The other night, I was texting a friend of mine while simultaneously running one of my many queries on Baseball Savant. My “trivia” prompt was pretty simple: “Hitter with the most home runs on pitches outside the zone. Go.” His response was five words. “Javy is the obvious guess.”
Javier Báez was indeed the correct answer. The Cubs’ shortstop, who is known for his free-swinging tendency, has left the yard 28 times this season. Seven of those pitches weren’t even in the strike zone. Only seven hitters this season have at least five out-of-zone homers:
The names on this list are pretty interesting, and as you might expect, there are some similarities between them. Since Báez was the “obvious guess,” it made sense to consider whether most of these players were of a similar free-swinging variety. Generally speaking, they are. Six of the seven names on the list have an O-Swing rate above the league-average mark (31.4%), but what’s fascinating about the rest of this group is that Báez still sticks out, even if he’s not an outlier by the mathematical definition:
Clearly there’s something here, but being a free-swinger is likely not the only way a hitter could hit many bad-ball home runs. It’s important to remember that these events are relatively random, and batters who hit more home runs in general should also be those who hit more bad-ball home runs. Christian Yelich is a great example. He’s not really a free-swinging type; he just hits a lot of home runs. And when we take a look at where Yelich’s out-of-zone home runs have come from, we get a much better picture of what is going on:
As you can see, most of those pitches are borderline strikes. In fact, of Yelich’s six out-of-zone home runs, five of them came in the “shadow” of the strike zone, or in zones 11-19 on this chart:
Yelich’s other out-of-zone home run was this one, on an 0-2 fastball from Robert Stephenson. This was in the “chase” part of the zone, and from the looks of Yelich’s swing, it appears that he was just trying to fight it off. Instead, it was a 349-foot wall-scraping homer:
The ball left Yelich’s bat at 95.8 mph, and it was hit with a launch angle of 43 degrees. Similar batted balls go for a hit just 3% of the time. I’m not blaming the juiced ball for this one, but I’m also not not blaming the juiced ball for this one. Regardless, it was Yelich’s 30th homer of the season and first in nine games.
Like with Yelich’s personal breakdown, most bad-ball home runs are in the shadow of the strike zone. First, here’s a look at every Statcast-tracked home run by attack zone:
|Zone||League HR||% of League HR|
Now here’s a look at all the bad-ball home runs by attack zone. (O-HR is my shorthand for “outside-the-zone home run”):
|Zone||League HR||% of O-HR|
Clearly, many of the bad-ball home runs are still borderline strikes, as evidenced by the fact that nearly 86% of them are in the “shadow” region. As you’d expect, many of these home runs are coming with two strikes on the hitter, when the player is likely trying to protect the plate. Among all home runs tracked by Statcast this year, 33% of them came with two strikes, but among the bad-ball home runs, 44% of them came with two strikes:
|Zone||Two Strike O-HR||Total O-HR||% with Two Strikes|
If you’re anything like me, I know you’d be dying to see more GIFs at this point. What does that one “waste” home run look like? Before we get there though, I want to show a few more of the “chase” GIFs. First, here’s bad-ball home run king Báez taking Tyler Beede deep. He has two homers this year in the “chase” zone, tying him with Rowdy Tellez for the most in baseball:
He drove this pitch 411 feet:
You may notice that this pitch was inside, and Báez used his excellent bat speed to make the solid contact. Of the 56 home runs hit in the “chase” zone this season, 36 of them have come on pitches on the inside part of the plate. Here is the longest home run of those other 20, a 422-foot blast by Báez’s teammate, Anthony Rizzo:
This pitch isn’t notable for how far outside it is; rather, the height of the pitch is what makes this homer a “chase.” Technically speaking, it is still on the outer-half of the plate, but in reality, it just barely meets that classification. If we’re looking for something that is more indicative of a true “away” pitch, here is Daniel Vogelbach going 414 feet to center field:
That… is an impressive homer, and it’s quite the testament to Vogelbach’s raw power. But not every bad-ball blast is as majestic as those, and Yelich’s home run above is a good example there. Even though the home runs we’ve seen so far have run the gamut in terms of distance, location, and exit velocity, these home runs all still came on pitches defined as “chase.” What about the one home run that came on a “waste” pitch?
Here it is. Ronny Rodríguez, who is currently playing at Triple-A Toledo in the Tigers’ system, hit baseball’s lone “waste” home run:
Is this baseball’s worst pitch hit for a home run in 2019? It’s hard to say. Neither broadcast immediately commented on how bad of a pitch this was, so perhaps it’s a rather inconspicuous choice. But it is still over two feet from the center of the plate (in the horizontal, x-direction) when it crosses home. No other home run pitch even comes close.
So there you have it. Javier Báez might be the bad-ball home run king, but Ronny Rodríguez has hit the worst pitch for a home run this season. I’m glad we were able to get to the bottom of this, and I hope you continue to enjoy watching your favorite players mash taters, regardless of where exactly they are pitched.
Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.