Watching the Mets and the Nationals Sunday night on ESPN, there was a lot of talk about momentum. Momentum that the Mets seem to have, which has allowed them to catch and overtake their heavily-favored rival. It’s an easy thing to say, and an easy thing to believe, but then, right before the Mets caught fire, you could argue they bottomed out. They lost to the Padres, they had the whole Carlos Gomez fiasco, and then they lost to the Padres much much worse. The Mets right now are at a local maximum. Immediately preceding this, they had crashed to a low point.
There are some parallels between the Mets as a whole and their own Lucas Duda. Overall this season, Duda’s been pretty good. Over the last week and a half or so, Duda’s been the very hottest hitter in baseball. But from the start of June through July 24, Duda slugged .275. He then ripped off a stretch of nine homers in eight games. The timelines aren’t the same, but, Duda, like the Mets, bottomed out, and then reversed course in an instant. Duda flipped his own momentum, and in so doing, he wound up bashing an anomalous dinger.
I like to write about anomalous dingers. I like to write about anomalous everythings, but dingers in particular. I’ve done so a bunch of times right here, and there is no one single kind. Any weird home run might be anomalous in a certain way, and Duda’s is just the most recent one that I’ve noticed. Sunday, he faced Jordan Zimmermann, in an inning in which the Mets had already gone deep two times. Behold, the first pitch, a fastball up and in:
Oddly, ESPN didn’t show a replay until the inning was over, perhaps overwhelmed by the miracle of the Mets scoring five runs. But here’s the same thing as above, only a little closer:
Sometimes, an unusual event doesn’t seem that unusual in the moment. Sometimes you need to peel away the layers to gain a proper understanding of the unusual core. This one, I think, is more apparent to the eye. Watch that video, over and over. Zimmermann threw a fastball at the hands. Like, almost literally at Lucas Duda’s hands. Duda didn’t just turn on the pitch — he knocked it for a home run. Statcast thinks it left the bat at 102 miles per hour. It’s not Duda’s weakest home run of the season.
I pulled some information from Baseball Savant. Here are all left-handed home runs in 2015, with Duda’s highlighted:
All right, clearly weird. But wait! We can do more, cross-checking with MLB.tv video, and also checking with corrected Brooks Baseball information. For example, above, you see Duda’s home run overlapping another home run, hit by Kole Calhoun back in April. But here’s a screenshot of that home run:
Turns out it was a PITCHf/x glitch. The location wasn’t nearly as extreme as PITCHf/x initially made it out to be. I checked a few of the extreme-looking homers, and here’s a partially corrected version of the above graph:
That’s better. Duda’s home run stands out more. It’s not the only anomalous homer in the plot, but again, there’s not just one type. It’s one anomalous homer, with Duda turning around a pitch that conceivably could’ve hit him in the hand or the back elbow. Think about where the average left-handed hitter is positioned. He’s a foot or two from the plate, with his hands around his chest or his stomach. With an inside pitch that’s further down, a hitter could still get his arms extended. With an elevated pitch more over the plate, a hitter could still get his arms extended. The pitch Duda hit could’ve got him on the fists. If anything, it’s pop-up territory.
It’s more or less what was supposed to be thrown. So just in case you were wondering, no, this wasn’t a mistake:
The camera angle is a tiny bit off, but if you look at the catcher, you see his glove literally behind Duda’s lifted front leg. The whole idea was to try to jam him. And Duda stands pretty close to the plate, unlike, say, Adrian Gonzalez. In theory, you’d want to pitch Duda inside. Duda has apparently adapted to that.
This is the pitch on the way. This is not a screenshot of the ball hitting Duda in the back elbow, but I have taken screenshots that look like this before, of a ball hitting a batter in the back elbow. I want to really drive the point home, here, that, what? How did this happen?
Duda turns and keeps his hands so far in he might as well be giving himself a breast exam.
The high-and-tight pitch is said to have an increased perceived velocity, and a part of that is because you have to react quickly to hit it since it has to be hit out in front of the plate. There’s reduced distance between the pitcher and the hitting spot, if you want to hit the pitch well. (If you don’t, then you don’t have to worry about it.)
It’s the only way this could be hit properly. Duda keeps his hands in and barrels up, making sure the bat is at an angle to generate that desired lift. I think I mentioned this, but just in case I didn’t, this was the first pitch. This is what Duda decided was good enough.
On Zimmermann’s part, it was instant disbelief:
Followed by continued disbelief that apparently aged Zimmermann about 10 years:
“I think Duda hit that one off his nipple,” Murphy said.
Zimmermann wasn’t even that bothered. He was incredulous, but not upset, at least about the pitch that Duda hit out. The Mets went deep three times in the inning, and Zimmermann made his own share of mistakes, but he didn’t regret what he threw to Duda. Presumably, he’d throw it again, a million times out of a million. But good pitches can lead to the worst possible result. Home-run luck is so much more complicated than just the difference between a wall-scraper and an out on the track.
“The ball Duda hit, I’m not sure how it’s physically possible to hit the ball where I put it. I put it where I wanted to. I can’t be mad at that pitch. He is probably the hottest guy in baseball right now. For him to hit the ball where he did and where it was located, you just have to tip your cap.”
Hot streaks are a tricky thing to understand. In that, we still don’t really understand them. It makes sense that getting hot would boost a hitter’s confidence. A more confident hitter might be more willing to take a hack. So maybe Duda only swung at the pitch in the first place because he was feeling so good. Still doesn’t explain how he was able to drive it, but he did, and even if he couldn’t do it again, no one’s asking him to. The one time it mattered, Lucas Duda hit a home run on a fastball at his hands. It’s not the most remarkable home run of all time. It’s just a remarkable home run, hit at a remarkable time by a remarkable team in a remarkable situation.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.