Let’s Get Extreme: Home Runs Edition

Deep into the dog days of the offseason, it’s time to get extreme. You can crack open a Mountain Dew and do some skateboard tricks if you’d like. I won’t be joining you, though; I’m a little old for the skateboard tricks, and while I had some delicious watermelon-flavored Dew earlier this year, I’m drinking a peppermint tea while I write this. Instead, for my contribution to being extreme, I’m going to show you some home runs that were hit extremely far away from the center of the strike zone.

What’s that? This is an extremely cheesy introduction? You’re right again! The truth is, I wasn’t really sure how to introduce an article that will mainly be funny GIFs of home runs. Instead of spending a long time coming up with the best possible introduction, though, I’m just doing it off the cuff. Home runs: you love them. Home run GIFs: I love making them. Let’s have a party! Here are the five most extreme (for a very specific definition of extreme) home runs of 2021.

5. Kyle Schwarber

Goodness, that’s a high home run. That pitch was roughly shoulder height when it reached home plate — four feet and three inches off the ground. And yet Cueto knew it was gone. His perfunctory point upward quickly turned into a dejected shake of the head. The sound certainly helped; Schwarber hit that ball 105 mph. But uh, how did he do that? The list of batters who hit a ball four feet or more off the ground that hard is extremely short, and the list of batters who put the ball on a home run trajectory while doing it is even shorter (Adam Duvall, Shohei Ohtani, and Schwarber).

But Schwarber had the benefit of anticipation, and of being on the hottest streak of his life. In an earlier at-bat, Cueto had tried the upper part of the strike zone three times. Schwarber laid off two and took one for a strike. Then Cueto threw a breaking ball in the bottom half of the zone, and Schwarber took him out of the park.

Okay, fine: no more low pitches. This at-bat, Cueto worked the top of the zone exclusively. On 0–0, he threw a changeup that caught the upper outside corner. On 0–1, he got one by Schwarber at the top of the zone. On 0–2, he was coming back again:

That missed outside rather than high, but you get the idea. Out of the first seven pitches Schwarber saw, six were at the top of the zone or higher. The seventh left the park. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to intuit that Cueto wasn’t interested in coming back with more of the low stuff. When you’re already looking high, location isn’t enough to make a pitch unhittable, and again, as I said, it helps to be on the hottest streak of your career.

4. Giancarlo Stanton

Why don’t pitchers throw right-on-right changeups more? It’s because of this, more or less. Oh sure, you might have good enough command of your changeup that you won’t leave it out over the plate. Maybe you threw him this one earlier in the at-bat for a ball:

And maybe you were able to coax a swing out of him on a similarly impossible location:

And what the heck, maybe you got a little too high on your ability to place the pitch off the inside corner and got another swing:

But at some point, the math doesn’t work out all that well. Stanton has power to spare. Let him get the barrel on a pitch more or less anywhere and he’ll provide the oomph needed to take it out of the park. Stanton had been sitting on that part of the plate, and with good reason. Here was the first pitch of the at-bat, a called strike (lol):

All told, Trevor Richards threw five pitches low and inside to Stanton. He took two (that bad called strike and a ball in the dirt) and made contact with three. Maybe I was too harsh on righty-righty changeups in general, but in this matchup, after being granted a ludicrously wide strike zone, Richards walked right into that homer.

3. Gio Urshela

Ah, the Subway Series — on the Fourth of July, no less. Corey Oswalt drew his one start of the year, and this can’t be a fun team to face if you only get one crack at starting. The worst part of it is, he pitched pretty well overall. He got Aaron Judge and Stanton in the first. He got them both again in the third. He only allowed four hits, and one was a bunt single.

This pitch to Urshela? No one hits a home run on that kind of pitch. No one else came close to hitting a pitch that high and away for a homer. Where do you even get the power from? Urshela popped 14 homers on the year. None of them were within five inches of being as outside as this pitch. None of them were within six inches of being as high as this pitch.

Heck, Urshela swung at six pitches in that general area all year. He whiffed on the other five, and this was the worst pitch of the bunch to hit, easily the farthest from the plate. With the previous homers, I could invent a narrative. This is just plain bad luck on Oswalt’s part, and pure right-now-I-can-hit-anything on Urshela’s.

2. Willians Astudillo

Give the people what they want, right? Many of you surely expected this to be No. 1, and it’s inarguably glorious. He hit it from where? And he’s how tall? And his helmet almost fell off when he rounded first base? All of those things are true:

Pity JT Brubaker, who executed a solid sequence of pitches. He got ahead of Astudillo with three straight pitches down in the zone. He came back with a well-placed four-seamer. Astudillo swings at everything, and while he makes a lot of contact, it’s not usually that kind of contact. He took 30 swings at pitches 3.5 feet above the ground or higher — this one was four feet three inches — and only three of those left his bat with any chance at being a homer (15–35 degrees of launch angle off the bat). It’s really hard to square up a pitch that high; when you’re less looking for something up and more swinging at anything you get, most of your contact that high up will either be skied or driven straight into the ground.

If you let Brubaker pick where his pitch would go and what Astudillo would do, he might select “a foot above the strike zone” and “Astudillo swings wildly”. He got it; it just didn’t pan out the way you’d expect. Sometimes, hitters just hit.

1. Eddie Rosario

If you had to guess which hitter turned the worst pitch into a home run, Rosario would be a solid choice. He has a wonderful combination of skills that make him a solid bad ball hitter. He’s a free swinger with good feel to hit, so he makes a ton of contact, both inside and outside the zone. He also generates plenty of power no matter where he swings; it’s one thing to make a ton of contact, and another entirely to make loud contact. That skill has kept Rosario in the league — and winning postseason accolades — despite a low on-base percentage and defensive limitations.

That’s precisely what happened here. I don’t have anything clever to tell you about pitch sequencing, how Austin Voth walked right into this home run by doing some obviously predictable thing. He was certainly pitching Rosario down, but not that down, and in any case, he basically missed with this curveball.

In the entire at-bat, it’s the only pitch Voth threw in the “waste” zone as defined by Baseball Savant. In other words, it was so far out of the strike zone that most batters wouldn’t even bother swinging. Throwing a waste pitch with three balls is one of the worst things you can do as a pitcher, because it’s essentially a free walk. Even Rosario — as I mentioned, no paragon of plate discipline — swung at only 7% of the pitches he saw in the waste zone. When you throw the ball there, you just don’t expect a swing. A three-ball pitch that misses the plate by that much is a near-automatic walk. This is funnier than a free walk, though — a freeze frame of a home run swing that looks like this:

If there’s good news for Voth, it’s that it didn’t matter at all. The stakes? Nonexistent. The Nationals were completely out of the race by September, and they won this game anyway. Voth even picked up the win! But wow, did Rosario crush that pitch, and wow, was it a bad pitch to swing at. What a great way to end this trip through the most extreme home runs of 2021 (by one narrow definition).

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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2 years ago

I was half expecting Astudillo to be the pitcher on one of the five….

2 years ago
Reply to  tz

He’s given up 3 home runs in 5 career innings, so it’s not a bad bet!

2 years ago
Reply to  tz

Or the puncher.

2 years ago
Reply to  tz

one of the dingers he gave up might hold the record for biggest difference between EV and pitch velo