Coors Derby: Will we see longest HR ever hit?

July 12th, 2021

DENVER -- The humidor will be unplugged. The temperature will be in the 90s. And eight of baseball's greatest sluggers will gather in the mile-high altitude of Coors Field, the most hitter-friendly park in the Majors, with one thing on their minds tonight: crushing home runs.

The conditions appear to be ripe for some mammoth homers in Lower Downtown Denver when the T-Mobile Home Run Derby gets under way tonight at 8 p.m. ET live on ESPN.

Given the location of this year’s Derby, as well as the climate, a couple of big questions arise: Just how far might we see a baseball go? And … dare we ask: Will we see the longest home run ever measured?

Before we get to that, let’s get some baseline context using Statcast measurements. Statcast data only goes back to 2015, but it’s fair to say that will at least give us a sense of what to expect in terms of “longest home run ever.”

Here’s a list of the five longest Home Run Derby homers since 2016, when Statcast began tracking them:

1. Aaron Judge: 513 feet, 2017 (Marlins Park)
2. Aaron Judge: 507 feet, 2017 (Marlins Park)
3-T. Aaron Judge: 504 feet, 2017 (Marlins Park)
3-T. Aaron Judge: 504 feet, 2017 (Marlins Park)
5-T. Giancarlo Stanton: 497 feet, 2016 (Petco Park)
5-T. Giancarlo Stanton: 497 feet, 2016 (Petco Park)

And here’s a list of the five longest regular-season homers since Statcast began tracking in 2015:

1. Nomar Mazara: 505 feet, 2019 (Globe Life Park)
2. Giancarlo Stanton: 504 feet, 2016 (Coors Field)
3-T. Aaron Judge: 496 feet, 2017 (Yankee Stadium)
3-T. Miguel Sanó: 496 feet, 2019 (Target Field)
5-T. Joey Gallo: 495 feet, 2018 (Globe Life Park)
5-T. Ronald Acuña Jr.: 495 feet, 2020 (Truist Field)
5-T. Aaron Judge: 495 feet, 2017 (Yankee Stadium)

Lastly, let’s not forget that the 1998 Home Run Derby was also at Coors Field, and the longest homer in that event was an estimated 510-foot blast by Mark McGwire. Two other famous dingers that are worth digging into are a pair of legendary (but perhaps inexactly measured) blasts, one by Mickey Mantle (565 feet), and another by Minor Leaguer Joey Meyer (582 feet).

Now, with that in mind, let’s see if we can do some “back of the napkin” calculations, shall we? We’ll start with an expert, one who has studied long home runs before -- particularly, the oft-mythologized homer hit by Mantle at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1953. Legend has it that the ball traveled 565 feet.

Our expert, University of Illinois Physics professor emeritus Alan Nathan, employed a rigorous examination of the evidence and came to the conclusion that the projected distance of Mantle's famous shot was at least 538 feet.

Given the conditions for Monday night’s Home Run Derby, what does Dr. Nathan think we might see?

“If you look at exit velocities around baseball, they pretty much top out at about 120 mph,” Nathan said. “So if you sort of take that as the highest, and you launch at some reasonable launch angle like 30 degrees, that ball will travel about 500 feet at sea level.

“So when we do some rough calculations at elevation -- around 5,000 feet above sea level -- we come up with 542 feet.”

Nathan explained that this estimate is for a ball hit a mile above sea level when the temperature is around 70 degrees. But when it’s really hot -- like it is forecasted to be in Denver on Monday -- that distance increases.

“Ten degrees of temperature is normally worth about three feet more,” Nathan said. “That’s my rule of thumb. Normally you don’t expect it to be that hot in Denver. That could definitely play a role. If you add 20 degrees to the weather, putting it around 90 degrees, that could add six or seven feet to the home run distance.”

That puts us at 549 feet. But there’s another factor to take into consideration: wind.

“Everything I’ve said assumes there is no wind,” Nathan said. “Wind can play an unexpected role here.”

The forecast for Monday in Denver calls for 10 mph winds traveling east-northeast. For Coors Field, that would mean the wind would be blowing out toward right field.

So that could potentially put us over 550 feet. But how does that compare to the longest homer ever measured?

Not surprisingly, the (unofficial) longest home run on record -- though it was hit long before the Statcast era and measured by a city engineer -- also came in Colorado. Somewhat surprising is that it was Meyer’s blast in a Minor League game back in June of 1987 at Mile High Stadium, measured at 582 feet away from home plate.

Depending on how much credence you place in that figure, we could see something historic on Monday night, about three miles east of where the mammoth Meyer shot landed.

We’ve heard from an expert in physics. Now, how about an expert in hitting long home runs, particularly at Coors Field?

“I think there’s gonna be some really long ones,” said Matt Holliday, a former Rockies great who hit the second-longest home run in the ballpark’s history back in 2006, a 498-foot shot to the base of the scoreboard in left-center field (the longest regular-season home run in Coors Field history is Giancarlo Stanton's 504-foot blast in 2016).

“The interesting one for me would be a right-handed hitter who could potentially hit it out of the stadium completely, just to the left of the jumbotron.”

The current record for longest Home Run Derby homer in the Statcast era belongs to Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who smashed one 513 feet during the 2017 derby at Marlins Park. Judge won’t be participating in this year’s contest, though Holliday tried to convince him.

“I tried to talk Judge into doing this one, just because I wanted to see how far he could hit it at Coors,” said Holliday, who was a teammate of Judge’s with the Yankees in 2017. “But I guess he’s not going to do it. But it’s a good group. I’m excited to watch those guys hit.”

The field is set, and it's stacked. Shohei Ohtani, defending champion Pete Alonso, Trevor Story, Trey Mancini, Salvador Pérez, Matt Olson, Juan Soto and Joey Gallo will compete for this year’s title. Ohtani is the headliner -- in the midst of one of the most incredible individual seasons in baseball history, he has an MLB-leading 33 home runs while simultaneously owning a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts on the mound.

History suggests Ohtani has a great chance to reach the final round because he hits the baseball harder than anyone in the competition, and Dr. Nathan’s analysis backs up that notion.

“The air drag increases rapidly with the exit velocity,” he said. “The harder you hit the ball, the greater the ‘Coors Effect’ is.”

Holliday certainly agrees with the notion Ohtani could make history in this derby.

“I think there will definitely be a ball hit close to 550 feet,” Holliday said. “I think Ohtani has a chance to do that for sure.”

However long the longest home run hit Monday night at Coors ends up being, one thing we know: this Home Run Derby will be unlike any other.

“I think it’s gonna be crazy,” Holliday said. “I really do anticipate some really far homers that leave people’s mouths open.”

“This’ll be a fun one,” Nathan said. “Because the circumstances are so unusual.

“If you’re looking for records, you might see some.”