A Steep Dive into Shohei Ohtani’s Latest Homer, and Other Statcast Extremes

Shohei Ohtani does something amazing virtually every time he sets foot on a baseball field, and Thursday was no exception. Leading off the afternoon’s contest against the Orioles in Camden Yards, he connected with Keegan Akin’s second pitch of the day, a hanging curveball in the middle of the zone, and hit a towering homer:

It wasn’t just the fact that this was Ohtani’s 41st homer of the year, extending his major league lead, or that it was the third time he’s led off a game with a homer, which he did on June 25 against the Rays in Tampa Bay and on August 14 against the Astros in Anaheim. No, what stood out to these eyes was the combination of the Statcast specs — a 45-degree launch angle and a 110.7-mph exit velocity — on this shot that made it such a majestic drive, and one that particularly caught the eye of this launch angle aficionado.

I have a thing for what I’ve sometimes termed “launch angle porn,” one that predates the Statcast era. Even amid the unending barrage of home runs and their resultant highlights, I find that the visceral thrill of watching the beginning of a sky-scraping home run is the best part. Particularly when viewed on a two-dimensional screen of whatever size, we have no idea of the final distance that struck sphere will travel, but after the sight and sound of contact — and particularly, the mellifluous melody of a ball hitting the sweet spot of a wooden bat — launch angle is the first feedback we get, whether or not there’s a number attached to that steep ascent. As for exit velocity and distance, those come later, whether it’s a couple of seconds after when we see where that ball lands, or once the Statcast numbers are in.

Wherever you sit along the spectrum of baseball observers, from newcomer through casual fan, diehard, junkie, nerd, and professional, you are by no means obligated to care about such numbers. But if you’re the type that gets a kick out of at least an occasional peek at them, not for their own sake but because they increase our understanding of the game (and of ourselves): welcome to the club, and to today’s tour of the season-to-date’s Statcast extremes. This ride isn’t for everyone, but if it’s your thing, buckle up.

Back to Ohtani. Home runs with a 45-degree launch angle are fairly uncommon; prior to Thursday, just 20 had been hit in the majors this year, accounting for 0.43% of all homers. And yet that’s the highest rate on record, up from 0.3% last year, 0.16% in 2019, 0.39% in ’18, and rates in the 0.14–0.16% range in the three years before that. Particularly with those lower rates in the earlier years of Statcast, I don’t know whether to chalk up the current increase to changing techniques by hitters, better quality control by MLB Advanced Media (some homers just break Statcast), or the shift from Trackman to Hawkeye, which happened before the 2020 season. One way or another, these things don’t happen every day.

Combine those homers with extreme launch angles with those with exceptional exit velocities of 110 mph or greater — which account for 10% of homers this year, but historically something in the 6–8% range — and you’ve really got some scarcity. Just seven homers in the Statcast era meet both of those specifications, though three have come this year:

Home Runs with 45+ Degree Launch and 110 MPH+ Exit Velocity
Player Team Opp Date Exit Velo Dist Launch Angle Link
Mike Zunino Rays Nationals 6/29/21 111.0 358 48 BOOM!
Pete Alonso Mets Rockies 6/8/19 111.5 364 48 BOOM!
Lucas Duda Royals Yankees 7/28/18 110.7 345 48 BOOM!
Luke Voit Yankees Blue Jays 9/16/20 111.6 404 47 BOOM!
Bryce Harper Phillies Cubs 7/6/21 110.1 394 46 BOOM!
Ronald Acuña Jr. Braves Cubs 6/25/19 110.0 413 46 BOOM!
Shohei Ohtani Angels Orioles 8/26/21 110.7 374 45 BOOM!
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Since 2015.

That’s quite a bunch of sluggers. All but Duda rank in the 94th percentile or higher in terms of barrel rate since the start of the 2018 season, led by Zunino (16.4%, sixth in the majors) and Ohtani (16.0%). All but Duda and Voit rank in the 92nd percentile or higher in terms of maximum exit velocity — a useful proxy for raw power — led by Ohtani (119.0 mph), and in the 87th percentile or higher in terms of average home run distance, led by Acuña (414 feet). But other than being barreled, these drives don’t conform to those trends. For one thing, only those of Acuña and Duda exceeded 400 feet. More tellingly, all of them are clustered in a narrow band of exit velos that vary by a maximum of 1.6 MPH, and save for Duda and Voit, they’re about six clicks slower than those sluggers’ maximums. For as hard as these guys hit the ball in these particular cases, they’re capable of much more.

