It felt like this was only a matter of time.
In just his 54th career game, Oneil Cruz broke the record for the hardest-hit ball in the Statcast era (since 2015), banging a 122.4 mph single off the Clemente Wall on Wednesday that narrowly broke Giancarlo Stanton’s record of 122.2 mph.
“At the moment, I didn’t even think I hit the ball that hard,” Cruz said. “When I came into the dugout, some of my teammates shared that I hit it 122 [mph]. I smiled, but deep down inside, I was like, ‘Wow, I really hit that ball hard.’ Now, finding out that I broke a record, it means a lot to me.”
Cruz’s Statcast exploits aren’t new -- far from it. With the superstar now owning the record for the hardest-hit ball and hardest-thrown infield assist since those stats started being recorded, let’s revisit Cruz’s short, yet growing, history of Statcast feats.
October 2, 2021: Cruz shows off awe-inspiring power in first game
Cruz didn’t need much time to put the baseball community on notice.
In only his fourth plate appearance, about two hours into his Major League career, he pulled a single to right-center field that registered at 118.2 mph, shattering the previous record for the hardest-hit ball by a Pirate in the Statcast era.
“I always make this joke when someone says, ‘Oh, that’s crazy [how] Cruz is doing this,” said Cruz's teammate Cal Mitchell. “I say, ‘Well that’s what happens when Kevin Durant was born in the Dominican and decided to be a baseball player.”
June 20, 2022: Cruz records hardest-thrown assist of 2022 -- and then some
There was a tangible electricity when the Pirates called up Cruz in late-June for his season debut. Pirates fans waited for this moment for months, and upon arrival, Cruz flashed every elite tool in the utility belt.
Cruz unleashed the burners in the bottom of the second to score on Hoy Park’s medium-deep fly ball to left field. Cubs outfielder Ian Happ made a textbook throw, but Cruz registered a Sprint Speed of 31.5 feet per second to score with ease. For reference, 30.0 feet per second is considered elite.
The following half inning, Willson Contreras hit a weak grounder to the infield’s left side. Cruz backhanded the grounder, shuffled his feet and let it eat, nailing Contreras by a step. Cruz’s throw topped out at 96.7 mph, the hardest-thrown infield assist of the season.
If the arm and speed weren’t enough, Cruz cracked an opposite-field double at 112.9 mph. Light work.
July 14: Cruz breaks Statcast record for hardest-thrown assist, period
So, about that aforementioned assist. Cruz grabbed hold of the hardest-thrown infield assist this season, but he was a couple of ticks short of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s record 97.3 mph dart. That is, until the Pirates’ series finale in Miami.
Luke Williams pulled a weakly hit grounder in Cruz’s direction and got on his horse. Williams, one of baseball’s faster players, registered a Sprint Speed of 30.0 feet per second. He had the speed to turn a groundout into an infield hit. Cruz, again, let it eat.
He took a bit of time on the exchange, but upon recognizing Williams’ hustle, Cruz uncorked a missile. With the help of a stretch from Michael Chavis, the rookie recorded the assist, which clocked in at 97.8 mph.
“I need to ask him how he holds that,” said starter Zach Thompson. “See if he can help me.”
August 24: Cruz breaks Statcast record for hardest-hit ball
Here’s a fun fact: Cruz’s 122.4 mph single would’ve been a home run in 26 ballparks. PNC Park, of course, is not one of them.
That said, let’s dip into the realm of the hypothetical. Cruz’s single had a launch angle of 17 degrees. Coming into today, there have only been 18 instances during the Statcast era in which a home run was hit on a launch angle of 17 degrees or lower. Maybe, in due time, Cruz becomes part of this list, as well.