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Homers for holidays: Nice bats > naughty arms

December 18, 2017

Neither velocity nor the long ball was in short supply in 2017, a year in which MLB pitchers averaged 93.2 mph on four-seam fastballs and hitters walloped a record 6,105 homers.So it makes sense that those two opposing forces would sometimes converge.Take Game 2 of the American League Championship Series

Neither velocity nor the long ball was in short supply in 2017, a year in which MLB pitchers averaged 93.2 mph on four-seam fastballs and hitters walloped a record 6,105 homers.
So it makes sense that those two opposing forces would sometimes converge.
Take Game 2 of the American League Championship Series in Houston, when Carlos Correa gave the Astros a fourth-inning lead by driving a 99.3-mph fastball from the Yankees' Luis Severino into the right-field seats. That was the fastest pitch turned into a homer this postseason, but the regular season also saw 17 roundtrippers on pitches 99 mph or faster.
Among that group were seven pitches that reached triple digits, easily a record for the pitch tracking era. Since that period began in 2008, there had never been a season with more than three homers off pitches 100-plus mph, including a total of six from '13-16.
With help from Statcast™, here is a closer look at each of the seven players to go deep off triple-digit heat this year:
1. Aug. 13: Rafael Devers vs. Albertin Chapman (102.8 mph)
This is the fastest pitch on record hit for a homer, topping the 102.6-mph Chapman heater that the Twins' Kurt Suzuki launched on June 18, 2016. But that only scratches the surface of how unlikely Devers' feat was.
For one thing, Devers had not yet turned 21 and was playing in just his 15th Major League game, having debuted less than three weeks earlier. For another, the situation hardly could have been more intense for the rookie, with the Red Sox trailing the Yankees by a run in the ninth inning in the Bronx. And then there was the fact that the flamethrowing Chapman had given up just one homer to a left-handed batter in his career -- back in 2011.
2 (tie). Sept. 15: Eric Thames vs. Brian Ellington (100.7 mph)
This was the last of the 31 long balls Thames hit in his first season back from South Korea, a campaign that began with a monstrous April (1.276 OPS, 11 HR). Thames couldn't maintain that sensational pace but still showed some impressive skills, such as handling velocity.
Thames was one of 11 players to homer at least nine times off pitches 94 mph or faster, and his .547 slugging percentage against those offerings ranked 13th of 78 players who logged at least 100 at-bats ending with such a pitch. In this particular case, Thames not only caught up to Ellington's heater but turned it around for a tie-breaking solo shot in the eighth inning.

2 (tie). Sept. 2: Avisail Garcia vs. Ryne Stanek (100.7 mph)
This was a breakout season for Garcia, who made his first All-Star team while batting .330/.380/.506. He also popped a pair of homers on pitches 98 mph or harder, including this one against the Rays, which sailed well over the right-field fence at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Going back to the start of the pitch tracking era in 2008, this two-run shot tied Paul Konerko ('10) for both the hardest pitch turned into a homer by a White Sox hitter and the second hardest by any right-handed batter against a righty pitcher.

4 (tie). Sept. 6: Cameron Maybin vs. Edwin Diaz (100.2 mph)
Claimed off waivers from the Angels at the end of August, Maybin smacked three home runs in the first five games in which he batted for the Astros. The last of those, a two-run tater at Safeco Field, was notable not only for the pitch velocity but also for breaking a ninth-inning tie in a Houston victory.
Only once before on record had an Astros player gone deep against a faster pitch. Batted balls with specifications similar to Maybin's (98.7-mph exit velocity, 24-degree launch angle) only result in homers 22 percent of the time, according to Statcast™, but this slicing fly ball had just enough to smack off the foul pole for a projected distance of 340 feet.

4 (tie). May 19: Matthew Holliday vs. Stanek (100.2 mph)
Stanek, a rookie, threw just 20 big league innings in 2017 yet became the first Rays pitcher on record to give up a homer on a pitch 99 mph or faster -- doing so three times.
While this marked just Stanek's third Major League game, Holliday has racked up nearly 8,000 plate appearances in MLB. The experienced slugger got the upper hand here, with an opposite-field shot at Tropicana Field for his 303rd career dinger. At least going back to 2008, it was the fastest pitch he had taken deep and tied Carlos Beltran's Yankees record set in '15.

6. Aug. 25: Yonder Alonso vs. Chapman (100.1 mph)
Less than two weeks after Devers' improbable homer off Chapman, the southpaw surrendered another clutch big fly on a triple-digit heater to a left-handed batter. In doing so, he became the first pitcher on record to yield multiple homers off pitches 100 mph or faster in the same year (although Stanek and Ellington soon joined him).
Alonso was just 15 games into his tenure with the Mariners when he stepped in against Chapman with two outs and nobody on base in the 11th inning of a tied game. His go-ahead tater to center field at Yankee Stadium set a club record for fastest pitch taken deep. Alonso, who slammed a career-best 28 homers heading into free agency, finished third in MLB by slugging .750 off pitches 95-plus mph (minimum 50 at-bats).

7. Sept. 23: J.D. Martinez vs. Ellington (100.0 mph)
This was one of the 29 homers Martinez mashed in 62 regular-season games for the D-backs between getting traded from Detroit and reaching the free-agent market. While it was the fastest pitch Martinez has taken deep in his career, it also fit with his ability to handle top-notch velocity.
Against pitches 95 mph or harder in 2017, Martinez went 16-for-44 (.364) with nine home runs and a 1.023 slugging percentage. That tied Giancarlo Stanton for the most homers in MLB, while none of the 236 other players who finished with at least 40 at-bats against pitches that fast recorded a slugging percentage above .851.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.