Anyway, for all of the home runs you might see these days, you don’t often see ones like those, so I’ve provided links to each of those drives. Setting exit velocity aside, Zunino’s home run doesn’t qualify as the steepest of the year in terms of launch angle, and Ohtani’s doesn’t even crack the top 10:

Home Runs with Steepest Launch Angles, 2021
Player Team Opp Date Exit Velo Dist Launch Angle Link
Xander Bogaerts Red Sox Orioles 8/13/21 102.3 343 50 BOOM!
Carlos Correa Astros Red Sox 6/8/21 105.5 310 49 BOOM!
Joey Gallo Yankees Mariners 8/5/21 109.5 331 48 BOOM!
Pavin Smith Diamondbacks Pirates 8/25/21 107.3 352 48 BOOM!
Mike Zunino Rays Nationals 6/29/21 111.0 358 48 BOOM!
Alex Jackson Marlins Rockies 8/8/21 104.1 387 47 BOOM!
Seby Zavala White Sox Indians 7/31/21 106.6 377 46 BOOM!
Jay Bruce Yankees Orioles 4/6/21 105.6 354 46 BOOM!
Anthony Alford Pirates Diamondbacks 8/24/21 106.6 369 46 BOOM!
Cody Bellinger Dodgers Phillies 8/11/21 106.6 371 46 BOOM!
Bryce Harper Phillies Cubs 7/6/21 110.1 394 46 BOOM!
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

I’ve included the links to all of those homers, but that Bogaerts one deserves a closer look. For one thing, he hit it off the ledge atop the Green Monster:

Only two other homers from the Statcast era have reached or exceeded 50 degrees, and one — a 51-degree homer by Avisail Garcia on May 28, 2019 — shouldn’t really count in this context, as it was an inside-the-park job caused by Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk losing sight of the ball under the Tropicana Field roof. The other was this May 15, 2015 skyscraper by J.D. Martinez, an absurd 50 degrees and just 327 feet.

Gallo’s homer, his first as a Yankee, nearly broke Twitter. Not only was it larger-than-life like one might have hoped given the slugger’s natural power, but it also apparently introduced a good portion of social media to the reality of Yankee Stadium’s short right field line, where the 314-foot distance was preserved from the post-renovation House That Ruth Built. The three-run shot provided decisive in the Yankees’ 5–3 win, and the estimated distance of 331 feet — remember, that’s a projection of how far it would travel unimpeded before hitting the ground — drew so many complaints that MLBAM’s Tom Tango had to diagram an explanation:

Having covered home runs hit at the steepest launch angles for 2021, it’s worth taking note of extreme distances as well, particularly given that Wednesday night brought the season’s longest drive, a 495-foot shot by the Twins’ Miguel Sanó at the expense of Boston’s Nick Pivetta. This one didn’t just clear the Green Monster; it left the building entirely:

That was by far the longest home run ever tracked at Fenway Park, surpassing a 469-footer by Hanley Ramirez on April 29, 2017. It was no fluke, either. Though it fell one foot short of Sanó’s career long of 496 feet (more on which momentarily), he occupies two other spots within the top 10 on this year’s distance leaderboard:

Longest Home Runs of 2021
Player Team Opp Date Exit Velo Launch Angle Dist
Miguel Sanó Twins Red Sox 8/25/21 116.7 24 495
Tommy Pham Padres Rockies 8/17/21 107.9 28 486
Yermín Mercedes White Sox Royals 4/8/21 113.3 24 485
Ronald Acuña Jr. Braves Cubs 4/27/21 111.9 27 481
Marcell Ozuna Braves Cubs 4/29/21 114.3 25 479
Ryan McMahon Rockies Reds 5/15/21 109.4 28 478
Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres Rockies 6/16/21 113.1 26 477
Miguel Sanó Twins Cleveland 8/18/21 113.9 27 475
Franchy Cordero Red Sox Phillies 5/23/21 118.6 29 474
Miguel Sanó Twins Tigers 7/28/21 114.8 30 473
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

