The 2013 Season In Inside Home Runs

The hardest thing about writing is the writing. The other hardest thing about writing is finding ideas. Without an idea, you’ve got nowhere to put your words, and sometimes baseball doesn’t cooperate by providing an abundance of discussable topics. As I write this, nothing’s going on. Maybe Ervin Santana got a phone call, or maybe his agent did, but maybe not, and we’ll definitely never know. Even the executives have probably been thinking about the Super Bowl.

So here’s an official tip of the cap to content recycling. Who needs a new idea when you can just use an old idea over again? At the end of the 2012 regular season, inspired by Erick Aybar, I wrote a post about the year’s most inside pitches slammed for home runs. As it turned out, the pitch to Aybar that got me thinking didn’t make the list, and it didn’t even come real close to making the list, but a list was still made and it was fun and informative. And now we’ve had a whole other regular season since! So what’s the harm in exploring 2013’s most inside pitches slammed for home runs? That’s what follows, in the familiar form of a top-five.

All the information is taken from PITCHf/x, of course. Well I’ll also probably end up taking some information from the ESPN Home Run Tracker. The ideal, as you can imagine, would be having a measure of the distance between the pitched ball and the batter himself. Different batters, after all, stand in different places, at different distances from home plate. But we don’t have that data, so we’ll make do how we can, and if you find this to be an outrage, I would like to read about you but not interact with you. You’re interesting! On paper.

All five of the following home runs were hit by right-handed batters. Just like a year ago. Of the 100 most inside pitches hit for dingers, 78 were hit by righties, and a year ago that number was 88. It could be that righties stand further from the plate than lefties do. It could be that righties are pitched differently than lefties are. It could be that righties are selected for their abilities to hit inside, while lefties are selected for their abilities to hit outside. It could be all this and/or more. What I can tell you is that righties dominate this category. You can elect to try to make sense of that. You’re a free person, and this is America.

Onward. Three homers just missing: a pitch from Corey Kluber to Miguel Cabrera, a pitch from Kyle Kendrick to Ryan Zimmerman, and a pitch from Tanner Scheppers to Miguel Cabrera. Get used to seeing the name Miguel Cabrera.

(5) Yadier Molina, June 19, vs. Edwin Jackson

video highlight

molina5

1.45 feet from the middle of the plate

It wasn’t a bad two-strike pitch from Edwin Jackson, and Molina just did a good job of dropping the barrel down and keeping his hands in. But who knows how this at-bat would have gone were it not for an earlier pitch in the sequence?

molina5jackson

Give Jackson that pitch and maybe everything afterward changes. And then we’d have a completely different No. 5 home run on this list! And we would very literally not know what we were missing. Ultimately, Jackson’s a wealthy young multimillionaire, so it’s like, he probably deserves to get screwed at his job from time to time, am I right?

(4) Michael Morse, April 4, vs. A.J. Griffin

video highlight

morse4

1.50 feet from the middle of the plate

This was the Mariners’ fourth game of the season, and this was Morse’s fourth home run of the season. He hit No. 6 in game No. 9. The rest of the way he hit seven dingers while slugging .332. I’d say that’s so Mariners, but everything depressing seems so Mariners so it doesn’t really pack much of a punch.

(3) Miguel Cabrera, July 21, vs. James Shields

video highlight

cabrera3

1.54 feet from the middle of the plate

Do you like pictures that have something to do with Miguel Cabrera? I hope you like pictures that have something to do with Miguel Cabrera, because there aren’t going to be any more of not-those. The three most inside pitches hit for home runs in 2013 were all slugged by Miguel Cabrera, and while you might think that means pitchers can try to pitch him away instead, no, don’t bother, he destroys those pitches too, he destroys everything. He’s a destroyer. Here comes more destruction after I hit enter.

(2) Miguel Cabrera, May 4, vs. Lucas Harrell

video highlight

cabrera2

1.75 feet from the middle of the plate

Following the home run, the Tigers’ color guy talked about how he figured Cabrera would be looking for that pitch, since in spring training Harrell threw it to him a few times with great success. The idea was that Cabrera would be looking for it, and therefore Cabrera would hit it for a home run. I think what’s more likely is that Miguel Cabrera was facing Lucas Harrell, and then the predictable outcome happened, but it is tempting to believe that Cabrera can just hit dingers whenever he’s prepared, because it sure does feel that way sometimes.

