The 2013 Season In Low Home Runs

The ESPN Home Run Tracker is a wonderful resource, and I feel like I don’t even need to point that out, because by now you’re all already well aware. One of the bits of information it calculates for every dinger is the apex. This is the highest point above the field reached by the batted ball, in feet. The average home run maxes out right around 85-90 feet above the field of play before beginning its descent, and last year’s standard deviation around that, for example, was 20 feet. On the site, you can sort by apex, allowing you to see the season’s highest-hit home runs, and the season’s lowest-hit home runs.

This has nothing to do with that, despite the misleading post headline. Monday, I looked at the 2013 season’s most inside pitches hit for home runs. Later, I looked at the season’s most outside pitches hit for home runs. Now this is about the season’s lowest pitches hit for home runs, because I’m continuing a series just like I did a year ago. I suppose I could’ve spread these out a little more, but I don’t know what that would accomplish. Might as well get them all done quickly and then get back to regular business. There is not an overwhelming demand to read these posts.

Once again, it’s going to be a top-five list, and I’m going to assume that PITCHf/x didn’t make any egregious mistakes. The average pitch hit for a home run was 2.51 feet off the ground at the front of the plate. That’s right around mid-thigh, for most hitters. The standard deviation was just about 0.49 feet, meaning three standard deviations below the mean would be 1.04 feet. Two home runs you’re going to see were against pitches lower than that. Does that mean they didn’t actually happen? No.

All of these pitches were going to be balls, below the strike zone. Four of them were thrown in two-strike counts. One argument would be that the pitchers didn’t bury the pitches enough, assuming that, at least in four instances, they were trying for swings. After all, the pitches were hit out of the ballpark, and with two strikes you want to protect against that outcome. What’s a worse outcome than a big home run? But then, these were the very lowest pitches hit out all season long. These were extreme home runs, and we can recognize them as such, so it’s hard to fault the pitchers for giving up homers on balls. At the end of the day, they were going to be balls. When a hitter hits one of those hard, it’s maybe the most frustrating kind of bad luck.

And now for the meat. Just missing the five: a pitch thrown by Rick Porcello to Justin Morneau on August 20, a pitch thrown by David Aardsma to Denard Span on July 28, and a pitch thrown by Garrett Richards to Carlos Peguero on April 25. Those outcomes are why Carlos Peguero is Carlos Peguero.

(5) Mike Trout, May 21, vs. Lucas Luetge

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1.10 feet off the ground

Victor Rojas: “As much as Mike Trout has done in the major leagues, would it surprise you right now if he went yard for the cycle?

Mark Gubicza: “No. Would it surprise me? No. No.”

Rojas: “And he’s got a great count to take a shot at it right now.”

Rojas: “2-0 pitch-“

(4) Raul Ibanez, June 23, vs. Jarrod Parker

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1.07 feet off the ground

Originally I got tripped up looking for video because Ibanez actually homered twice against Parker in this game, once in the first and once in the fourth. After this one, Dave Sims exclaimed, in verbal ALL-CAPS: “RAUL IBANEZ IS ON FIRE! HE’S UNCONSCIOUS! WOW!” Ibanez had indeed been on a good run for a month and a half. And then after this game Ibanez posted a 1.147 OPS through the All-Star break. In other words, he got even hotter. Ibanez was subsequently awful down the stretch and people talked about regression and aging and whatnot, and you’d never expect Raul Ibanez to be an incredible hitter at 41 years old, but there really was an extended period where he was hitting like Barry flipping Bonds. It was probably the most pointless I’ve ever felt as an analyst.

(3) Matt Holliday, April 2, vs. Trevor Cahill

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1.05 feet off the ground

The first pitch was a low sinker. The second pitch was a low changeup. The third pitch was a low sinker. The fourth pitch was a low sinker. The fifth pitch was a low changeup. The sixth pitch was a low changeup. All six of the pitches were at the lower edge of the zone, or below. Cahill’s a groundball guy, and in hindsight, you might say he should’ve changed Holliday’s eye level with something somewhere else. The counter-argument is: what

(2) Pablo Sandoval, July 11, vs. Jason Marquis

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1.00 feet off the ground

Now for a little game theory. Marquis got ahead of Sandoval 0-and-2. Which is great! Especially for Jason Marquis. To try to put Sandoval away, Marquis threw a changeup, down in the dirt. Sandoval took it for a ball. To try to put Sandoval away a second time, Marquis threw a changeup, down in the dirt. Sandoval took it for a ball. That left the count at 2-and-2, still pitcher-friendly but less pitcher-friendly. What you might think, after Sandoval took two straight balls low, is that you’d need to come up a little higher in order to get a swing. But then, Sandoval could be thinking that too, which would make him more likely to swing, which would make him more likely to swing at a ball in the dirt. Marquis threw another changeup, up a little higher from the previous two. Sandoval jumped all over it and hit it out to right-center, in Petco of all places. Should Marquis instead have thrown a third changeup down in the dirt? Would that have allowed him to get Sandoval out easily? I mean, geez, I don’t know, what am I, a magician? I bet this wouldn’t have happened though. I’m impossible to argue with!

(1) Freddy Galvis, April 28, vs. Jon Niese

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0.79 feet off the ground

This was a curveball. It was the seventh pitch of the at-bat. The fourth pitch of the at-bat was a curveball in the exact same place, that Galvis fouled off. The fifth pitch of the at-bat was a curveball in the exact same place, that Galvis fouled off. Galvis’ previous at-bat against Niese ended with three consecutive low-inside curveballs. I was going to make some jokes until I realized the last two years Galvis has posted a higher isolated slugging percentage than Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Eric Hosmer, and Dustin Pedroia. Baseball will surprise you. It surprised me! It probably also surprised Jon Niese. Notice the catcher preparing for a breaking ball in the dirt. He didn’t just call for that pitch — he moved that way, with the baseball in flight. A breaking ball destined for the dirt was hit for a home run and now don’t you just feel like anything is possible? You shouldn’t, it’s not.

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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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