In an effort to preserve what’s left of my sanity (and that of my editor), I’m merely going to link you to the Statcast search page if you want to peep at these prodigious drives before we move along to the part where I point out that Sanó’s latest long-distance dinger did crack the top 10 of the Statcast era:

Longest Home Runs Since 2015
Player Team Opp Date Exit Velo Launch Angle Dist
Nomar Mazara Rangers White Sox 6/21/19 109.7 27 505
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins Rockies 8/6/16 115.8 18 504
Miguel Sanó Twins White Sox 9/17/19 113.5 25 496
Aaron Judge Yankees Blue Jays 9/30/17 118.3 26 496
Ronald Acuña Jr. Braves Red Sox 9/25/20 112.9 32 495
Joey Gallo Rangers Cleveland 7/20/18 114.3 31 495
Miguel Sanó Twins Red Sox 8/25/21 116.7 24 495
Aaron Judge Yankees Orioles 6/11/17 118.6 28 495
Gary Sánchez Yankees Tigers 8/22/17 113.1 29 493
Michael A. Taylor Nationals Rockies 8/20/15 110.1 26 493
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Continuing the theme of extremes, particularly ones produced in recent days, here’s this year’s leaderboard for exit velocity:

Home Runs with Highest Exit Velocity in 2021
Player Team Opp Date Launch Angle Dist Exit Velo
Manny Machado Padres Phillies 8/20/21 15 357 119.6
Franchy Cordero Red Sox Phillies 5/23/21 29 474 118.6
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees Cleveland 4/23/21 18 429 118.0
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays Rays 5/24/21 23 461 117.4
Ronald Acuña Jr. Braves Reds 6/27/21 19 432 117.4
Mike Zunino Rays Mets 5/14/21 27 450 117.3
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees Astros 5/6/21 20 437 117.3
Shohei Ohtani Angels Yankees 6/28/21 25 416 117.2
Shohei Ohtani Angels Rangers 5/25/21 24 380 117.0
Yermín Mercedes White Sox Orioles 5/27/21 24 427 116.8
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

That Machado homer, which passed almost without notice last week — that can happen when you’re busy losing 11 of 13, as the Padres have — holds the distinction of having the lowest launch angle of any over-the-wall homer of the Statcast era. You could hang your wash on this clothesline:

The only home run with a lower angle was an inside-the-park job by the Tigers’ Eric Haase. Via that exit velocity, Machado’s drive did earn him a place among the top 10 of the Statcast era, as did Franchy’s blast, which since it has come up multiple times here deserves a full airing:

The rest of the leaderboard is utterly dominated by two men, both part of the Yankees’ Jumbo Package:

Home Runs with Highest Exit Velocity Since 2015
Player Team Opp Date Launch Angle Dist Exit Velo
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees Rangers 8/9/18 17 449 121.7
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees Nationals 7/25/20 21 483 121.3
Aaron Judge Yankees Orioles 6/10/17 25 382 121.1
Manny Machado Padres Phillies 8/20/21 15 357 119.6
Aaron Judge Yankees Orioles 4/28/17 17 435 119.4
Giancarlo Stanton Yankees Blue Jays 6/6/18 15 416 119.3
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins Cardinals 6/23/15 22 479 119.2
Giancarlo Stanton Marlins Braves 9/28/17 23 467 118.7
Franchy Cordero Red Sox Phillies 5/23/21 29 474 118.6
Aaron Judge Yankees Orioles 6/11/17 28 495 118.6
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

As noted previously, you don’t have to invest in these numbers to the degree that I have here in order to enjoy the game or the dingers. Admittedly, not all of them have much of an impact on winning and losing. The Ohtani homer that kicked off this little tour, for example, was about as far from pivotal in the final outcome as a homer can get, representing the Angels’ lone run in a 13–1 bludgeoning by the Orioles, the worst team in baseball. Sometimes, it’s enough to appreciate the aesthetics, whether or not there are numbers attached.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

Great article!