(1) Miguel Cabrera, August 10, vs. Phil Hughes

video highlight

cabrera1

1.88 feet from the middle of the plate

There’s nothing I could write that could beat this:

cabrera1hughes

Hughes was ahead in the count. He threw exactly the pitch he wanted to. Most hitters hit that pitch maybe a max of 90 feet. Cabrera hit it 376. This was a homer that had people buzzing for days, because as easy as Cabrera made it look, it was nothing short of extraordinary. Glance at the video and it’s just a home run that left the park on a line. Pay a little closer attention and, in some time, it’ll dawn on you that this just doesn’t happen to this pitch. This pitch hits Carlos Quentin. Cabrera got to jog around the bases.

Fun fact: Cabrera topped the 2012 list, slamming a pitch 1.73 feet from the middle of the plate. Cabrera bested that in 2013, twice. In theory, one wouldn’t like that Cabrera posts higher-than-average rates of swings at pitches out of the strike zone, but those swings are different for Cabrera than they are for most other players. For most players, the strike zone more or less captures the area in which they can hit pitches hard. For Cabrera, it’s simply an arbitrary rectangle.

In sum: Miguel Cabrera is amazing. The most inside pitch hit for a home run by a lefty was 1.17 feet from the middle of the plate, and it was hit by Domonic Brown off Kris Medlen on July 7. You’ve also got Justin Morneau going deep off Matt Harvey on April 13. That’s a home run that really happened, in a regular-season baseball game, and still some people ignore the traps of a small sample size.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 6 months ago

I love you Jeff.

Off topic, fellow Fangraphers: I follow English premier league soccer, and get most of my news from The Guardian website, who ran this piece today, a blog post bashing statistical analysis in soccer, and in general, even getting a dig in at Moneyball even. I know statistical analysis has proven less effective in sports like soccer that can’t really be broken down into minimal statistical noise plate appearances, but still, I don’t like this article’s attitude. Does anyone think statistics has a future similar to baseball in more team oriented sports like soccer or basketball?

http://www.theguardian.com/football/when-saturday-comes-blog/2014/feb/03/statistics-football-analysis-miss-point-game

tz
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tz
2 years 6 months ago

Benjammer – how do you think Mr. Cabrera would fare at cricket?

I mean look at that bat angle on the pitch from poor Phil Hughes.

iron
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iron
2 years 6 months ago

He would bat for a millennia.*

* I know almost nothing about cricket.

Za
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Za
2 years 6 months ago

Cabrera would do very well. He generates tremendous bat speed and can square up balls outside the strike zone, boding well for his cricket abilities. He could play Twenty20 quite well and might even be a solid Test player if he set his mind to it. In general, most MLB players could play a fairly high level of cricket and it’s likely that many AAAA players would still be competitive on a team competing against the best cricketers in the world.

paskins11
Member
paskins11
2 years 6 months ago

Are you sure you know enough about cricket to make that statement? Yea, maybe a freak like Miggy could make it in cricket but it would take a lot of practice. To say that pretty much any pro baseball player would be competitive in international cricket it just flat out ignorant.

Wicomico Pinstripes
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Wicomico Pinstripes
2 years 6 months ago

Interesting article/comment section.

IMO it’s inevitable that just about every sport in the world will have a large amount of statistical analysis some time in the near future. Soccer, I believe is just getting started, but basketball seems to be well under way.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
2 years 6 months ago

I often feel that Basketball is the second most advanced statistically behind baseball, but obviously that is just based on personal experience.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
2 years 6 months ago

The issue with soccer stats is that they generally tend to correlate with success rather than cause success.

e.g. Barcelona have a very high possession %, and tend to win lots of games. There is a general statistical correlation between these two variables across the game.

However a team that set about trying to have possession for its own sake would likely not do any better than before (they’d mostly be passing the ball about aimlessly).

Likewise shots taken (and even better, shots on target) correlate very well with goals scored – however it’s easy to have more shots taken – simply shoot from 40 yards more often.

Soccer has plenty of statistics to reflect what’s going on on the pitch, but because so much of soccer is about specific positioning and movement, these don’t lend themselves that well to stats. Ultimately we can hope that better value-added stats may evolve. The cutting-edge of in-game analysis tends to actually be more descriptive e.g. http://www.zonalmarking.net/

The best statistical analysis of soccer tends to be on a macro level, looking at subjects like the importance of player budgets and with-or-without-you analysis showing the true value of specific players.

