There’s an argument to be made that we’re exposed to too much Statcast data. It’s kind of a silly argument, and it’s easy enough to avoid, but there might indeed be overuse, or at least over-citation. It’s a function, I think, of enthusiasm; think about the data we have access to now. Not very long ago, such an amount of information would’ve been unimaginable. Now we have everything. It’s no wonder some people want to refer to it all the time. It’s an information miracle. Sometimes the enthusiasm can go a little overboard.
What I personally don’t have much use for is the normal stuff. I don’t care about regular pitches, or regular home runs. A home run, by its very existence, has to be hit pretty hard, at a vertical angle. I don’t need to hear that some guy hit a homer 105 miles per hour. I’m intrigued when the home runs are particularly fast. I’m even more intrigued when the home runs are particularly slow. That brings us to Wednesday.
The season’s worst two home runs were probably both hit by Astros. Baseball Savant has a neat new feature where you can search batted balls by expected slugging percentage, and if you do that for homers hit in 2017, the worst home runs were hit on April 19, and May 2. Here’s the earlier one, hit by Josh Reddick:
And here’s the later one, hit by Marwin Gonzalez:
Those are pretty lame home runs, as home runs go. It’s not surprising they were hit in Houston; it’s more surprising they weren’t hit to left. Wednesday didn’t provide a homer quite so weak. But there were two home runs that were weak and atypical. One was hit by Zack Cozart, and the other was hit by Jared Hoying, and you can see them in the plot below, with Cozart’s homer in red and Hoying’s homer in blue.
As you can see, the Cozart homer was hit a little harder, and it was hit a little higher. Cozart’s homer left the bat at 90.9 miles per hour, which is the season’s sixth-slowest homer. Hoying’s homer left the bat at 89.6 miles per hour, which is the season’s second-slowest homer. Yet Hoying’s homer was hit more within the range of what you could call ideal launch angles. Relative to the horizontal, the Hoying ball took off at 28 degrees. For Cozart, 36. These are two different kinds of weak home runs, and, it’s about time for you to see them for yourself!
Let’s begin with Hoying. Hoying has hit for power before in the upper minors. This, though, was his first-ever longball in the bigs:
The game was already a blowout, that Hoying only made worse. According to the box score, the wind was blowing at 12 miles per hour, right to left. I don’t know what the conditions were at the time of the hit. I don’t know what the conditions were around right field, specifically. Reported wind conditions aren’t actually all that helpful in a lot of cases, if you want to understand effects on the game play. Here’s something I can say for sure: This ballpark used to have a reputation for balls flying out to right and right-center. That jet stream has reportedly been reduced in recent years, but Hoying’s homer, at least, feels kind of familiar.
It should seem pretty clear from the screenshot that Hoying was thinking pull all the way.
That’s how Hoying turned it loose in a full count. Of some note is that, earlier in the same at-bat, Hoying swung through a nearly identical pitch.
Call it an adjustment, or call it a fluke. I don’t know and I don’t care. The second time, Hoying made contact. He made good contact, really, and he was rewarded for it. There’s nothing wrong with hitting a ball 90 miles per hour. It’s just interesting when you look at what’s happened with other balls that were similarly hit.
As you know, we’re in year three of collecting Statcast information. I found 118 batted balls within a half-tick and a half-degree of Hoying’s homer, on either side. The results: nine hits. Which means 109 non-hits, which means a .076 batting average. Of the nine hits, five were doubles, one was a triple, and three were home runs, Hoying included. Statcast projected the Hoying homer at 377 feet. The overall average of all these batted balls is 334 feet. Where did those 43 feet come from? I’d have to guess some combination of the wind and the spin. Hoying maxed out the quality of his batted ball, and the Rangers went up 9-0. Ultimately, it was a job very well done.
Moving to Cozart — did you know that he’s presently slugging .608? Here are four of his total bases:
On the one hand, the swing is all arms. Cozart was a little ahead of the pitch, and in an effort to stay back, the hips don’t open up. It seems like it should lead to lousy contact.
But watch Kyle Hendricks. Specifically, watch his head. When Cozart made contact, Hendricks knew.
That’s a look of frustration. Not so much because Hendricks didn’t execute the changeup, but more because the conditions allowed for such a slim margin of error. According to the box score, the wind was blowing 24 miles per hour, out to left. Once again, I don’t know what the wind was doing at precisely this moment, but we’re talking about wind in Wrigley Field. Sometimes it blows in, and sometimes it blows out. It seems like it was blowing out. It seems like Hendricks knew that.
Just like with the Hoying homer, I went in search of similar batted balls. I found a total of 86 within a half-tick and a half-degree. The results: two hits. So, 84 non-hits. The hits were a double and a homer. The homer was Cozart’s. It was the first such batted ball to get out.
The explanation’s easy enough. The average projected distance for the whole sample of batted balls is 327 feet. Statcast projected the Cozart homer at 370 feet. That’s 43 extra feet, and I’m comfortable pinning the bulk of that on the air that was moving so fast. In a windless environment, Cozart would’ve flied out, harmlessly. Instead, he had a chance to do damage just so long as he got a ball up. That’s why Hendricks reacted like he did. As he threw his changeup, he was effectively doing so on a Little League field.
The Jared Hoying shot had little business being a home run. The Zack Cozart shot had even less business being a home run. That’s not unfair — that’s based on factual precedent. If you have a problem, it’s with the Statcast data, not me. So one easy conclusion would be that both Hoying and Cozart got lucky. In some ways, they did. They got the most they could out of the balls that they hit. Before you commit all the way to the luck conclusion, though, give some amount of credit to the swings. Both hitters were hitting with two strikes. Both hitters made at least fair contact. And both hitters stood in there with some understanding of the conditions. Hoying would’ve known he could do damage to right. Cozart would’ve known the wind was blowing strongly. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes luck really can be by design. In part, if not completely.
So, don’t just dismiss the Hoying home run. And don’t just dismiss the Cozart home run. They count as home runs, just the same as any Aaron Judge moonshot. Neither player would want to take his home run back. But this is an opportunity to embrace the unusual. That might be the real fun of Statcast.
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.