Kurt Suzuki and Baseball’s Slowest Inside-the-Park Homers

After writing some good posts for the Community Blog, August Fagerstrom got our attention, and is now joining the staff of FanGraphs. He will be contributing regularly here. If you want to follow in his footsteps, the Community Blog is a great place to get noticed.

Late Tuesday evening, Kurt Suzuki hit an inside-the-park home run off San Diego Padres reliever Nick Vincent. As you likely know: Kurt Suzuki is a catcher. Another thing you likely know: catchers, generally speaking, are not fast baseball players. Kurt Suzuki is no exception to that rule. A third thing you likely know: inside-the-park home runs are generally reserved for fast baseball players. Kurt Suzuki is an exception to that rule. Here’s how it happened:

suzuki

Seth Smith
made an attempt to field Suzuki’s fly ball, which actually probably went over the fence, and saw it bounce back into the field of play. Smith stared at the ball for several seconds. Padres fans in the first row feverishly pointed to it rolling on the warning track while Suzuki circled the bases. Smith continued to stare at the ball for several more seconds, which the limitations of GIF-making do not allow me to show you, until center fielder Will Venable ran over to scoop it up and relay it to the infield. Even after all this, there was still a relatively close play at the plate, because Kurt Suzuki, as mentioned above, is not a fast baseball player.

Suzuki has a career speed score (Spd) of 2.7. According to the Spd entry in the FanGraphs library, a league-average speed score is 4.5. Kurt Suzuki’s speed could be described as somewhere between “Poor” (3.0) and “Awful” (2.0). Speed score uses stolen base percentage, frequency of stolen base attempts, percentage of triples and runs scored percentage to measure a players speed. It isn’t an exact science, but it seems to pass the eye test. Here, take a look at this table of the 10 players with the highest career speed scores who have hit inside-the-park home runs in the past five years.*

Player Year Team Spd
Carl Crawford 2009 TB 8.3
Brett Gardner (2) 2010 NYY 8.2
Tony Campana 2011 CHC 8.2
Eric Young, Jr. 2012 COL 8.0
Carlos Gomez 2011 MIL 7.9
Craig Gentry 2012 TEX 7.8
Peter Bourjos 2012 LAA 7.6
Everth Cabrera 2012 SD 7.5
Emilio Bonifacio 2009 FLA 7.5
Jacoby Ellsbury 2011 BOS 7.4

*Trent Oeltjen omitted due to what is likely small sample size noise.

That’s pretty much a collection of 10 of the fastest players baseball has seen in the last five years. Again, speed score isn’t a perfect metric, but odds are if you score near the top of leaderboards, you are really, really fast. By that same thought, if you score near the bottom of the leaderboards, you’re probably pretty slow. Suzuki’s home run got me wondering if he were perhaps the slowest player to hit an inside-the-park home run in recent history. I looked just at the last five seasons, because that’s as far back as the MLB.TV archives go to allow me to make GIFs of them. Here’s what I found:

Player Year Team Spd
Conor Gillaspie 2011 SF 2.4
Kurt Suzuki 2014 MIN 2.7
Jhonny Peralta 2010 CLE 2.7
Pedro Alvarez 2013 PIT 2.8
Carlos Santana 2013 CLE 2.9
Wil Myers 2012 TB 3.0
Jordy Mercer 2013 PIT 3.1
Kyle Blanks 2009 SD 3.5
Jose Bautista 2010 TOR 3.7
Yuniesky Betancourt 2011 MIL 3.9

Close.

Inside-the-park home runs are pretty extraordinary events that typically require something unusual happening. When some of the slowest players in baseball are able to achieve them, something very unusual likely happened, as was the case with Mr. Suzuki. So, how did some of the other slowest inside-the-parkers happen?

No. 5 – Carlos Santana

santana

Santana hit this ball about 419 feet to dead center field, AKA as far away from home plate as you can get in Comerica Park. Austin Jackson – and his left wrist – hit the wall, the ball hit Jackson in the head and he writhed in pain while it rolled away. Left fielder Andy Dirks eventually had to come in and make the play and Santana was safe with a stand-up inside-the-parker.

No. 4 – Pedro Alvarez

alvarez

This one was probably the least unusual, as all outfielders remained healthy and stayed on their feet and the ball didn’t roll that far away. Alvarez was mostly aided by the fact that he hit it a mile in the air, giving him more than enough time to get a good head start on an inside-the-parker by the time the ball even hit the fence. This was a game in September and Alvarez was already leading the National League in home runs with 33. He figured he’d hit one in a new way, just for fun, because hitting them over the fence was getting boring.

No. 3 – Jhonny Peralta

peralta1

Ryan Raburn broke Progressive Field and so Jhonny Peralta hit an inside-the-park home run. Ryan Raburn is now a Cleveland Indian, and they have yet to let him play center field. That might be because he’s not a good center fielder, but it’s probably because they don’t want him to break their stadium again.

No. 1 – Conor Gillaspie

gillaspie1

When I began this exercise, I had an inkling I might find a ball hit to this very part of AT&T Park in San Francisco. Right-center field at AT&T, dubbed “Triples Alley,” is the deepest right-center field in the majors and one of the deepest parts of any ballpark in baseball. Anyone who hits one like Gillaspie did here has a shot at an inside-the-parker, and it certainly helps when your opponent has chosen to deploy Ty Wigginton in right field. But the most unusual part of this play was not what happened in the field, rather what Gillaspie did rounding third base:

gillaspie2

This time, it wasn’t the defender who fell down, but Gillaspie himself. Thanks to Ty Wigginton and a terrible relay, he still managed to score. Oh, and this was Conor Gillaspie’s first major league home run. Because of course it was.

If you are one of the slowest players in major league baseball, you likely need some combination of these things to occur in order to hit an inside-the-park home run:

a.) Hit the ball really far away from home plate
b.) Hit the ball really high in the air
c.) Have a defender fall down and / or injure themselves
d.) Have a defender break the stadium
e.) Have a defender make a terrible relay throw while being Ty Wigginton

Have some number of these things happen and you can probably hit an inside-the-park home run too! You can even fall down on your way around third base if you want!

Inside-the-park home runs are generally cited by fans as among the most exciting plays in baseball to witness. Usually, this is because you get to see some of the game’s premier athletes circle the bases at their top speed.  But it might be even more fun when it happens this way.



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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.


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