- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Eckstein’s Unlikely Bomb

With the game tied at two in the bottom of the tenth, Giants manager Bruce Bochy‘s greatest concern was likely Adrian Gonzalez, the man in the on-deck circle at the beginning of the inning. He probably hadn’t even considered the possibility that the game would be over before he even reached the plate.

David Eckstein cared not for improbability on Monday night, as he homered down the left field line off Jeremy Affeldt to win the game for the Padres. It was Eckstein’s first home run of the year and only his 10th since 2006, when he was a member of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Eckstein never really had power, but his ability to hit home runs has disappeared since 2005, a season in which he hit 8 home runs and put up a career high .102 ISO. Since then, he’s averaged a home run every 199 plate appearances. A move to PETCO park, where last night’s home run occurred, certainly hasn’t helped the power-starved Eckstein, who saw his HR/FB% fall to a career low 1.3% last season as a Padre.

Not only that, but Jeremy Affeldt is an extreme ground ball pitcher, with a career 48.9% GB rate and a ridiculous 65.0% GB rate to 18.5% FB rate last season, and his GB rate has been above 50% since 2007. Over the last three years, Affeldt has allowed a 26.2% FB rate, and Eckstein has a 29.7% FB rate. Given the league average FB rate of 36.7%, using the crude estimation Expected = (Offense + Defense – Average) – used in The Book – we would expect Affeldt vs. Eckstein matchups to end in a fly ball only 19.2% of the time. Then, given Eckstein’s 1.9% HR/FB over that time frame, we would expect this matchup to end in a home run only .003648% of the time, or roughly 36 out of every 10000 times. With PETCO Park’s .86 HR park factor, that falls to 31 out of every 10000 times.

Of course, you already knew that Eckstein’s home run was unlikely. Still, I think events like these are fascinating. Personally, I think one of the most remarkable things about major league hitters is that even those that we consider not to have any power, such as Eckstein, are capable, on any given pitch, of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. Eckstein just happened to hit his in a clutch situation against remarkable odds.