Benjammer
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Benjammer
2 years 6 months ago

Thanks for introducing me to Zonalmarking, I really didn’t want to get any work done today.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 6 months ago

The problem with most sports is that nothing any player does is independent of the actions of the rest of the team. What can you measure in soccer that is statistically independent? Possession, passing, shots, etc., are all dependent on what the rest of the team does. This makes individual level analysis quite challenging. There are statistical methods available for dealing with non-independence. For example, in evolutionary biology, the fact that all organisms are phylogenetically related means that they are not independent when individual taxa are the unit of analysis. To deal with this problem, independent contrasts are used to “subtract” the hierarchical dependence between endpoints as estimated with the phylogeny. I suppose if we can begin to understand the nature of the dependence between players on teams, methods can be developed to take it into account.

tz
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tz
2 years 6 months ago

Excellent point. For example, hockey has long used a +/- stat as a rough way to track the net scoring that takes place when a player is on the ice vs. not. It does not take into account the impact of the other players’ contributions to that player’s being on ice when a goal happens either way, so it misses a lot on independence.

Here’s a great summary of the factors involved with applying a modified +/- system to basketball:

http://kenpom.com/blog/index.php/weblog/entry/a_treatise_on_plus_minus/

tz
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tz
2 years 6 months ago

*dependence

A commenter
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A commenter
2 years 6 months ago

The very excellent Micheal Lewis wrote an article in the New York times about this very thing with regard to Basketball in 2009. The article concerned a Mr. Shane Battier, a then-Houston Rocket who MASSIVELY MASSIVELY outperformed his observable tools.

TK
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TK
2 years 6 months ago

Hockey has really started to buy into advanced statistics, the current craze being Corsi. A possesion based statistic, where it compares a player’s team’s possesion stat with them on the ice versus off the ice. Perhaps this trend in hockey will lay the groundwork for soccer, a similar sport in its difficulty to “minimize the noise” for stats.

Mo
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Mo
2 years 6 months ago

Benjammer,

As a huge soccer fan I sort of agree with you, the only position that could really use any sort of statistical analysis is the goalkeepers (positioning, hands, dive times to the left or right, etc). Because soccer is free flowing sport much like hockey and to lesser extent basketball there is little time to analyze a specific play and as a result changes are made after watching the ebbs and flows of the game, where as in baseball if you’ve seen a pitcher twice before it becomes easier to pick up timing, movement and tendencies of said pitcher and vice versa for the hitter or in football if a cornerback or linebacker is making an adjustment to a specific route or play you audible. Baseball is the most statistically analytical sport and as a result relies on much of this information.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 6 months ago

I wonder if part of the reason for the preponderance of right handed batters here might have to do with the fact that right handed batters face same-handed pitching so much more frequently. I notice that all the pitchers are right handed here as well. The natural tendency for batters is to bail out a bit for same handed pitchers, making inside pitches easier to get to with the barrel (but making outside pitches impossible). …of course, given that the list almost entirely consists of Miguel Cabrera, and that I doubt he is bailing on anyone, this might be entirely nonsense.

DrEasy
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DrEasy
2 years 6 months ago

As for the reason there are more inside pitches hit for a HR by righties, couldn’t it be simply that there are more righties in the game to being with? The prior favors them; now maybe it gets accentuated by some other factors too…

DNA+
Guest
DNA+
2 years 6 months ago

This is certainly a part of it, but other things are probably going on as well. According to Jeff’s data somewhere around 85% of the most extreme inside pitch homeruns are hit by right handed batters, but right handed batters only make up about 57% of plate appearances (not sure of the veracity of this figure. Found it with a quick google, but it seems about right to me based upon nothing much).

olethros
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olethros
2 years 6 months ago

Isn’t the typical strike zone for lefties shifted towards the outer part of the plate? I suspect that might be why righties dominate this list. Do the same for the most outside homers and you’ll probably see more lefthanders.

ALZ
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ALZ
2 years 6 months ago

Hughes gets alot of flak for pitching straight fb down the middle, but that pitch isn’t all that bad. Still will remember Miggy getting a base hit on an intentional walk when with the fish.

