago manager Joe Maddon noticed, unsurprisingly.
"We hit some balls good enough for homers tonight, but the wind was blowing in," said Maddon following the game. "We just didn't pick the proper night to do that with."
Maddon wasn't wrong. In this case, the extra height may have hurt Rizzo, who saw his ball reach a peak of 73 feet, while Kipnis' lower-angle liner got only to 61 feet. Wind will impact you more the higher you go, of course, and both teams' inability to elevate the ball in Game 3 was a big part of why no hitters could take advantage of the wind blowing out. The Cubs didn't lose Game 4 because the wind was against Rizzo, of course. It sure didn't help, though.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.