People care about home-run distance, because people like impressive home runs, and impressive home runs tend to have considerable distances. One is impressed when a batter drives a baseball 480 feet and out of the yard. As far as quality of contact is concerned, though, what might be more significant is the baseball’s speed off the bat. All a hitter ever wants to do is hit the baseball hard, so looking at the speed off the bat tells us who hit the baseball the hardest. The ESPN Home Run Tracker provides this data for dingers, and unsurprisingly, the hardest-hit homer of the year so far was hit by Giancarlo Stanton. It was a homer that damaged a scoreboard.
You can sort the data in the other direction to see the weakest-hit home runs. On average, home runs have left the bat at 103.5 miles per hour. The weakest homer was hit by Jayson Nix, to right field in Yankee Stadium. It left the bat at 89.8 miles per hour. The next-weakest was hit by Chris Iannetta, also in Yankee Stadium. Then the next two weakest after that were hit in Fenway Park. These aren’t astonishing results — people are familiar with the idea of Yankee Stadium and Fenway conceding some cheap dingers. People love dingers, but some of those cheap ones can make them roll their eyes.
The fifth-weakest dinger of the year so far was hit in Petco Park.
I don’t need to tell you anything about Petco Park’s reputation, and I don’t need to tell you that its reputation is based in fact. Petco does not allow for a lot of home runs to be hit, and especially not to right and right-center fields. It’s long been the most extreme pitcher-friendly ballpark in baseball, such that the Padres are talking about finally adjusting the dimensions this offseason. Hitters have complained. Pitchers have flourished. Jason Marquis has posted a 4.04 ERA. This is the ballpark that has allowed the fifth-weakest home run of the year.
It was hit to right field, late in a night game in the middle of June. According to the Home Run Tracker, it didn’t receive any boost from any wind. It left the bat at a calculated 92.4 miles per hour, and Adrian Beltre circled the bases. After an instant-replay review, Beltre was allowed to remain in the Rangers’ dugout, having increased their lead over the Padres by a run. He had hit a very weak home run — a home run that counted, but a home run that remains his weakest of the season.
As implied by the mention of the review, it was right down the line, of course. Beltre was thrown a low away slider in an 0-and-2 count and he slashed it just far enough and just fair enough to right. Incredibly, the pitch before was a low away slider in the same spot in an 0-and-1 count, and Beltre slashed it far enough but just foul to right. This is how identical the pitches and swings were:
One of those was a home run and one of those was a strike, and I’m not going to tell you which is which because it doesn’t matter. I mean, for serious:
Each time, Brad Brach wanted to throw his slider just a little lower, just a little more outside. Adrian Beltre hates when those sliders are a little lower and a little more outside, as do most right-handed hitters. Each time, Brach caught the zone, and each time, Beltre swung and did more or less the same thing. The second time he swung, he just guided the baseball a little more to the left.
After the foul ball, the Rangers’ broadcasters noted how Petco has a little porch down there down the right-field line. Immediately, Beltre basically found it, and I’ve held out on showing you the highlight clip for long enough:
That close. Beltre’s homer was given a distance of 329 feet, making it the season’s third-shortest out-of-the-park homer so far. It didn’t serve much of any purpose in the game, since the Rangers wound up winning 7-3, but it exists as a curiosity. When he’s been on the field, Beltre’s been fantastic of late, slugging 1.000 since August 21. He’s hit 13 home runs in his last 87 plate appearances. All of those home runs were better hit than the home run above.
In fact, this is Beltre’s weakest home run since June 2008. He’s played for the Red Sox and the Rangers, and people figured playing in those ballparks would allow him to generate more offense, and indeed it’s worked out. But he hasn’t hit a weaker home run in Boston or Texas. His weakest home run in more than four years was hit in San Diego. In June 2008, he hit a weaker home run, in San Diego. Down the opposite line.
These are Beltre’s two weakest home runs of the Home Run Tracker era, going back to 2006. The second one left the bat at 91.9 miles per hour, and Beltre hit it from his knee. For an idea of how long ago this was, here is the MLB.com video caption:
Adrian Beltre adds two to the board with a homer to left field, chasing in Jose Vidro
Adrian Beltre’s two weakest home runs since 2006 were hit down opposite foul lines in San Diego’s Petco Park.
Petco has a reputation, and it’s earned its reputation. Petco is not a home-run-friendly ballpark. What it has are tiny, barely reachable hot-spots of home-run friendliness. It is not uniformly cruel. It’s more like a Storm Stopper, where you just have to make sure to press the button at exactly the right time. It’s not that it’s hard to hit a home run in Petco Park; as Adrian Beltre has demonstrated, it’s more like it’s hard to make it easy.