The Season’s Worst Home Run

The season’s worst home run was a major-league home run. It was hit clean over a major-league fence, against a major-league pitcher, and it didn’t have to bounce off of the head of a major-league outfielder. The season’s worst home run was, objectively, more physically impressive than anything I’ve ever accomplished. I’ve climbed some tall mountains. It’s like walking up really cold and slippery stairs. Nobody would be amazed by anything I’ve done. I’m sitting here amazed that anyone can hit any major-league pitches.

So the point here isn’t to criticize. Everything in baseball is remarkable. But, very simply, there are better home runs, and there are worse home runs. Not all home runs are equally impressive, correct? It follows, therefore, that there would be a worst home run. A least-impressive impressive thing, if you will. Below, you get to see the worst home run of 2016. It was allowed by Chris Sale, and it was hit by Troy Tulowitzki.

When I’d write posts like this in the past, I’d make use of the ESPN Home Run Tracker, because that was our only resource. And it was and remains a valuable resource, but of course, now we have Statcast, which is something even better. The Home Run Tracker would provide estimated batted-ball speeds. Statcast gives us better accuracy. There’s a strong correlation between the two, but when you have a direct reading, there’s no point in using anything else.

My criteria was simple. I didn’t go looking for the home run with the shortest distance. I didn’t go looking for anything having to do with launch angle. I was concerned only with exit velocity. I looked for the home run — of the out-of-the-park variety — with the lowest exit velocity. The whole point is to hit the ball as hard as you can. So I just looked for the worst contact, using Baseball Savant, and I was led to June 26. Here is Tulowitzki, in Chicago, spoiling a Chris Sale shutout:

The ball left the bat at 28.5 degrees above the horizontal. That’s great! The average home run this year left the bat at 28.1 degrees above the horizontal. But, the average home run also left the bat at 103.4 miles per hour. This ball left Tulowitzki’s bat at 87.1 miles per hour. Have you ever wondered if Doug Fister could stand on home plate and throw a fastball over the fence in Chicago’s left field? Wonder no more. In warm conditions, with at least the hint of a generous breeze, the answer is unequivocally yes.

It’s always fun to watch a looping video, but one of the drawbacks of most looping videos is that there isn’t any sound. It’s worth listening to Buck Martinez’s call of the home run:

Buck Martinez loves a good home run. Anyone who somewhat regularly watches Blue Jays games knows that Buck Martinez is never more excited than when he gets to watch a home run. Even here, he gets to do his usual “swing and a drive-“, but his voice is tentative. And when he says “that ball…is…a…home run” he says the word “home run” as if he’s asking a question. Martinez knew right away this was an atypical fly.

Yet, interestingly, there’s nothing to read into in terms of on-field body language. Everyone knew this was a short homer down the line, but I don’t think anyone understood how relatively poor the contact was. Sale didn’t stare off into the distance, or shake his head. He acted like it was any other homer. I might be over-interpreting things, because ultimately Sale had to get back to work, and the White Sox still led by three. But I wonder how apparent these things are from an on-the-field perspective. When you’re pitching, it’s easy to tell when a hitter hits a line drive or a fly ball. It seems like it’s less easy to tell when a hitter hits the ball 85 miles per hour, versus 95 or 105. No matter what, the ball’s gone from your forward-facing field of view in an instant. The contacts will sound awfully alike.

You can see, I think, why the ball came off as it did. Tulowitzki more or less hit the ball square, and the swing looks generally normal. But here’s the side view:

Sale threw a slow pitch, and Tulowitzki was almost out in front. You can see sort of a hiccup in his momentum, as Tulowitzki tried to keep his hands back long enough. That cost Tulowitzki some bat speed, which, in turn, cost him some exit velocity. So now we have an interesting case where the season’s worst home run was kind of the result of a terrific mid-swing adjustment. It’s all amazing! I told you. These players are unbelievable.

What happened this year with similar batted balls? Here are the batted balls hit around 87 miles per hour, at launch angles between 28 and 29 degrees:

field1

I accidentally cut out the legend. I could very easily go to the trouble of fixing that, literally right now, but it’s not worth it, because even the legend-less picture speaks for itself. You see the one home run. Most of these are pretty routine outs. There are a few doubles. For the most part, these balls weren’t very threatening. Here’s Troy Tulowitzki hitting a virtually identical batted ball, except to the wrong part of the park:

With the same contact quality, Tulowitzki got a homer. And here’s Yasiel Puig hitting a virtually identical batted ball, also to left field:

That one looks really good off the bat, but the ball died in front of the track. Puig realized he almost got it. On another day, in another stadium, he would’ve gotten enough of it. Baseball’s a funny game. A home run is always a home run, but a home run isn’t always a home run, if you know what I mean. Troy Tulowitzki this year hit 24 homers, under very specific circumstances.

As for Sale’s side of things, whatever, a solo homer is only momentarily frustrating, and he and the White Sox won the game, which is what was most important. But this year, Sale finished first in the American League among pitchers in WAR, at 5.2. It worked out to be a three-way tie, between Sale, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello. Any little thing could’ve caused that tie to be broken. Any little thing.

We hoped you liked reading The Season’s Worst Home Run by Jeff Sullivan!

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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.

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“Any little thing could’ve caused that tie to be broken. Any little thing.”

THE DAGGER