In the first game of a Tuesday doubleheader in Colorado, the Braves and Rockies played in a temperature that was measured at 23 degrees at first pitch. It’s hardly impossible to imagine temperatures that low — in some places temperatures are that low all of the time — but it’s hard to imagine playing baseball, and specifically hitting a baseball, when it’s below freezing out. Nevertheless, the Braves and Rockies played, and the Braves emerged victorious, having slammed a trio of dingers. That got my mental gears whirring.
Take an ordinary fly ball. At room temperature, it would have a given distance. In hotter conditions, it would fly farther. In colder conditions, it would fly less far. So I found it impressive that the Braves hit three home runs when it was around 23 degrees, and my initial thought was that the cold canceled out the effect of the altitude. From there, I started messing around on the ESPN Home Run Tracker, and I looked beyond Tuesday’s first game in Colorado. I started looking for the 2013 home run that has lost the most distance due to non-standard conditions.
There’s an easy way to calculate this, and there’s also another easy way. The ESPN Home Run Tracker provides information on distance gained or lost due to wind, temperature, and altitude. By one way, you can just add up those individual values. By the other way, you can calculate the difference between “True Distance” and “Standard Distance”, with the latter measuring distance of a home run hit at sea level in 70-degree, wind-less conditions. I got all the 2013 home runs together on one spreadsheet, and then I got to addition and subtraction and sorting. Two weeks ago, there was a home run hit 400 feet. Under standard conditions, it would’ve gone 420 feet.
The breakdown: the homer lost one foot due to temperature, and 19 feet due to wind. The homers hit Tuesday in Colorado also lost distance due to temperature — more distance — but nothing on or near the order of 19 feet. Wind can trump temperature as a contributing variable when it wants to. This, for whatever it’s worth, was a pinch-hit home run, and the Phillies were already on their way to winning the game. It matters who won, but that isn’t what this is about.
This homer lost about 20 feet of distance. That’s three more feet than second place, so far, and seven more feet than third place. Only ten dingers have lost at least ten feet of distance in the early going, and Nix’s fly ball was the most impeded, among fly balls that still sailed past the barrier. This was a game that had itself a little rain delay, so you know conditions were unusual and unfavorable. How windy and gross was it in Philadelphia? Consider the following evidence:
Nix blasted his home run to right-center field, but he needed almost all of his strength to push the ball out of the yard. Neither announcing team remarked on the conditions in which Nix went deep, but by that point they’d probably already made it clear that the conditions were lousy. It had been windy all game. There had been that delay. Also, there are only so many things you have time to say when a batter hits a home run.
Just by coincidence, this is a Laynce Nix spring-training home run that he also ripped through a gusting wind. Maybe this is kind of a thing of his. Probably, it is not.
Now here’s where things get even more interesting. Or, for some of you, interesting. This Mets/Phillies game featured six home runs. According to the tracker, Nix’s was the only one that lost much distance due to wind, despite the visible evidence that the wind was pitcher-friendly. Lucas Duda hit a homer in the eighth inning that lost one foot. Duda hit a homer in the fourth inning that gained 19 feet from the wind, and it was hit to right field. As Duda was preparing to swing, the Mets’ broadcast had a guy sitting in the seats and he made an on-air FanGraphs reference, so this was destined to end up on the website somewhere. The ESPN Home Run Tracker says Duda got a significant boost from the wind. The Mets broadcast claimed the very opposite as Duda rounded the bases.
I don’t know which source is more right. The Mets’ guys were actually there, in the ballpark, but the tracker is based on objective science and math, and the Mets’ broadcasters weren’t out in right field, where the ball was hit to. Wind can play very differently at the same time in the same stadium. The most important point here is that wind changes over the course of a game and a reading at first pitch means only so much. A hitter-friendly wind in the first inning might not exist in the sixth inning, and a hitter-friendly wind to left field might not exist in right. Wind is tricky. For the sake of proper statistics, tricky things are annoying.
So we don’t know exactly what happened with Duda’s first homer, and the wind measurement on the ESPN Home Run Tracker comes with the biggest error bars. But this isn’t about Duda’s first homer, or his second homer — this is about Nix’s homer, and the approximately 20 feet it lost. Laynce Nix hit an impressive home run that, under more favorable conditions, would’ve been an even more impressive home run. Maybe then, more people would think about Laynce Nix. Or maybe now, more people will think about Laynce Nix. It’s hard to know the effect all this had, on Laynce Nix. All we know is he still hit a dinger.
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