DNA+
Guest
DNA+
2 years 6 months ago

That is surely one of the funniest at bats in MLB history. …in fact the only funnier baseball moment I can think of period, is Manny Ramirez diving out of left field to cut the ball off on the throw in from Damon in center field.

Fish
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Fish
2 years 6 months ago

Or Jose Canseco giving up a HR off the old coconut. But yeah, all three of them were pretty remarkable.

JustinVerlander35
Member
JustinVerlander35
2 years 6 months ago

Miguel Cabrera is stupid good at hitting. His plate coverage and ability to hit any pitch in any part of the strike zone is mind blowing.

Nickname Damur
Guest
Nickname Damur
2 years 6 months ago

Here’s an idea for some articles when news is slow. Given the advanced stats available on pitch location and strikeout rates, for example, it would be amusing to know how many times in 600 at bats Carlos Peguero would strike out against Aroldis Chapman. Using historical rate stats, how many times would Ted Williams walk against Nolan Ryan?

Matchup stuff with rate stats could generate essentially an endless number of articles that, granted, would quickly pall if done too much, but it’s a well that you could drink from once in a while.

mfyg
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mfyg
2 years 6 months ago

Miggys eyes on #1. holy shit.

Izzy
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Izzy
2 years 6 months ago

“The hardest thing about writing is the writing.” You can always spot a Jeff Sullivan article by the first sentence.

bob
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bob
2 years 6 months ago

I was at the ballpark when Cabrera hit the one off Shields. I was so sure it would hook foul that I didn’t even watch it all the way and then was surprised to see him doing the homerun trot. But with an inside pitch like that it maybe doesn’t hook as much as you’d expect because the swing in that situation doesn’t put as much sidespin on the ball. I’m curious to know if that’s true.

frazier
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frazier
2 years 6 months ago

Strange: you intro by complaining about having nothing to write about in the winter and then can’t even spare two seconds to find out who “Tigers color guy” is and cite him in your work.

rea
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rea
2 years 6 months ago

Rod Allen, presumably.

Mo
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Mo
2 years 6 months ago

He has is own drinking game which is fantastic…

Matt
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Matt
2 years 6 months ago

I’m curious about the most inside HRs when the batter & pitcher were opposite-handed.

channelclemente
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channelclemente
2 years 6 months ago

Even more amazing, Romo got Cabrera out in the WS last year with an inside corner 89 MPH fastball.

twoseamers
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twoseamers
2 years 6 months ago

Midway through and this became my favorite article in years on fangraphs.

“Do you like pictures that have something to do with Miguel Cabrera? I hope you like pictures that have something to do with Miguel Cabrera, because there aren’t going to be any more of not-those.”

twoseamers
Guest
twoseamers
2 years 6 months ago

What’s awesome is that those are all running fastballs on the hands. 99.9% break their lumber if they swing at that.

rea
Guest
rea
2 years 6 months ago

From a Wall Street Journal article on Cabrera’s hitting, which I highly recommend:

This season his slugging percentage (total bases divided by at-bats) is a frightening .590 on pitches that pass between him and the inside edge of the plate. That is, inside pitches that shouldn’t be swung at, never mind hit.

Max Scherzer, the Tigers starter who went 21-3 this season, said he was sure an inside pitch from the Yankees’ Phil Hughes this summer was going to nail Cabrera’s back leg. Then Cabrera pulled his weight back, dropped his hands inside the pitch and yanked it over the left field fence for a home run. “He’s anticipating what’s coming and makes the adjustment he needs to,” Scherzer says. “I’d just walk him and take my chances with Prince. That guy has figured out the secret bashing codes.”

Cabrera insisted the inside pitches he connects with aren’t nearly as close to his body as they appear. To him, an inside pitch is one that nearly grazes his chest. “But if it is over here,” he says, putting his hand a few inches from his groin, an area no sane baseball player would refer to as a safe hitting zone, “then I can pull my hands inside and swing.” Also, he explained, those inside pitches are usually sinking breaking balls he can get to before they drop too close to his body.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303464504579107291140308858

Mo
Guest
Mo
2 years 6 months ago

Thanks for that post Rea, as a fellow Tiger fan I can’t help just marvel and gaze at how amazing he is every time he steps into the batters box, he’s magical in every sense of the word

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