The ultimate bad-ball home runs

How did they even hit these pitches?

August 12th, 2023

Hitting any Major League pitch for a home run is an impressive accomplishment.

But some batters ratchet up the degree of difficulty by going after bad pitches -- or, at least, pitches that would look bad to most -- and going deep. They hit home runs off high pitches, low pitches, inside pitches, outside pitches.

Rafael Devers joined that group on Aug. 5, reaching down to crush a José Berríos curveball that was just 0.90 feet off the ground (aka 10.8 inches) for a three-run homer. That made it one of the lowest pitches ever hit for a home run since pitch tracking began in 2008. But was it the lowest?

The most iconic bad-ball hitter in baseball history is probably Vladimir Guerrero. Unfortunately for us, Guerrero played most of his career before pitches were tracked. But we can still appreciate Vlad's bad-ball home runs like his very first Major League homer, his homer off Brad Penny in the 2006 All-Star Game and his homer in 2010 off Jered Weaver on a slow curveball that was just 1.09 feet high.

But let’s go back as far as we can quantify.

Here are the most extreme bad-ball home runs of the pitch-tracking era.

Lowest: , Giants
April 12, 2022 vs. Padres
How do you hit a home run off a pitch that's just 0.68 feet high? Well, it helps if that pitch is a lollipop thrown by a position player. Joc took advantage of Wil Myers taking the mound for the Padres in an 11-2 blowout at Oracle Park, sitting on a 55.3 mph lob and knocking it over the high wall in right-center field. Myers' pitch, with its slow rainbow arc, would have dropped across the plate at a height just barely eight inches off the ground had Joc's bat not gotten in the way. It was a nice gift for Pederson, who got his first homer as a Giant.

Highest: , Yankees
June 12, 2022 vs. Cubs
Talk about teeing off on a pitch. Facing position player Frank Schwindel with a 17-4 lead in the eighth inning of a 2022 game at Yankee Stadium, Higashioka waited for his pitch and let it rip. He crushed a 35.1 mph lob officially classified as an eephus pitch, making contact at a whopping 4.61 feet off the ground. Given how slow the pitch was, the Yankees catcher had to provide enough power in order to barely clear the left-field wall. Not only was it the highest pitch hit for a homer in the pitch tracking era; it was also, by far, the slowest.

Farthest inside (right-handed batter): , Tigers
Aug. 10, 2013 at Yankees
Look, Miggy didn't soar past 500 career homers for nothing. You don’t pile up big flies like that -- not to mention win a Triple Crown and a couple of MVP Awards -- without being able to do some incredible things with a bat in your hands. Cabrera’s lightning-quick swing allowed him to get around on a 92.5 mph Phil Hughes inside fastball that was 1.88 feet from the center of the plate. Not only did Cabrera rip a line drive, he managed to keep it fair long enough to clear Yankee Stadium’s left-field wall. That was one of 44 Miggy bombs in 2013, when he slugged a career-best .636 and won his second AL MVP.

Farthest inside (left-handed batter): Joe Mauer, Twins
June 4, 2008 vs. Orioles
The six-time All-Star was known more as a pure hitter and on-base threat (.306 career average, .388 OBP) than a big bopper (143 homers, including nine in 2008). But Mauer certainly could give one a ride at times -- even on a pitch that wasn’t far from hitting him. In this game at the Metrodome, Baltimore lefty Jamie Walker tried to sneak a sinker past Mauer off the inside corner (1.59 feet from the center of the plate). But Mauer opened up, pulled his hands in and walloped the ball into the right-field upper deck. Well played, Mauer.

Farthest outside (LHB): , Cubs
June 23, 2014 vs. Reds
This was the year when Rizzo really came into his own, transforming from a top prospect going through Major League growing pains to a franchise cornerstone who soon would help bring a title to Wrigley Field. The first baseman made his first All-Star team and bashed 32 homers, including this one off a looping 74.3 mph curveball from Cincinnati’s Alfredo Simon. Not only was the pitch far outside (1.71 feet from the middle of the plate), but it was also about even with the top of the strike zone. Rizzo managed to channel his inner slow-pitch softball slugger, shooting his hands out and poking a fly ball into Wrigley’s left-field bleachers.

Farthest outside (RHB): Christian Villanueva, Padres
Sept. 26, 2017 at Dodgers
Villanueva didn’t stick around long, playing 122 games for the Padres in 2017-18 before jumping to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. But he had no shortage of power, launching 24 MLB home runs in those games, including a three-homer game on April 3, 2018. A September callup the previous year, Villanueva made some bad-ball history at Dodger Stadium. Reaching out for an Alex Wood changeup that was 1.58 feet from the middle of the plate, he managed to slice a drive into the right-field corner, just over the 330-foot mark. Upon review, the play was ruled a home run due to fan interference.