The Most Difficult Homer In Baseball

It seems to me there are two ways of thinking about things. Baseball, as you know, is the one major sport where the playing dimensions between venues can be wildly different. Given that, I think you can either prefer neutrality and standardization, or you can choose to embrace the differences. There are limits to the latter — I don’t think anyone wants to see a stadium that makes a mockery of the contest, because you don’t have reasonable competition. But we haven’t gotten to the mockery point. So, personally, I like the quirks, even if they seem occasionally unfair.

Focus on that unfairness for a moment. If something were simply too unfair, it wouldn’t work. Fans wouldn’t support it. You couldn’t play a real baseball game with fences right behind the infield because the product wouldn’t be recognizable. I think there are certain features, currently, that approach the threshold without crossing it. Like, left field in Minute Maid Park approaches the line, because it yields a number of pretty weak home runs. It’s true, but without being out of control. On the opposite side of things, there’s straightaway center field in Minute Maid Park. If you want to conquer that, as a hitter, you have to hit the most difficult homer in baseball.

You might remember the Houston Astros announced some planned renovations. You might also remember the renovations have been delayed because the Astros themselves didn’t expect to make the playoffs. When people talked about the renovations online, they’ve focused on two things: removal of the flag pole and removal of Tal’s Hill. Those are worth talking about because they’re two of the most unusual features in any stadium around the league. Something that’s gotten a little lost, though, is the fence will be coming in as the hill goes away. In time, the center-field fence in Houston will be 409 feet away from home plate. For at least one more season, the distance will remain 436.

Four hundred feet, and another 36 feet. Longer home runs than this get hit, but it’s uncommon, even up the middle. This hasn’t turned people off, because this is just a small part of the Minute Maid outfield. It’s a part that also has a hill and a flag pole, and besides, center field is counteracted by left field. But that is a hell of a distance. Let’s play with an overlay, from the ESPN Home Run Tracker. What’s a pretty normal stadium? I think Dodger Stadium seems pretty normal. Here’s Dodger Stadium and Minute Maid Park.

minute-maid-park-dodger-stadium

There’s just so much extra space up the middle, and you can’t even see the hill in two dimensions. All the hill does is also make the center-field fence effectively taller. As a hitter in Houston, you want to pull the ball or you want to push the ball because the biggest part of the park is pretty unfriendly. Below, I’ve tried to represent the feeling as a hitter of standing in the box:

minute-maid

Because this is FanGraphs, we need to look at some numbers. How have hitters done with regard to clearing that center-field fence? This, again, is where the ESPN Home Run Tracker can come in handy, providing information going back a full decade. We miss the first few years of the stadium’s existence, but 10 years is plenty. So, I collected 10 years’ worth of major-league homers, and then I narrowed down to homers hit within a range of certain angles:

minute-maid-park-degrees

I selected the range from 85 degrees to 90 degrees. That basically captures the whole center field feature in Houston. I did this for all of the majors, calculating how many homers have been hit in the different home stadiums. I combined the numbers for teams who have had multiple home stadiums in the past decade. This table tells you what you probably could’ve guessed.

(Note: I excluded inside-the-park home runs. They’re fun, but they’re not relevant.)

Homers Between 85 – 90 Degrees, 2006 – 2015
Home Park Dingers
Reds 127
Orioles 117
Indians 117
Rangers 117
Brewers 116
Dodgers 112
Pirates 110
Rockies 105
Nationals 105
Angels 98
Blue Jays 95
Braves 94
Phillies 92
Padres 90
Yankees 89
White Sox 84
Mariners 84
Rays 83
Twins 80
Cardinals 80
Cubs 66
Royals 66
Athletics 66
Red Sox 59
Marlins 55
Mets 53
Giants 50
Diamondbacks 40
Tigers 25
Astros 6
SOURCE: ESPN Home Run Tracker

Cincinnati has averaged about 13 of these homers a year. Baltimore has averaged about 12. The average park is around eight. Detroit is between two and three. Comerica Park also has a notoriously deep center field. Houston yields just six results, total. Almost one every two years. This is a difficult home run. It’s not an impossible home run, but it’s almost as close as it gets with things how they are.

The log of hitters and victims:

Among the things that stand out here, Oswalt has yielded two of these on record. One was hit by an Astro, meaning the other five were allowed by Astros. And there’s been just one of these homers in the past five years. It seems appropriate it was hit by George Springer, and here you can watch it:

That’s good. That’s a big home run. According to the data, it’s the longest of the six. But Upton hit my favorite. Because Upton found the deepest part of the deepest part, as if simply to prove his capability. He didn’t need to hit the most difficult possible homer. He chose to, and it turned out to be the only run of the game.

