Earlier, we took a look at the young season’s most impeded home run so far, which is the home run that faced the most opposition from the game conditions at the time. All necessary data was recovered from the ESPN Home Run Tracker, which is among my most favorite of Internet resources. If we look at one extreme, then, it follows that we should look also at the other extreme, or else the matter will feel incomplete, and this is a website devoted to completeness. And so we now turn our attention to the home run that has gotten the biggest boost from the game conditions. Home runs like this are probably more interesting than home runs that remain home runs despite strong winds and cold conditions, because these might be identified as “lucky”.
In terms of impeded home runs, we had one dinger at -20 feet, and another dinger at -17 feet. So it was a close race, and the error bars probably overlap. Here, in terms of aided home runs, we have one dinger at +64 feet, and another dinger at +43 feet. That’s a much bigger difference, but there might still be some error-bar overlap, for reasons we’ll get into. Let’s look at the home run in question!
“True Distance” is a home run’s actual distance. “Standard Distance” is a home run’s distance if hit at room temperature at sea level with no wind. Our home run here had a standard distance of 330 feet. All right, on its own that isn’t unacceptable — perfectly normal 330-foot fly balls and line drives can escape certain parks down the lines. Our home run here also had a true distance of 397 feet. That’s an incredible difference of 67 feet, breaking down as +69 feet due to wind, +3 feet due to altitude, and -8 feet due to temperature. I don’t know why that doesn’t add up to exactly 67, but I assume it has to do with rounding. This is a home run with a standard distance of 330 feet, and it escaped a major-league power alley.
The reason the ball was given such a massive wind boost is because the ball was hit so high into the air. The ESPN Home Run Tracker measures the angle at which the ball comes off the bat, and Swisher’s home run here has the season’s second-highest elevation angle, just six-tenths of a degree out of first. The higher a ball is hit, and the longer a ball stays in the air, the greater the effect wind might have on the baseball’s path. The numbers suggest that this ball was carried from being a routine out to being a game-tying dinger.
Here’s where things get curious. Four home runs were hit in Progressive Field that day, and the wind boosts are measured at +4, +5, +10, and +69. One of them kind of stands out. We know there were strong winds swirling around, but in terms of helping this particular home run…here’s Terry Francona, who is a manager and who was there in person:
“Awesome,” said Swisher, who played his college ball at OSU.
Said Francona: “He crushed that ball. With the wind and rain and cold, it was a hard day to hit a ball out to left field.”
According to Francona, it would’ve been hard to hit a ball out to left field. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, it was just the right day, or at least just the right time within the day, to hit a ball out to left field. Here’s a screenshot of Swisher’s home run, and note the American flag in the background:
The flag is blowing, but it seems to be blowing strongly to the right. So there are reasons to be skeptical of the measurement, but then, we went through this same sort of thing several months ago. Said ESPN Home Run Tracker founder Greg Rybarczyk about a massively wind-aided home run from 2012:
However, when you look at wind impact, all the little errors pile up, and there isn’t anything that tightly constrains the result to a known value. A little error in the timing of the homer will add some uncertainty, error in the wind estimate (both in its average strength & direction and in how it varies over the playing surface and over the 6.5 seconds) will as well, etc.
It’s hard to guess a number, but I’d say there’s a fair chance of the wind impact number being off by 10-15 feet, a somewhat lower chance of it being off by say 25 feet, and a very small chance of it being off by more than say 30-35 feet.
There are going to be errors, because wind is a difficult thing to capture, but if anybody’s doing it right, it’s Rybarczyk, and his system claims that Swisher got an almost inconceivable boost. Because of the errors, the most-aided homer and the second-most-aided homer might overlap, but the difference between them is substantial, so the odds are that Swisher’s homer is indeed the most aided homer of 2013 to date.
Of interest is that the second-most-aided homer was also hit in Cleveland, on another day. As was the fourth-most-aided homer. So it doesn’t look like this was some sort of glitch. It gets windy in Cleveland, and sometimes that wind can do really neat things for hitters. Sometimes it can do the exact opposite. Wind and ballparks are complicated.
This is a home run that Swisher was lucky to hit, and Sale was unlucky to give up. But Sale also threw a pretty bad, hanging offspeed pitch, so he was not unlucky to get punished. Does the luck cancel out? That’s up to you to decide, because I personally don’t really care. Pitchers make a ton of mistakes for which they don’t get hurt, so it’s not like every bad pitch ordinarily turns into a homer, but it’s not like Swisher drove something down off the plate. Since Sale pitches half the time in Chicago, he’s probably accustomed to seeing too many fly balls carry out.
Nick Swisher is presently slugging .463. If this fly ball had been hit under more ordinary conditions, he’d probably be slugging .403. Something to think about.
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