Michael Bourn thought Justin Upton had some nerve.

bourn-upton

Upton made Bourn run as fast as he could for 100 feet. Upton made Bourn run straight up a hill. Upton made Bourn run for nothing. And then Bourn had to return to his position. I assume that caused an extended delay.

The hardest home run to hit has been attempted in Houston, and it’s happened once in the last five years. A home run to center in Minute Maid Park isn’t worth extra runs on the scoreboard, but it’s worth a little extra something at home or in the stands, which is kind of the whole point. Alas, before long, there will presumably be a different hardest home run, as this could be the final year of opportunities. There will always be homers to center in Houston, but it won’t matter as much when the fence is brought closer. Keep an eye out. Maybe two, when George Springer is up. A ballpark quirk is approaching the end of its life, and though there’s no shortage of ballpark quirks, there will soon be a shortage of this one. It’ll be missed… sometimes.



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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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TKDC
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TKDC
3 months 20 days ago

“Four hundred feet, and another 36 feet. Longer home runs than this get hit, but it’s uncommon, especially up the middle.”

This is false. People think of home runs being longer that are pulled, but that is because they go further past the outfield wall. However, if you’re just splitting the field into thirds, the majority of long home runs are hit to center field.

Grant41
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Grant41
3 months 20 days ago

Data please. I happen to think that most pulled homeruns go the furthest, not just because it looks like it, but they actually do.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 months 20 days ago

I went and eyeballed it looking at the longest home runs of 2015 on home run tracker. The majority have horizontal angles between 80 and 100, which is the middle. I don’t know how to export the data to excel, but if someone does, I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Well, I wouldn’t be happy, but I would accept it. I very much doubt that I would.

HamelinROY
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HamelinROY
3 months 20 days ago

Posted it below, but here you go

HamelinROY
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HamelinROY
3 months 20 days ago

For those that doubt, this is the top 500 homeruns from 2015 and where they were hit

John W.
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John W.
3 months 20 days ago

Your “artist’s rendering” is the most awesomest of awesome things, ever.

jruby
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jruby
3 months 20 days ago

The only thing that would make it better is if it was a GIF with the flag waving and a majestic eagle swooping down to carry away the center fielder.

TheVerbalFan
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TheVerbalFan
3 months 20 days ago

Also, the second baseman should be significantly smaller.

tz
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tz
3 months 20 days ago

He’s actually where the CF normally is. This is a special shift for a lefty with a 27% wPulledNineFootHighLineDrive% rate.

sunshine_and_rainbows
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sunshine_and_rainbows
3 months 20 days ago

I like how, of course, the defense is shifted.

dtpollitt
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dtpollitt
3 months 20 days ago

More posts with your renderings please, Jeff.

crew87
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crew87
3 months 20 days ago

Jeff’s at his best when he gets momentarily bored with how interesting his analysis is and decides to throw something random in there.

London Yank
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London Yank
3 months 20 days ago

The attention to detail on the artist’s rendering is fantastic. Love the shifted infield.

aaronsteindler
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aaronsteindler
3 months 20 days ago

This artwork is clearly done by a lefty. Not because of the work itself, but look at that infield!

grady
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grady
3 months 20 days ago

Marlins Park in that graph needs a “-Stanton” graph, for fairness.

gilpdawg
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gilpdawg
3 months 20 days ago

I really really don’t want the Astros to take the hill out. It’s one of the more unique things we have…without it, just another ballpark.

AngelsLakersFan
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AngelsLakersFan
3 months 20 days ago

I hate that Houston is allowed to do this to give their team an extra advantage. I wonder if we’ll ever see a poor team with a bunch of young, super athletic speed guys but no power – and a fly ball pitching staff to boot – decide to push their fences back about 100 feet just for the advantage.

Has any other team ever changed the dimensions of their field to gain a competitive advantage?

Anon
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Anon
3 months 20 days ago

I’ve LONG thought some team was missing the boat by not trying something like a uber-extreme ballpark with 500 ft to center and 380 down the lines for example. The Rockies come to mind as the perfect team to try it out. However I suspect there is some MLB protocol – official or unofficial – that says that is not allowed. I sincerely doubt we will ever see anything like that.

BTW, I disagree on the 1st sentence. I love it that Houston has the hill and wish they would leave it.

gilpdawg
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gilpdawg
3 months 18 days ago
joecb91
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joecb91
3 months 20 days ago

As soon as I saw that this was about Tals Hill, I was hoping to see that Upton HR somewhere in here.

dirtdog
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dirtdog
3 months 20 days ago

Left handed pull hitter huh Jeff? regular ol Adam Laroche over here

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